Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Still Fat for the 90's

I'm not going to introduce Lord Finesse because he doesn't need it. But any fan who's looked into his catalog in the last ten years will find an overwhelming number of releases - most on vinyl even - presenting us with lost remixes, demos and unreleased tracks. His back catalog has been - and is still being - lovingly preserved like few very few other hip-hop artists' have. Most of the official ones came out first through Soundtable/ No Sleep, and more recently on Slice of Spice (Vinyl Addicts also got a pretty sweet release out there) in collaboration with Finesse's own Underboss imprint. Quality music on nice vinyl releases, and they're 100% official, not bootlegs. But with so much being put out there, it can be pretty daunting to sort through, especially since so many of the songs seem to have been released multiple times as different versions.

Well, what we have here is a brilliant, brand new double LP (or CD if that's more your speed) release that cuts through the thick. It doesn't include everything - because there's simply too much for any one release - but it's a pretty thorough collection of the me must-have material at least from his Funkyman (album #2) period. It's called Funky Man: The Prequel on Slice of Spice/ Underboss Records.

Because it's so complicated following what's been released where, I'm going to tackle this album track-by-track, and give a complete break-down of what's included here.

Before I begin, though, I have to make something clear. Slice of Spice have remastered every track here from Finesse's original DATs and reels. So everything they've put on here (and their other releases) are fresh remasters compared to the material that was released on Soundtable or any other label. Those were all respectable and official releases, too, so none of them sounded bad. But Slice of Spice's do seem to be consistent and substantial improvements in sound quality every time - this isn't one of those situations where only professional DJs are gonna notice the difference. For a more casual fan, though, if you have the old records, then how essential the new masterings are will be a personal call. Maybe you need the upgrade or maybe you're satisfied with what you've got. But the short and sweet of it is: the SoS masterings are consistently superior to the others, and definitely the ones to scoop up if you don't have any yet. Also, just to be clear, in cases when it's the same song on two or more SoS releases - like "Fat for the 90's" being both the first song on this LP and as a B-side to one of their picture discs - then they're exactly the same.

Okay, now let's get down and dirty:

A1) Fat for the 90's (Original Version) - produced by Diamond D - This mix first appeared on Soundtable/ No Sleep's Rare and Unreleased vol. 2 in 2008. That was CD only, though, so they put it out again on Rare Selections vol. 2 vinyl EP the same year. Slice also put this out as the B-side to their limited Still Funky for the 90's shaped picture disc (it's shaped like his head!). It's hard to say which mix is better - the one we've all known for 21 has some really chunky, compelling samples. This one is rawer and edgier, and I think suits AG's guest verse better. Maybe familiarity is tainting my judgement, but I have to side with the original. But this is absolutely a worthy alternative.

A2) Isn't He Something (Showbiz Mix) - produced by Showbiz, obviously - This is NOT the "Isn't He Something (Original Version With Intro)" from Rare & Unreleased vol. 2, which seems to basically be the same as the regular album version, except with an extended intro. Instead, this is the "Isn't He Something (Unreleased Mix)" from Rare Selections vol. 3. You couldn't be blamed for assuming that the Rare Selections mix would just be the same mix lifted from the Rare & Unreleased, but pressed onto vinyl; but nope - they were totally different. So yeah, this is the second one, the substantially differing one, from the EP.  It begins off with a funky, dominant Weather Report sample; but as the song progresses, a variety of interesting sounds and samples swap in and out of the mix, and there's some really hype scratch choruses that live up to the crazy horn riff from the familiar mix.

A3) Funky On the Fast Tip (Original Version) - produced by Lord Finesse - This mix was featured on Rare Selections vol. 1, mistakenly titled as "Fat for the 90's (Alternate Beat)."  It's not "Fat for the 90's," though; it's "Funky On the Fast Tip," and is now also available on SoS's Still Funky picture disc. I have to say, though, Finesse made the right choice to re-do this one. The original version here is cool, another one of those changing sample sets throughout the song, so you're not always listening to the same instrumental. But none of them are as effective or flat-out dope as the one we've known.

B1) Stop Sweating the Next Man (Lord Finesse Mix) - produced by DJ Aladdin and SLJ - This is the "Stop Sweating the Next Man (Unreleased Mix)" from Rare Selections vol. 2. It's a more subtle remix, in that both versions use the same basic "Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down" bassline and sound pretty similar.  The main difference is a protracted horn note that plays over the hook.

B2) Show 'Em How We Do Things (Demo Version) - produced by DJ Aladdin and SLJ -This was on a Fat Beats compilation of unreleased material called From the Crates To the Files (CD and 2LP), and then turned up on Rare Selections vol. 2. And it's on a vinyl EP called A Little Something for the Homiez, which I think is a bootleg. But maybe Finesse pressed it himself, I dunno. Anyway. this seems to be exactly the same as what was on the original album, and at first I was confused as to why SoS put it on here - was I missing some subtle, remixed difference? But then I realized I always had this song because I bought the cassette back in the day. This was a CD and cassette bonus track missing from the wax, so it was making its wax debut on the Fat Beats comp, and its remastered wax debut now.

C1) Hey Look At Shorty (Demo Version) - produced by Lord Finesse -  Okay, once again, the versions on Rare and Unreleased vol. 2 and Rare Selections vol. 1 are different. This is the latter. Both are distinctly different from the one we all know; though I have to say I prefer that one to any of these alternate versions. This one's got a nice break, but is otherwise kinda boring, with a merely perfunctory bassline.

C2) Isn't He Something (Large Professor Remix) - produced by Large Professor - This is a.k.a. "Extra P Session Mix" on From the Crates To the Files and A Little Something for the Homiez. SoS also released this last year on the first of their Signature Seven 7" series of Lord Finesse material. It's exactly what you'd expect a Large Professor remix of a Lord Finesse song to sound - really dope.

C3) I Like My Girls With a Boom (Original Version) - produced by Lord Finesse -  This one's interesting. It first appeared on Rare Selections vol. 1, and uses the same sample as the regular album version, but where the first one used the opening guitar lick as a brief intro, this one keeps bringing that lick back throughout the whole song. It also sounds a little slower and bass-heavier. 

C4) KABOOM! KAPLOW! - EXPLOSIVES! - I'm sorry, I'm just being a goofball. There is no track C4.

D1) Praise the Lord (Underboss Remix) - produced by Lord Finesse and Davel "Bo" McKenzie - I should point out that this and the next track are specifically labeled as bonus tracks.  This is NOT the Diamond D remix from Rare Selections vol. 1 (which is too bad, because that was awesome). This is a new mix, I think, not as good as the others but still pretty cool with some funky piano notes and a cool organ sample and definitely worth your time. It's exclusive to this LP.

D2) Kicking Flavor With My Man (Underboss Remix) - produced by Lord Finesse and Davel "Bo" McKenzie -The classic duet with Percee-P is given a cool, gangsta rap vibe with this mix. I prefer the original, but am definitely happy to have both in my collection now. Again, it's a bonus track and I assume a contemporary remix, though SoS did already release it last year on 7".

So that's the run-down. Most (though not all!) of this material has seen the light of day before; but this is a nice definitive edition to close the book on each of these tracks for good. And to cinch that, SoS has gone all out with the presentation as well. First of all, it's a solid 180g double LP in a fresh gatefold picture cover. How many hip-hop albums have gotten gatefold covers? Not many! And it's been released at the standard, no "special limited" business price of $19.99. But if you do want to spice it up even more, you could pay just a little extra to get the same 2LP pressed on a limited run (250 numbered copies - mine is #30) of cool silver (silver) vinyl. And if you really had the money to lay out and were a hardcore Finesse fanatic, you could get the crazy pre-order package which included the double LP on silver wax, an Instrumental EP (6 tracks, pressed on white (white) wax in a sticker cover), that picture disc I mentioned earlier, and an exclusive 7" with that awesome Diamond D mix of "Praise the Lord" that I really wanted on the LP. I think you'd give your mailman a hernia with that one. Unfortunately, that big set was only available during the pre-order stage, so if you didn't get it by now, it's too late. But the LP, black or silver, is still available, as it only just came out. If you order it direct from SoS, you also get a free digital download emailed to you, plus stickers. =)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Questionable Lyrics #3: Beware the Beast Man...

The only thing more impressively dark than Paris's sociopolitical debut album in 1989 was his follow-up: Sleeping With the Enemy. He made the top hardcore artists of the day like NWA seem like clowns for not daring to get as political and serious as he did, and righteous, political acts like Public Enemy seem meek for not being as bold. This is the album George Bush himself spoke out against (ostensibly because of the anti-police song "Coffee, Doughnuts and Death," but more likely because the album cover originally depicted Paris about to assassinate Bush with an uzi. His label, Tommy Boy Records dropped the controversial album but Paris didn't give a fuck, he put the damn thing out himself. Shit was serious.

And he wasn't just picking safe "stick it to the man" targets. Who can forget "House Niggas Bleed Too?" One of many heavy, ominous beats and Paris spittin', "Thought I forgot ya, but I caught ya, punk; I thought ya knew: house niggas bleed, too. Shit ain't through."

But before we got to rhyming, the first half the song was the a recording of a traitor, the voice of temptation, selling out his race:

"What's wrong with having it good for a change? And they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life, too. Now I know you want it... Hell, everybody does."
"You'd do it to your own kind..."
"What's the threat? We all sell out every day - might as well be on the winning team!"

But the song winds up having a slightly different feel to it if you recognize the vocal sample. Once you realize it's the voice of character actor George "Buck" Flower in the science fiction campfest, They Live. The race he's selling out is the human race, as he tries to convince wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper that he should fall in line with the secret race of space aliens that he can only see when he wears his special sunglasses. They're talking outside the aliens' underground television studio/ interstellar airport, and the guy who interjects, "you'd do it to your own kind" is the great Keith David. At the end of his speech, Flower pushes a secret button on his watch, says, "see ya, boys" and disappears from the movie.

I actually think it's more impressive that Paris was able to pull such atmosphere and earnestness out of such a (charmingly) silly movie. It's one thing to sample a gangster movie on a gangsta rap record to evoke a little mood. But this took a real creative element to transform one set of emotions into something totally different, yet perhaps even more evocative than its original context.

And this isn't the only example of such a subversive move in Paris's catalog. Who wasn't chilled by the creepy, ominous words at the end of "The Devil Made Me Do It?"

"Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport... for lust... for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death."

That sounds like some crazy, gothic cult leader telling you judgement day's about to drop on us, right? Unless you're a film buff. Then you're picturing Roddy McDowell in a monkey mask reading this to Charlton Heston and friends out on the sunny Atlantic, beach. Yes, these lines are from the ending of the original Planet Of the Apes, and these words are spoken right before Heston gets on his horse and rides off into the sunset with his mute slave-girl to re-propagate the human race in the forbidden zone. But Paris makes it sound like some frikkin' scary-ass devil music.

Oh, and how I mentioned "Coffee, Doughnuts and Death?" That one opens with a dark exchange of police officers grievously abusing their authority and ultimately assaulting a woman: We hear police sirens and tires squealing as a cop car pulls up and two men jump out.

"Let's go. Inside!"
"Police! I said open up!"
"Isn't it a little late, officers?"
"This is an emergency. May we come in?"
"I'm... not really dressed."
"It's okay, we're police officers."

Would you believe an 80's James Spader horror movie about Jack the Ripper coming back to kill people in Los Angeles on the 100th anniversary of his death? Yup, it's called Jack's Back! I remember it because I was a hardcore horror fan as a kid, and taped every single horror movie that played on cable in the 80s. Spader plays twins - check out the trailer!

Paris's later albums seemed to lack the punch of his first two. I got Guerilla Funk, and that was alright. But I haven't really kept up, even though he kept releasing albums well through the 2000s. But it might be worth going through the rest of his catalog just to sample hunt, I don't know. Does he have a song where he harrowingly narrates the horrors of the Rwandan genocide that opens with a one and a half minute clip from Hollywood Hot Tubs 2: Educating Crystal? Because if anybody could pull it off...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dream Team Adieu

the 12" label
Sorry if I've been overloading you with LA Dream Team posts lately, guys; but even before I started the DTP post, I knew I was going to follow it up with this one. What we have here is the final Dream Team record. There's no release date on either the vinyl or CD release; but internet sources place this at 1996, and that sounds about right. Now, Rudy Pardee had been keeping the Dream Team dream alive since the group broke up by releasing solo singles or with new collaborators. But the original pairing hadn't made a record together since they were dropped by MCA in 1990. But this is it: a proper reunion. A new and final LA Dream Team Record, back on their own Dream Team Records, before Rudy Pardee tragically died in 1998. Yes, Snake Puppy is back.

The A-side is called "Faces" or "Smilin' Faces," depending on whether you're looking at the CD or 12" record. Yes, the song title is different on the two versions. But the song itself is the same, a reworking, naturally, of "Smiling Faces" by The Undisputed Truth. Now, The Dream Team were hardly the first to discover this territory. Big Lady K and Whodini both released singles remaking this song in 1990 and 1991, respectively, and Kid Frost had one on his East Side Story album in '92. So this is well trodden turf, with a very familiar R&B hook (provided by Sharon Hall and Phillip Ray) and the famous, atmospheric bassline. Here, they tone the atmosphere down, though; going for a very calm, smooth and definitely west coast sounding track.

The B-side, titled "Got'ta Be O.G. Sometimes," is more instrumentally original, though it's actually very similar to "Faces." The bassline and R&B hook (this time by Tre Unique) are no longer patterned after "Smiling Faces," but every production element in this song is otherwise just like "Faces." The notes are just a little different.  And while both songs are produced by Rudy, and co-produced by Snake; this one gets a special credit saying that the music was written by Mike "The P" Perison. But, since they're so similar, your opinion on which is better will depend entirely on how keen you are for another "Smiling Faces" remake. If you're happy to re-experience that soulful bassline once again, "Faces" brings it and kinda sounds better objectively. But if you've heard it one too many times over the years, you'll be glad for the less derivative "O.G."

Instrumentally, this isn't bad but it's kind of a dud. They just play it so damn safe. It's not at all compelling, and yet too decently produced to be bad in an interesting way. This absolutely does not have that re-listenable quality of "Rockberry (Revisited)." But, the story of this record isn't really the music. That barely even matters... to the point where it feels like the Team specifically was trying to set it to music that wouldn't matter or call attention to itself. Anyone who cares about this record cares because it's Rudy and Snake back together again. How do they come off?

Eh. I definitely prefer hearing Rudy paired with Snake than any of those cats he brought in as substitutes. Snake brings a, yes, O.G. quality to his rhymes. This is his and Rudy's house, and the pretenders to the throne need to scat. And, lyrically.... well, they say pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to say. They don't really mention the break-up or reunion, except very indirectly, and mostly are mostly just concerned with establishing themselves as veterans. Here's a taste of "O.G.:"

"Welcome to Los Angeles,
City of Angels.
(No, city of the scandalous!)
But the O.G.s can handle this.
Four twenty-five's not my salary
But you know, I clock my dough
From my street mentality.
Reality's a mother.
I'm tired of gettin' judged by my color;
It's time to make somebody else suffer.
I'm a O.G. hustler,

I never had no love for a buster
Get to close and I'm gon' have to cut ya.
I'm true.
I'm down with my race and I'm down with my crew;
I'm down with my niggas smokin' blunts and a brew.
That's what we do everyday up on the streets;
Represent the real, 'cause you's an O.G."

So, you know, like that. Snake tells a little tale of being a youngster which pumps a little extra energy into things; and "Smilin' Faces" naturally incorporates the subject matter of the Undisputed original (though I like the line, "he snaked on a Pup and now I'm locked up"). But it ultimately all boils down to the same stuff.

The record label doesn't mention it, but the back of the CD promises that this is "From the fourth [sic.] coming album GUESS WHOS BACK?" Sadly, that album never came out. But I can't help wondering if it was ever completed, considering how much Rudy seemed to record and not release throughout the 90's (be sure to read the comments of my DTP post to find out even more of Rudy's underground saga!). The record comes in a plain sleeve, while the CD has the picture cover posted above; but both have the same track-listing: Street, Radio and Instrumental versions of both songs. I'd recommend this to long time fans of the Dream Team.  If you're excited at the prospect that they got back together for one last record on the underground tip, it's decent enough that you'll enjoy this. But anyone else can give this a miss.

Update 6/25/13: You know, I put that "[sic.]" in the phrase "fourth coming album," because obviously the word is "forthcoming."  But thinking back on it, I'm realizing that had it come out, Guess Whos Back would have been the LA Dream Team's fourth full-length album. Maybe I just wasn't giving them enough credit. What do you guys think? Intentional, punny double entendre, or stupid mistake? Bear in mind that their should also have been an apostrophe in "who's," so I may just be reading too much into it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pace Won's Secret

So, back in 1998, The Outsidaz were blowing up, and Pace Won was all set to drop his debut LP, the Pace Won Effect on RuffLife/ RuffNation/ Roffhouse/ Ruff Wax Records. He had a pretty successful single with "I Declare War," but then things started to get held up. The label was having problems, and the album leaked online, which may or may not have been a big factor. But for whatever reason, it got shelved, and it wasn't until 2000 that Pace Won had re-geared up with a new single ("Sunroof Top") and a re-configured album, and Won dropped with very little marketing or promotion. And the label, with all its Ruff divisions, pretty much died shortly thereafter.

Now, the majority of the tracks from the unreleased The Pace Won Effect (sometimes alternately titled The Pace Won Affect) did find their way onto Won, along with a bunch of new ones. But not all of them. And in that span of time between the original shelved album and the ultimate retail one; Pace quietly released two more 12" singles from the Effect/ Affect album. One of them, this one, was called "Secret;" and it's pretty compelling today because "Secret" is one of those songs that didn't survive the migration to Won.

It didn't get much fanfare at the time, because both singles (the other was "It's Yours" with Wyclef Jean) just seemed like soon to be readily available releases of songs about to be widely released on the upcoming album. They weren't big radio pushes; no videos were shot. Just a little something for the DJs until the album came. It was just we few die-hard fans who looked back in 2000 at the little 12" we'd picked up along the way and realized we had a neat little exclusive on our hands.

There's no production credits on this 12" (and again, we can't look to the album, 'cause it ain't on there); but at a guess, I'd say Ski probably made this track. Maybe not though. But whoever did, it's definitely got that classic Outsidaz feel that all of their earliest, most beloved material had. Staccato but deceptively engaging piano notes over a chunky break, with funky little Danny Devito vocal sample. Lyrically... well, it's a concept song, so not really as appealing as an all out crazy freestyle would've been. But it's still got that cleverness and that edge to make it stand out above your average Hot 97 airtime filler.

The B-side did make the transition from album A to album B, so it's not so exciting. It's called "Bring It Out Of Me," produced by Ski (we can confirm with Won's album notes this time) and features an indie cat named Richie Thumbs (who's not as tight as Pace, but holds his own well enough) and a smokey nightclub singer named Janelle Barksdale crooning in the background. It's a cool blend of being a smoother, laid back "smoke out to this" kind of cut mixed with the MCs more rugged street styles. Like the A-side, it was never going to be a big, attention-getting fan favorite; but it's anyone who takes the time to get into it will have to say it's a good song.

There's just the one, Main version of "Bring It Out Of Me," but the exclusive "Secret" comes fully broken down with a Main, Radio, Instrumental and even an A Cappella version. There wasn't a big run of these pressed up, but this record's slept on enough that you can probably scoop it up pretty painlessly. And now that time has passed and its hidden value has been elucidated, I'd recommend any Outz fan, hardcore or casual, do just that.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father MC's Day

Well, it's Father's Day weekend, so what better MC to blog about on this fine day? If you guessed Mama Mystique... you're probably over-thinking the question. No, if you don't recognize the picture cover photographed above, alongside our site's exclusive model (sorry, TMZEmma, that's Father MC's "Lisa Baby," the third big single off his debut album, appropriately titled Father's Day.

Like his previous singles, "Lisa Baby" is produced by ex-Fat Boy Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention, and like "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated," features an up-coming Jodeci singing the chorus. It's a pure, unadulterated example of new jack swing rap, and how much you like or detest that sub-genre will dictate what you think of this song. His previous singles, "Treat Them..." and "I'll Do for You" were elevated by the lyrics and the surprisingly strong R&B elements (Mary J. Blige, of course, standing out on the latter). Here, while Jodeci still sound solid, those elements don't really shine. Lines like "well, the joke's on you, so nibble on my Almond Joy" definitely reveal that we're operating in a lower strata this time around, and this whole narrative about Father getting pissy about the eponymous Lisa's questionable behavior lacks the universal appeal of his previous hits. So while the previous tracks rose above it, this one's really standing on the swing production, which is quite good as Mark & Mark proved themselves to be surprisingly masterful at it. So, like I said, your appreciation will depend entirely on just how keen you are on hearing some vintage new jack swing.

But even heads who aren't so big on that stuff tend to have some interest in this 12", because it features a robust collection of remixes, with one in particular standing out. I'll save that one for last.

The first version you'll come across on here is the Daddy Radio mix, produced by Jodeci's own Devante Swing. It's a pretty cool, tougher mix, that gets rid of some of the smooth keyboard tones in favor of playing up the banging percussion. Unsurprisingly, it also emphasizes Jodeci's role, including some new sung vocals, making their performance a little less repetitive than it was on the album version.

Devante also produced the Swing House mix, which is a weird little twist on the Daddy Radio mix. It's not really house... well, it sort of is. But it's more about just taking out a lot of Father's vocals... it almost sounds like an instrumental version that only leaves in Jodeci's parts, but then Father's stuff comes in at the end. I think they were just padding record with this one.

So, okay, you've got those two mixes, plus the LP version and an Instrumental. Now let's get to the ones collectors like. You've got two mixes here by Pete Rock. Now, there's nothing unusual about that; they're both major players in the Uptown fam (in fact, Father's Day is tastefully dedicated to Trouble T-Roy), and Pete would return to provide a beat for Father's third LP, Sex Is Law.

Well, first up, you've got the Smoothed Out mix. This one really doesn't sound like Pete's work at all, and I wonder if the credits aren't a little off here. I mean, maybe he was there in the studio and had some input on this; but it actually doesn't sound very removed from Devante's earlier mixes. It adds some hip-hop samples makes it a little more of a hardcore hip-hop track, most notably by completely removing Jodeci, replacing them with just a vocal sample saying "here we go!" The stand out moment is the breakdown where a DJ gets busy on the turntable. It's a dope little remix; and really not smoothed out at all (why did they call it that?); but I really wouldn't be surprised if Clark Kent or somebody else came out and said he really did that.

The final mix, however - the Hip-Hop Fat Mix? Now that is pure Pete Rock. While all the other remixes felt like variations of a single instrumental; this one is completely different. It's really sample based, and has a super funky bassline, plus some sweet horns. It does have the "here we go" vocal sample instead of Jodeci, which is probably why Pete gets credit for the Smoothed Out mix. He probably made this one (well, he surely did), and then somebody else just used pieces of it to construct that one. The turntable breakdown is here, too. It's really a rich, bumping track. Indeed, the only disappointing aspect is that it deserves better than this Father MC acappella. His poppy story doesn't really have the same vibe as Pete's creation, and it just raises the bar too high for this level of MCing. If this had Guru or somebody rhyming on it instead, I guarantee this would've been a hit, especially critically, that would last through the ages.

So yeah, this is a good single for Father MC fans, with some variations of one of his better, if not great, songs. And it's even a good single for non-Father MC fans, because it contains one of Pete Rock's greatest creations. Unfortunately, no, there is no instrumental for the Hip Hop Fat Mix; but the beat rides for almost two minutes after Father's final verse, with all the change-ups and everything. So that's almost the same end result. Throw in the fact that it comes in a colorful picture cover and can usually be found in record stores' cheap bins for ninety-nine cents or less; and this makes for a perfect little Father's Day gift for yourself.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Quest For the Grail...

"The quest for the Grail is not archaeology; it's a race against evil!" - Indy's dad

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Source Magazine Is In the House

(Youtube version is here. ...Don't mind the background; just something I did to amuse myself.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The NEW LA Dream Team

So, after The LA Dream Team broke up and Rudy Pardee brought it back as a solo act disguised as a Posse, Rudy and the Team dropped out of the scene again.  But they returned again, after some further retooling, three years later. This time they came out as DTP (not to be confused with Disturbing tha Peace), with some new members. It's a single called "100 Proof (To the Zoom)" on Excello Records, from 1993.

You might assume DTP stands for Dream Team Posse, like their last single... or maybe even Dream Team Productions or something.  But while I'm sure it's not just a coincidence that they have the same initials, apparently it stood for Diverse Thought Process, in honor of their newer, more diverse MCs... a white guy named Frenzy and a reggae rapper named Ragaman-T So unlike the Dream Team Posse record, it's not just Rudy rapping; all three cats are spitting here.

The first, opening track is "100 Proof," featuring DBS (Deep Brown Style) Mob. DBS is a group the Dream Team was going to produce and put out after their own project, but it never happened. So I'm pretty sure this is their only appearance on wax. I have to say, introducing the listeners to a new line-up of MCs with a posse cut featuring a whole other line-up of new MCs is kind of confusing. I had to listen to this a bunch of times just to sort out which verses were by who: who was a Dream Team guy, and which one? Who's one of these DBS cats? Is Rudy on here?

He is, but that's the other thing. Pardee has updated his voice and flow to fit in with the 90s, so his super-distinctive voice and flow is gone. It's a little disappointing, but he actually sounds alright like this, so it works for this record. The production style has also totally entered the 90s: harder, on the outer fringes of gangsta rap. Lyrically, they're weak; it's all substance-less just stringing words together for the sake of it, without even the clever wordplay of your average freestyle rhyme. I mean, none of it's really bad... it's just lyrical filler. But their flows are decent and distinctive; and the production - also by Pardee - is predictable (lots of samples we've heard before) but quite respectable.

Then we have the B-side, "Rockberry (Revisited)," a asequel to the Dream Team's oldest and still biggest hit, "Rockberry Jam." Old school artists making sequels to their classic hits on their comebacks pretty much never works (which doesn't seem to stop them from doing it), but this is actually not bad. It helps if you don't stress comparing it to the original and just take it on its own terms. The hook is almost exactly the same; with a girl doing her best impression of the original to the point where they might as well've just sampled the original. But apart from that, it's very different. The production isn't old school electro at all, it's another gangsta0ish track, including that famous horn riff from "Rump Shaker" and that N2Deep track. It does have a bouncey rhythm, so it's not totally dark or hardcore; but it's definitely inspired by the kind of sounds early Cypress Hill and the like were putting out back then.

There's a little reference to the Dream Team's break-up here... "What was the Dream Team now's DTP.. One minus one means you're funking with the three" [shouldn't that be "two minus one?"],  But for the most part, it's just more breezy freestyling.

So those are the only two songs listed on the cover; but there's actually a third track. It's a skit, just over 90 seconds long. that's, uh.... meant to be light-hearted and amusing, but it's more than a little bit racist against Indians. Anyway, it's really just a jokey ad for their upcoming DTP full-length, Foot Soldiers On Maneuvers. However that album never actually happened, and this is all we have of that project, or this new Dream Team line-up.

And that's actually a disappointment for me. This is no great, slept-on masterpiece I'm telling you guys about here, and it's no wonder this didn't blow up across the nation. Lyrically, it's riding on fumes and nothing here really stands out. The MCs sound like imitators of others who came before, and there's no fresh samples or catchy hook that's gonna get anybody excited. But I gotta say, this is endlessly relistenable. When I first got this, I had this in the car and just kept repeating it after it ended (except for the skit, once was enough for that). Rudy Pardee knew how to make a quality record sound good. And here he shows he could've done so with more styles than just the super old school throwback style he's always been associated with. I don't pine for the artistic loss to the hip-hop community that never got to hear this Frenzy dude or anything. But my biggest complaint about this single is that it feels short at only two songs long. If Foot Soldiers had come out, I would've gotten it, and I would've enjoyed it... which is more than I can say about most hip-hop albums being released today.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Dream Team Gets Serious

Well, one half of The LA Dream Team gets serious, anyway. I already blogged about how Rudy Pardee kept the Team alive by releasing a record after they were dropped by MCA Records and Snake Puppy quit. But Rudy flew solo - or, at least, without his partner Snake - one other time; long before their time at MCA was up.

It was actually the year they made the jump from Macola Records to MCA. Freshly signed to a major, times were good for the Dream Team in 1986, but they were not so good for a large portion of the rest of the world. So Rudy agreed to lend his voice to a record that spoke up about it: "Apartheid (You Know It's a Crime!!)."

The record is actually credited to a pair of unknowns: C. Chris and Rich E. Rich, featuring Rudy Pardee. It's also produced by, as far as I know, a complete unknown named Pedie Cooper. In fact, it really seems to be Pedie's baby. Besides being the producer, he gets sole writing credit for the record, and the back cover writes out the lyrics where it again specifically credits that this is "by Pedie Cooper." As far as I know, neither Cooper nor the team of Chris and Rich went on to do anything else in the industry; and yet this was released on MCA Records. Did Pardee get his label to release this? Or is this record what wound up getting the Dream Team signed? I'm really not sure. But it's interesting to note that the lyrics are given a separate, earlier copyright of 1985, which means they were at least written before the Dream Team signed..

It all leaves us with a pretty unusual record. It's got a serious message, obviously; but the tone is pretty light. First of all, it's got a very 80's pop sound to it, not dissimilar from The Dream Team's MCA stuff, there's even an uncredited disco-style female singer who sounds rather cheerful as she repeatedly enunciates the title for the chorus. Rudy. Chris and Rich were doing that very popular in the 80s style of having all the MCs rhyme on all the verses, so they're constantly finishing each other's sentences or saying phrases in unison. And anyone familiar with The Dream Team knows Rudy's voice and flow are anything but somber; and he hasn't changed anything for this record.

And to top it all off, there's a silly Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood style opening, where a happy man tells us that "today's word is 'apartheid.' Can you say 'apartheid?' I knew you could..." This is all set to the whimsical notes of a music box until the big, punchy 80's production kicks in when the intro's over and it's time to rock.

I guess the idea was to combine a heaping dose of sugar with the medicine, so kids would buy this record and hear its message? If so, the dramatic, solid red picture cover doesn't seem to be in on the plan. The lyrics are effective and painting a vivid and very serious picture ("they have to carry passes just to walk down the street, and if they are caught after dark, you know they get beat"), but they're also clearly not written by an experienced songwriter, with stilted phrasing forced into the bars, and rhymes that just don't rhyme... You can hear the MCs change their pronunciation to try to make "you have heard" with "Africa" or "worse than dirt" with "to protest;" but there's no saving it. They're not even close to rhyming.

But for all those issues, there's just as much here that works. The production's actually good; and Pardee has a great voice, which is well suited for this kind of instrumental. Lyrically, it hits as often as it misses, and obviously its heart is in the right place. It's hard to know quite what to make of this 12" - there's nothing else on here but an Instrumental and Bonus Beats - except that it's the veritable dictionary definition of an 80's artifact, and another interesting little point in the Dream Team's saga.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Raw Factor 1.0

It doesn't scan that well; but the label
is actually a cool, reflective silver.

Don't get me wrong, "Raw Factor 2.0" was a good record, which I recommend... but it seemed a little bass ackwards to be getting 2.0 before getting the original. I'm pretty sure most of my readers know the story, but just to briefly recap: Omniscence is an ill, lyrical MC from North Carolina, who signed to East/West Records in the mid 90s. He put out a couple hot singles, got "Rhyme Of the Month" in The Source... but ultimately, the album never dropped. It was called Raw Factor and it was completed; but it never saw the light of day and fans have been holding the torch for this album over the decades. Well, finally, Dope Folks Records is putting it out... over a series of 12" singles. The first of which, titled Raw Factors, has just arrived.

So we have here the first three songs to be carried over from Omni and producer Fanatic's reels. And let me tell you, they have come out strong. even if you've downloaded the mixtape Omni released online years ago, you haven't heard these songs. There actually seem to be multiple, somewhat different mixes with mostly the same tracks but also some unique ones, floating around out there, all containing blends and snippets of songs from the ever-unreleased album. I've been going through all the ones I can find, and I'm pretty confident none of these three songs were ever included in any of those mixes - so these will be completely new to your ears.

Strictly speaking, however, only two were completely new to my ears.   You may've caught a post I made years ago about an Omniscence promo EP... a tape sent out to journalists in advance of the album that contained six songs that, at the time, everybody assumed would soon be featured on the upcoming Raw Factor album. Well, the last song on that 12", "Was It Just You," is the same as on that tape: "a smooth, cool out groove with some nice reggae verses at the beginning and end" (follow that link for a more substantial write-up with lyrics, etc). It's the same version... same beat, same rhymes, same hook. Now you can finally own it for yourself; I think you'll like it.

The other two songs are completely new to me, and what's more, I think they're two of his best cuts compared to any of the material from the mixtapes, singles, promo tape or anywhere else. "If You Got Beef" and the title track - finally we get to hear it - are two raw, freestyle tracks with Omni just going hard over some rugged beats. The punchlines he's so known for are definitely on hand.... but there's an edge here, further amplified by these two instrumentals, which are possibly the grittiest in his catalog. And he has a core of respectable authenticity that reminds me of Big L, as opposed to most "punchline rappers" who can come off as corny, bad stand-up comedians when they fill their songs with cheesy jokes, awkward similes and pop culture references. This 12" is a monster.

Now, coming with only three songs does seem a little light... how many volumes is it going to take for us to get the complete album? Eight? Yeesh. But this way, we do get the instrumental versions (all three are included on the B-side) that we never would've gotten had this album actually come out from East/West back in the day. So it's ultimately it's a superior product. And no matter how they organize them, come on, they're gonna be essential. After all, we've been waiting for this 1996.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hip-Hop In Great Films: Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman is easily on the short list of greatest documentary filmmakers of all time... Errol Morris, The Maysles Brothers, Louis Malle, Werner Herzog (maybe the latter aren't generally considered documentary filmmakers, since they've done so many narrative films that tend to be better known, but they've both also made some fantastic docs). Wiseman stands easily right alongside them, a staple of documentary filmmaking since his controversial debut, Titticut Follies, in 1967. In some ways, his style is very "cinéma vérité"... there's no narration, graphics or formal structure  He has an amazing ability to to get candid footage, observing people and discovering surprisingly affecting moments in everyday life. His camera lingers - his films have been known to run over 6 hours long! - with long static shots of human behavior often in places you can't believe anybody would let a documentary filmmaker in to shoot. And he's been making documentaries steadily since his first, visiting all different locales and institutions, as recently as 2011's Crazy Horse.

And with all that filming in all different parts of the world and social strata over the decades, it's only natural that some hip-hop would leak its way in. It's pretty rare, though - I suspect he's really not a fan - but it does happen in the occasional film.

It happens in a very minor way in 1990's Central Park. A 176 minute film centered entirely in an exterior NYC location? It would be impossible for it not to. But it's surprisingly repressed. Weddings, rallies, late-night clean-up crews, (non-hip-hop) concerts, even private meetings of the park's council in their own homes. There's a fun, short roller-skating scene where they';re rolling to Johnny Kemp's "Just Got Paid," But for actual hip-hop, you only really hear it in snippets of radios playing in the background... super short clips of Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock's "It Takes Two" and Run DMC's "Run's House." And most substantially, around the hour and ten minutes mark, there's a cool montage of park activity set to Doug E Fresh's "Keep Rising To the Top."

But I almost throw Central Park in there just to be completist. Of the three, only the Doug E Fresh clip really even lasts long enough to make much of an impression. But hip-hop plays a bigger role in these next two films.

1986's Blind takes place entirely within The Alabama School for Blind and Deaf in Talladega, Alabama. It's a really deep and moving look at the aspects of blind children (including a couple of the cutest little kids pretty much any movie ever!). But 1985, Alabama - and a school for the blind at that - isn't exactly a place you'd expect to stumble upon any hip-hop. But yet it occurs quite naturally. It's Halloween time towards the end of the film, and the kids (who don't just attend the school in the daytime, by the way, but live there), are given a big costume party. It's a long, substantial scene, and during the entire time, they're dancing to Newcleus's "Jam On It." In a cleared cafeteria, little kids are attempting break-dancing and there's a DJ calling out over the record for everyone to get on the floor, etc. It goes on for several minutes, and then you think they're starting to transition out when they start showing close-ups of decorations and things; but then it comes right back to the party for Chilly B's verse. We get almost the entire song... taken out of context, it could practically be a music video for it.
There are even subtle narratives to be found on repeat watches if you pay careful attention... Early in the scene, we see a girl sitting at a table crying and a boy attempting to comfort her. Then, right near the end, we see the girl out dancing on the floor with that same boy.

And the Wiseman film that hip-hop plays the biggest part in is easily Public Housing. Focusing entirely on the Ida B. Wells Housing Development in Chicago in 1996. It's one of his most compelling films, exploring the aspects of life that film almost never looks at. And like Central Park, hip-hop is always surrounding the film, always ready to seep into the background soundtrack of its inhabitants daily life. There's a moment where they're having a small block party, with their boombox facing out the window, and somebody off-camera comments, "that's real music, not that electronic shit." But for all its little cameos, hip-hop stands out particularly in two scenes.

Spot the Rap-A-Lot t-shirt!
The first is a very incongruous moment. He's filming inside the hair salon, everybody's cheerful. If you're expecting a one-note "look at the terrible poverty" film; you'll be surprised at Wiseman's richer and more truthful work.  But to add another layer to it all, everybody's activity is all set to the music playing in their store, an extremely violent Spice 1 song (specifically "Born II Die," perhaps appropriately from the Tales From the Hood soundtrack), declaring, "I can't be fucked in this game; I'ma psychopath. My AK told me to shove him up some nigga's ass!" Most of you can probably imagine how your mothers, grandmothers or whoever would react if that popped on in their hair salon. And no, this wasn't a business full of teens. But this was Spice 1's audience, and heads were nodding, the mood was unbroken.

And the next moment is hip-hop's largest moment in a Wiseman film, and yet we don't actually hear any. Towards the end of Public Housing, there's a huge gathering outside. All the kids and half the adults are packed together, caught up in the excitement of a music video shoot that's come to be filmed in their projects. We basically never see the artist, and we never hear a note of the song. Just the crew in Berry Juice Records t-shirts trying to focus the excitement of the large crowd, a young man up above the fray on his camera mount, a young woman giving orders over a walkie-talkie. I've tracked down the song, and it turns out it's "A Better Day" by an obscure Chicago artist named Da Criminal, though you'd think he was a big time major label artist based on the scene in the film. But the film isn't interested in the rapper or the song; it's about the community and how this hip-hop event has changed their lives, at least for this one day.

These and almost all of Wiseman's other films (The Garden has been censored and nobody seems to care enough about Seraphita's Diary to release it) can be purchased direct from Wiseman's film company's website:  I recommend them all, especially his early and mid-90's work, and not just the films with rap scenes.  :)

Cee-Lo is singing, not rapping; so I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide if this qualifies as Hip-Hop, but Gnarls Barkley comes up in the aforementioned Crazy Horse.  Towards the end of the film, which documents the inner workings of the Crazy Horse cabaret theater in Paris, there's a sequence where new dancers come in and audition.  And they're mostly dancing to, yes the most obvious choice, "Crazy."  It's actually a rather prominent feature.