Thursday, August 29, 2013

InstaRapFlix #38: Da Hip Hop Witch

Yesterday, I set in on an Eminem documentary that turned out to not be all that bad... I was pleasantly surprised to find a film its makers seemed to actually care about. But my expectation for a crappy Eminem movie has left a hole... One that I'm confident will be filled today, by Da Hip Hop Witch (Netflix Rating: 1 star).

This movie is... incomprehensible. It's two things. One, a terrible, terrible Blair Witch Project knock-off/ parody. Secondly, it's one of those hip-hop pseudo-documentaries that's really just comprised off rappers caught off guard giving quick drops to a dude with a camcorder. Both, taken on their own, would make for pretty detestable films. But combined, they're cinematic gibberish. We get random footage where it's not even clear how it's supposed to connect or relate to the other footage we've seen.

The premise, such as it is, is that there's a Blair Woods-like witch that used to haunt Newark. It's come back now ten years later (later then what? who knows) and only kills rappers. Oh, and it now appears in every inner city across the world, a line only explained by a title to card, presumably to justify the cameos from rappers from other cities. So we get random footage of rappers like Ja Rule, Ras Kass Vitamin C, Professor X, Vanilla Ice, the Made Men and Eminem saying things like "oh yeah, I saw the witch. She was scary!" Rock from Heltah Skeltah leans out of his car window to tell us he's on the hunt for the witch, somehow, some way, which never connects to anything else in the film.

At the same time, there's a wacky pack of five schticky characters (the girl with the red hair is named Rave, etc) and a pug named Pug from Salem on the hunt for the witch, like the three teens in the Blair Witch Project. Meanwhile, there's scene after scene of a group of music producers (actors, this time) brainstorming a gimmick they can get rich off of. And then, there's a long, terrible segment about a fake hip-hop news show, which seems to have been filmed in the offices of Rap Pages(!), with some of the worst acting I've ever seen - and believe me, I'm used to ultra-low budget horror flicks from decades past. These office scenes were really the point where my brain started to scream "abort! Abort!" and climb out of my ears.

So yeah, just to reiterate, none of the rappers really interact with the plot or the central film. We just cut to them over and over for some completely unrelated commentary. They do make some attempt to connect them, which only makes things even dumber, by saying that the hip-hop reporter is being locked out of the rappers' offices (for fear that she might be the witch!), so only her cameraman is allowed inside. So that's why nobody from one set of footage ever interacts with the people in the other set - it's all part of the story!

So, somehow the gang from Salem hear that the music producers who need a gimmick are offering ten million dollars for the witch because it's regularly attacking their artist, so they go to New York. Oh, and this film also keeps cutting to some girl looking out her window. I can't figure out who she was supposed to be. There's a montage of the reporter reading different articles from an issue of Rap Pages (which the Salem gang are also shown reading) - nothing makes any sense! Footage repeats, and we see people say the same things at different points in the film like we're not supposed to notice!

The hip-hop show stops being a hip-hop show and even though they've been covering the witch, they now don't know anything about it until an assistant brings them the story. Again, the story we've been watching them cover all along. Anyway, they're not interested until the president of the company, Mr. Krump, sexually harasses some women and announces, "my kids keep talking about this hip-hop stuff! Do we have any stories on hip-hop?" So the assistant is made into a reporter and told to uncover the hoax of the witch, because they think it's all a lie perpetuated by some gangster named Mr. Big Z who "owns the streets" and is taking half of the music producers' deal. And there's also another assistant who gets hired, who's gunning for the first assistant's job, and the Salem kids are trying to blackmail the gangster. Some crack addict goes undercover as an Atlanta rapper to get with the producers, tells them she knows about the Salem kids, but he recognizes her as somebody, and some character named The Street Don dies. And no, I didn't just spoil the ending; it keeps going and I'll leave the rest unsaid. Honestly, I couldn't figure it out what was going on, and I was literally taking notes. Holy fuck, how does a story this empty get so convoluted?

There are some interesting rappers featured in this... artists we almost never get to see, including Diezzle Don and most of The Outsidaz (Pace, Azz Izz, Rah Digga, of course Em). We even get to the Out House studio and all; but it's basically worthless, because they don't get to say anything except these stupid, meaningless and inconsistent anecdotes about a fictitious Black Witch. It being such a frustrating, wasted opportunity is the insult on top of the injury.

This movie has absolutely zero redeeming values. It's never scary, intentionally funny, unwittingly funny or remotely interesting. The acting is awful, the dialogue is all improvised garbage. The rappers are all wasted cameos. The footage is all handheld, low quality camcorder level material that's terribly lit. I'm sure 95% of the people who've seen this film did not watch it all the way through from beginning to end uninterrupted. It's just torture.

And amazingly, this has been released on DVD three times by three different studios in the US alone. A-Pix, Artisan and Artisan/ Lion's Gate in 2000, 2003 and 2004 respectively. They're all available on Amazon for a penny, and they're all drastically over-priced. The A-Pix disc has a banner going across it claiming it's the Full Frame Version, but they're all full-frame. It was shot full-frame. Stay away from this movie, don't help it make any more money. Don't even watch it for free... on a dare. It's really that bad.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

InstaRapFlix #37: Eminem AKA

I can't really use the phrase "binge watching" and then only do one InstaRapFlix post, can I? Well, okay, in honor of Eminem's latest boring comeback or whatever, I've stumbled upon an Eminem documentary called Eminem AKA. That feels like an incomplete title, but maybe it'll make sense when we watch it.  It's from 2004, has a Netflix rating of a whopping single star and clocks in at a very tight 70 minutes. My expectations are good and low, so let's dive in!

Well, right off the bat, we get an illustrated credits sequence that shows somebody put some care and effort into this flick, which is more than I can say about some past InstaBioDocs. It's narrated by Treach, and it quickly becomes apparent that this entire film is being presented like a comic book, with speakers framed in panels, with speech bubbles etc [that's an actual screenshot, right]. Before they make their connection between Eminem and comic books, it feels like a completely random, arbitrary choice of styles. But they do eventually come up with a thesis to tie it all together. He grew up loving comic books... we see (surprisingly good) drawings he made of Spider-Man and Robocop, photos of Halloween costumes he wore as a kid. The film has the president of the Los Angeles Psychiatric Association (why LA, when Em and his family are in Detroit? I guess that's just where the filmmakers were based) talk about how kids growing up with no stability gravitate towards power fantasies like super hero identities. And it's ultimately suggested his various rap persona (Slim Shady, Eminem as opposed to Marshal, etc) are just further iterations of this. It's actually pretty well thought-through.

We first meet Eminem's grandmother. Betty Kresin, who tells a disturbing anecdote about how gleeful she was at the deathbed of her grandmother, telling her she was going to Hell. It's the dark story of an abusive family that certainly lines up with the image Em has painted with his lyrics over the years. We meet Eminem's mother Debbie Nelson-Mathers, who tells us she was sexually assaulted by her stepfather at age 12, "but he didn't get the job complete." Jesus.

Treach's narration is fairly melodramatic (culminating in a ridiculous moment where he raps the judgement of a suit against Em), and the film's eagerness to throw out anecdotes of abuse and broken homes feels a bit trashy and exploitative, like the kind of junk bios you'd see on the E! channel. There's a lot of dishing on his ex, the famous Kim Anne Scott, who we see photos of but who isn't interviewed. In a way, it's like you're getting close to Em in an inappropriate way behind his back. I actually met Eminem back in the days, and this doc made me feel like I was gossiping and hearing stories that should've remained personal. The fact that Em isn't involved himself definitely adds to that; there's plenty of online comments suggesting his family is using this doc to cash in on his success (it even advertises that ridiculous "Dear Marshall" song she recorded with ID-X), and it's hard to make a case against them. But I can't front, it's actually well put together, engrossing, and certainly an infinitely higher quality documentary than I was expecting coming in.

Besides the above mentioned, this film also talks to Em's uncle, first manager, his former roommate, ex-bodyguard (Big Naz, who recorded an Em diss record that I wrote a bit about here), the manager of of a local record shop, two local radio DJs, customers and co-workers at an old lodge he used to work at, a reporter for The Detroit Free Press and two of his mom's friends. Their stories are intercut with quotes from Em's song about his past. And the thrust of the film eventually shifts from his family's dysfunction to his musical origins... his mother was in a band, the first rap song he ever heard was "Reckless" by Chris Taylor and Ice-T, we go from "Back Stabbers" to Scribble Jam.

It's not a great film; but if you're a hardcore fan or just interested in classic, early Em, it's legitimately worth a watch. And if you don't have Netflix, you can get it for a penny on Amazon. I was pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I feel a little bit like a corporate shill for posting about this, but I have to say I like Amazon's new "AutoRip" policy.  I know some vinyl labels have come with download cards, and some small labels, often through soundcloud, will offer immediate mp3 downloads with purchases of hard-copy albums (and all of said policies rock, by the way, and should be further encouraged), but I'm surprised its taken so long for a major player like Amazon to get hip.

Basically, it just means you get an instant mp3 copy of the album when you order, ostensibly ripped from the CD you've just ordered (not really, of course) while you wait for it to arrive in the mail. Another cool thing is that they also retroactively add music you've bought in the past - Some Bruce Springsteen CD I bought my uncle for Christmas last year is just waiting for me to play or download it to my Amazon Cloud Player.

Yeah, that's the downside; they're railroading you into use their software. It's free and all, but how many of us would ever use the Amazon software if we weren't being forced to? Still, you CAN download it all off your Amazon cloud to your desktop and then play it without their player like any other mp3.  And having your stuff backed up onto Amazon-hosted cloud drive isn't exactly a bad thing. So you don't really have to use their player at all except to download the stuff initially; and their player seems fine, I guess, anyway.

Overall it's definitely a good thing, and probably something every site that sells CDs or vinyl should be looking to evolve into. But maybe without the pushy software.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

InstaRapFlix #36: F.E.D.S.

What? I brought InstaRapFlix back? Yeah, at least temporarily. I've been chugging along with nothing but a DVD subscription since Netflix made the switch, but their selection's been coming up a little short these days, and I was imagining all those green "SAVE" buttons were connecting to movies they had on Streaming if not on DVD. I was imagining this huge selection I was missing out on so I broke down and paid for a Streaming sub. And wow, their selection is worse than when i left it, I think. They hardly have anything - it took me like 2 minutes to scroll through their entire Comedy selection, and that's a major genre. ...So, I'll probably cancel it real soon. But for now I'm binge-watching and before I kill it, I of course had to look for some crazy, weirdo streaming hip-hop docs. And here's what I came up with.

The movie is called F.E.D.S. (2004, Netflix rating: two stars), and it promises "to track the history of hip-hop and rap music by starting at the source: the streets." According to the cast list, we can expect to see rappers like Mad Skillz, Method Man, Scarface and Talib Kweli. It's a proper feature length (87 mins), which is a good sign, so let's jump right in.

The opening title card tells us "Russell Simmons' American Truth Series Presents" it. I dind't know that Russell Simmons was involved with this or that he had an American Truth Series, but okay. Anyway, F.E.D.S. is a magazine (Finally Every Dimension of the Streets). I actually knew this, but it's been so long since I've thought about it that I didn't make the connection until it came up in the credits. They're more of a "street" magazine than a hip-hop mag, per se; but there's naturally a lot of rap music covered in it. So Simmons collaberating with F.E.D.S. Magazine... can't say I know what to expect from this one.

Well, it starts out with a big, shameless ad for the magazine, telling us how wonderful and edgy it is. Then a narrator comes in to introduce us to a segment on dog fighting. There's a little footage of graphic fighting (and looking through the Netflix reviews, it's gotten a lot of complaints); but bizarrely, it mostly comes off as an extended "How To" for pit bull fighting, from breeding and training to feeding and washing. They even show you the execution of a weaker dog (by electrocution). They do talk to a dog rescuer, too, and try to be an objective portrayal of the situation, but jeez... I thought this was gonna be a fun post.

Then we're back to advertising the magazine. Some people do drops on the street (including Fat Joe); and then the owner of the magazine tells the story of how he got shot, and decided to create a magazine for his friends and family in prison. I didn't realize this, but apparently the founder was down with the Money Boss Players, and started the magazine with the money he got from their Qwest Records deal. That's kinda interesting.

So, anyway, then there's an interview with an ex drug dealer. Then another segment called "Making the Magazine." Now this shit's really starting to feel like an infomercial. The next segment is Selling the Magazine;" they can't even space them out like every other one. The las"t non-mag related segment is a piece on gangs where they interview some old west coast bloods and crips. But we go back to more blatant self promotion before the movie ends with some promises of what's coming in the next F.E.D.S. DVD, which I don't think ever happened.

There's really jack shit about hip-hop in here. In fact, those artists Netflix lists as being in the movie? Meth and all them? They're not in here! Yeah, there's Fat Joe, and DJ Brucie Bee does a quick drop, but what's up with Scarface? Okay, being focused on street shit instead of rap music is more in line with what the actual magazine's about.

At tne end of the day, this is mostly an ad for the magazine, with a couple of extra segments thrown in. Honestly, a straight up documentary on the magazine would've been more compelling; but as it is, it's an interesting look at an interesting magazine if you're bored. If you don't have Netflix to watch it for free, I definitely wouldn't recommend buying it unless you're a hardcore F.E.D.S. devotee, although as of this writing you can get the DVD on Amazon for a penny. It's basically a big ol' ad masquerading as a movie.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

So, This Exists

Young Zee (No Brain Class) Musical Meltdown, Perspective Records, 1996. The unreleased album. The masterpiece that famously and ridiculously only "got a two in The Source."  Obviously a happy day for me: proper sound quality, which naturally blows away everything I've heard online or on the old dub I got from tape trading way back in the 90's (and still have). Not to mention a Hell of a collector's item.

But now the bigger question is which label's gonna step up to the plate and get it out to the people (and on vinyl, of course)? Unfortunately, while I'm sure Zee himself would be down, since Perspective was kind of a major label - tied to A&M/ Polygram, which ultimately leads up the beanstalk to the ugly Universal monster - I suspect this would probably be out of the reach of our beloved limited labels like DWG and Dope Folks. It'd probably take a bigger player, like a Traffic or a Get On Down Records to license this from the people who don't even know they own it.

How about it, guys? Maybe take a break from reissuing album after album that all of us already own because they've been widely distributed on all formats since the get-go, and have never been rare or difficult to obtain. I mean, those giant CD cases, posters, carry cases and slip mats are nice and all. But there's so many great albums that have never been released, albums that us heads have waited most of our lives for, just staring everybody in the face, asking: when are you gonna get to us?

This is art, guys; we have an obligation.

Update: The call has been answered!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Nas Is Essentially Like...

I haven't blogged enough about Nas, so this upcoming release is perfect. Not just for that reason, but because, well, look. Like every hip-hop head on the planet, I'm a big fan of Illmatic. And then I got It Was Written, and it was disappointing in points, but... Hey, you don't need me to explain to you the up and down history of Nas's post-Illmatic career. And honestly, one of the reasons I don't write so much about Nas is that I have the most common, least controversial opinions of his output. I mostly stopped getting his albums in favor of just getting the hotter 12" singles, cherry-picking individual songs I liked online, or at least waiting until I could get stuff like the 2LP of I Am for 99 cents.

So when I saw this album: The Essential Nas from Legacy Recordings (it comes out next week), my first thought was the obvious. "So, it's Illmatic with a couple bonus tracks?" Nyuck, nyuck. But honestly, Nas is an artist who'd benefit from a "Greatest Hits" compilation like no other. Distilling his later albums to just the few best tracks each and putting them all together actually adds up to a pretty great reminder of why he's hung in there all these years and  why we should really appreciate that.

Now, he's had a couple greatest hits albums already: Not including mixCDs, bootlegs and little vinyl EPs, he's had The Best of Nas in 2002 and Greatest Hits in 2007. But this is the best and most definitive. It certainly helps that this is a 2 disc set, so it has the room to dig a little deeper than those more superficial outings.

It's got some pretty extensive liner notes by Gabriel Alvarez, which is refreshingly honest at points, with lines like, "that murky period between his second album and Nastradamus," which you wouldn't expect to see a major label admit to on their own product. Of course, they then goes on to defend it and blame an excessive amount of blame for the lack of critical and commercial success on bootleggers. But still, it's a good, intelligent read and shows that some effort was put into making this an all around quality release.

But of course, a compilation like this all eventually boils down to: what songs did they pick? Well, I'm happy to report that it doesn't feel Illmatic top-heavy, nor does it feel neglected. The selections are pretty smart, and well-coordinated with the liner notes (Alvarez mentions "Black Zombies" and "Doo Rags" as personal highlights from Lost Tapes, and they're both on here). Remember how Nas leaked the awesome comeback track "Nasty" for Life Is Good, with an official video and everything, and then left it off the final album? Of course you do, we all do. Well, this album opens with "Nasty."  And the only other Life Is Good selection is the Large Professor No ID-produced banger, "Loco-Motive." So obviously this track-listing was put together by a real head, instead of a panel of studio executives.

Don't get it twisted, though. "Oochie Wally" is still on here. It's not some kind of "strictly the real" themed project. And some of the songs, like the aforementioned "Black Zombies" are compellingly written songs on Nas's art, but come up short in the production end, and wind up being not the greatest songs overall. Sure, we all like "Nastradamus," but mostly just because it's an EPMD beat jack; I'm not sure it deserves to have been lifted out of its original album to be preserved here. And it's crazy that his beloved Lauryn Hill duet "If I Ruled the World" isn't on here, in favor of... "Just a Moment" featuring Quan? Really? But okay; I realize it's impossible to make an album like this that won't have listeners questioning the choices.

A greater weakness is that, except for "Nasty," this album seems limited to just the album cuts off his LPs. Side projects like Distant Relatives or The Firm aren't represented at all (on second thought, maybe that's for the best), and there's no 12" remixes or B-sides included. Most harmful is that it means no guest spots.  No "Live At the Barbecue," no "Fast Life" with G Rap, and once again, another opportunity has been missed to include the original "On the Real." I realize it probably would've meant spending a little money to license those cuts, but that's what ends up hurting this comp the most... some of his guest spots are unquestionably among his greatest hits, and this double disc set definitely has some soft tracks on here I'd love to trade for his nest work on other rappers' projects. Admittedly, I do kinda like "Hate Me Now" with Puffy, but compared to his Main Source debut? Come on.

So, no, it's not perfect. And no, there's no vinyl version. ...Though there is a clean CD version, for the unlucky offspring of strict parents.  hehe  But it's still a great way to deal with his catalog of albums overstuffed with filler and sometimes corny production. And what's more, it effectively shows how Nas is still a killer MC to reckon with and always has been... even during that murky period.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kid Friendly Geto Boys!

I've decided I want to make the Top Mommy Blogs list. So for today's post, I decided to apply my expertise in hip-hop's obscure treasures and apply it to giving some fresh advice for the young mommies out there. And hey, you don't stop loving your favorite rap classics just because you've taken that first step into parenthood. In fact, I bet an awful lot of you find yourselves wondering aloud: I love The Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks On Me," but how do I share this music with my K through First grader when there's so many swear words in it?

Well, don't worry, ladies; because like Master P said, I've got the hook up! The album might be a bit much for your little tyke; but did you know that the single features clean, curse-less versions of the the great ode to suicidal paranoia we've grown up with? And not just your typical radio edit with the bad words bleeped out or reversed, which today's savy youngsters can decode faster than we can. It features all new vocals, rewritten and performed by the Boys themselves.

Let's look at Scarface's opening verse. After a brief quote from their earlier hit "Mind of a Lunatic," he says:

"At night I can't sleep, I toss and turn. Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies bein' burned, four walls just staring at a nigger; a paranoiac sitting with my finger on the trigger."

Imagine if your kid recited that in the playground! Fortunately, an SFS (Safe For Schoolyard) version has been prepared with you and yours in mind:

"At night I can't sleep, I toss and turn. Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies bein' burned, four walls closin' in, gettin' bigger; a paranoiac sleeping with my finger on the trigger."

Now there's something you could play on the drive to school every morning. The word "nigger" has been removed, but all artistic imagery of burning corpses and a mentally ill murderer sleeping with his gun are safe and sound. The intro where Scarface asks "if this shit is on?" now has him being told to "cool out, we're on the radio." Willie D's drug dealer, scared because he's instead of dope he was selling Gold Medal flour? Scarface's abusive and suicidal husband whose irrational fits of jealousy drove his wife to leave him? It's all here.

"Hooked a left into Popeye's and bailed out quick, If it's going down, let's get this shit over with. Here they come just like I figured. I got my hand on the motherfucking trigger."


"Hooked a left into Popeye's and bailed out quick, If it's going down, let's get it over with. Here they come just like I figured. I got my hand on the gold-plated trigger."


"She helped me out in this shit; but to me she was just another bitch."


"She helped me out in this... but to me she was just another chick."

You get the idea. I've actually had the cassette single [pictured] since the day it was released. I'm still not sure how much radio play this got, considering how dark the subject matter still is; but there was a music video that used to get airtime.

I was once contacted by Pedestrian, who was in the middle of recording a satiric version of "We're All In the Same Gang" with the rest of the Anticon regulars using famous verses from other songs. He wanted to do Bushwick Bill's verse from this song, but was uncomfortable saying "nigga" on the track. I was happy to tell him I had the perfect solution to his problem in one of my many cassingle shoe-boxes:

"This year Halloween fell on a weeekend,
Me and Geto Boys are trick or treatin';
Robbin' little kids for bags
'Till the law man got behind our rags.
So we speeded up the pace;
Took a look back, and he was right before our face!
We were in for a squabble no doubt,
So I swung and tried to take him out.
He was going down we planned;
But this wasn't no ordinary man.
He stood about six or seven feet;
Now that's the creep I be seein' in my sleep.
So we triple-teamed on him,
Droppin' them Fifth Ward B's on 'im.
The more I swung, the more blood flew,
Then he disappeared and my boys disappeared, too!
Then I felt just like a fiend...
It wasn't even close to Halloween.
It was dark as death on the streets;
My hands were all bloody from punching on the concrete.
Ah man, homey,
My mind is playing tricks on me."

I typed that up for him in an e-mail. Unfortunately the song never came out. ...Where is it, guys?

And all of that? It isn't even the whole story. See, that's just the main, commercial single. Cassette or12", it comes in a picture cover, with the Radio and original Club versions on it, plus Instrumentals.

Even weirder, though, there's a promo 12" (also 1991 from Rap-A-Lot), with no picture cover and additional remixes. Some of the titles are pretty misleading. There's an R And B Radio Mix, which is basically the same as the Radio version from the mainstream single. You might expect, I don't know, some R&B elements? Some girl singing a fancy new chorus or different samples in the music? Nope, none of that. Just minor, inconsequential variations.

But then you've got the Club Extended Mix ...and also the Clean Extended Mix. They're the same as each other except one version uses the original vocals and the other the new ones. But the extended material, maybe you'd think it would be an extra twenty seconds of letting the bat ride at the end? Maybe a longer breakdown between the second and third verse? Nah, man, this is actually a nine and a half monster! It starts out with Indian singing and loud, distorted breathing. Then a weird dance beat slowly fades up and eventually the more familiar guitar loop and instrumental elements we're familiar with from the original come in. All four verses are here, plus some cool scratch breakdowns, cutting up pieces of "Mind of a Lunatic" over the track. At some points the guitar sample is juggled underneath the verses, other times the beats are doubled and it gets more of a demented dance track feel. Some other samples are mixed in, and sound effects are added to the raps. For example, there's a metallic "shnick" sound added when Willie D says, "I live by the sword." It's all kind of a giant mess, really. Parts of it are actually dope; but the whole thing is so disjointed and unwieldy, it totally undercuts the atmosphere and the drama that makes the original such a compelling, timeless song. It's just madness. The first time you hear it, you'll think your mind has to be playing tricks on you, too. There's no way this shit actually exists!

So, you know... just something to think about since it's almost Back To School time, right? No? Wait, maybe this will convince you:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Synesthia Vs... Synesthia

In 2001, Buck 65 released his last indie album before signing to Warner Bros - Synesthia on Endemik Music. Then when Warner put out his next album (Square), they re-issued the bulk of his back catalog at the same time... After all, you couldn't expect the wide, mainstream audiences this now major label artist was getting exposed to to seek out old homemade cassette tapes from Point Blank Catalogs to fill their collections. And when all these albums were re-released, they were given new cover art and retroactively decreed to all be parts of a series called Language Arts, parts 1-5. But this last album got a lot more than a new cover.

If you have the original Synesthia, the first thing you'll notice is that it's another in Buck 65's many "mixtape" albums, meaning it was released as one giant CD track. The next thing you'll notice is that this album is pretty short. Remember how Vertex and Weirdo Magnet had to be shorted for their CD releases, because the original cassette (or dual cassettes in the case of Weirdo) versions were too long to fit onto a single CD? This album has the opposite problem; if it were released on cassette, it would've only been able to fill up one side. And finally, the third thing you'd notice (that's right - you'd only notice three things. Three things I say!) is that, while this series is known for being 100% self-made by Buck - all the rhymes, all the vocals, all the cuts and all the production were by him - the credits here tell us that there is "additional production" by Grey Matter on this album. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't get any more specific, so we don't know exactly what he did here.

Anyway, it was easily my least favorite Buck album when it came out. Like past Language Arts albums, a lot of this album is instrumental, and I think the balance is even a bit heavier on the instrumental stuff this time. So on an album that's already just slightly over half an hour long, that means there's really not a lot of rap music to be had on here. Then, a couple of the songs feel sort of half-assed or gimmicky... One song where he rhymes little narrative couplets followed a long dramatic pausr will really try your patience. And the last song is just another remix of "The Centaur," which had already been released and remixed several times by 2001. And this is a Drum and Bass remix, so ugh. I just wind up turning this album off a couple minutes earlier.

Still, this album has its moments. Some of the instrumental parts are engaging, there's a fun track where he rhymes over a Fat Boys sample and even attempts a little human beatboxing. There's a song about growing up as a Kiss fan that I don't particularly enjoy, but it's interesting lyrically. And there's one song near the end which is definitely a top shelf cut to stand up with the best of his material.

However, I'm guessing that wasn't enough for the Warner Brothers. Because they had him totally retool this CD. Almost all of the instrumental stuff has been removed, and this CD is no longer one giant track, but a properly segmented CD broken into seventeen distinct (and now titled) songs, with a more full-length feeling running time of just over 45 minutes. Apparently one of the reasons for the changes was due to sample clearance, too; so even the songs that carry over from the 2001 version are different than the ones this 2002 version. The liner notes now say "all songs made by Buck 65 (rush job)," so I guess Grey Matter's work is out, too (though he is thanked).

So this album is definitely superior There's lots of good, new stuff. Yeah, the annoying dramatic pause song and the drum & bass version of "Centaur" are still here; so it's not perfect. But mostly all the new songs are better than all the old ones. An anti-smoking song called "Toxic Constituents" is surprisingly fresh and "Grumpy" is a lot of fun. And even the few instrumental segments on this version are tighter and more compelling. I might even go so far as to say that this new version is actually an overall stronger album than most of the other Language Arts entries.

Some of the remixes are just subtle changes (perhaps to recreate a song with sample clearance issues as closely as possible), so there's really very little reason to prefer the Endemik version. The only thing I find myself missing is the Fat Boys-inspired cut. it is on the remake (called "Hens"); but musically, it's a completely different animal, with all different samples, a different tone, and no beatboxing. So if you're a completist, there's that, and a bunch of exclusive instrumentals. And if you're a collector, it's a nice little rarity (online sources seem to agree that the Endemik version was limited to 1000 copies; but I don't remember it being marketed that way at the time), that's substantially different enough - you don't feel like you're buying essentially the same material twice. Despite having a lot of stuff still in common, they are pretty different listening experiences. But if you're just looking to score one version and wondering what's best... or, if you're in the situation I was that inspired me to write this post in the ifrst place: you own both and are just wondering which is the preferable and/or definitive version to listen to an enjoy. Then the answer is easy, 2002 Warner Bros edition all the way.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Green EP Plus Three

Surely you all remember the big mess that came about when Good Felons Records closed after taking everybody's pre-orders for Kev E Kev and Ak B's terrific Dopeland EP. The EPs were pressed, but nobody was going to get their copies because GoodFelons had gone MIA... until DWG linked up with Kev E Kev, rescued the vinyl, sorted the whole mess out and got everybody their long-awaited wax. But Dopeland wasn't the only release lost in GoodFelons' folding, and it turns out DWG wasn't the only heroic label to step in and save our records.

Another release GoodFelons had all lined up was called The Green EP, by Marco Polo. You may remember an advance Sean Price track being spread around the blogs last spring. It was a hot song, with Rock on it too. This was going to be an 8-song (really 7 with a brief intro) producer EP by Polo with a another of his impressive line-up of underground artists, all doing songs on the subject of weed. Fortunately, I don't think it made it to the pre-order stage, so nobody lost money and no vinyl was pressed and locked away at a pressing plant. But still, all the music was recorded and with GoodFelons now an unresponsive corpse, it was all just sitting there, out of everyone's reach.

Well, it's got a pretty strong line-up, There's:
Masta Ace - Who of course has already had a very successful collaboration with Polo. This track's no "Nostalgia," but it's still a solid Ace cut with Ace taking on the role of a drug dealer.
MC Eiht - Who, by the way, really doesn't sound like he used to. Not just on this EP, but all his new material. I wouldn't even recognize him if he didn't keep saying "jeah."
Ras Kass - Who, surprisingly, has one of the most compelling tracks on here.
Copywrite - Who starts out strong, but his punchlines get cornier and cornier as the song devolves.
Guilty Simpson
 ...And one of the groups featured on that EP was the Constant Deviants.  I assume it's thanks to that connection that this release was saved. Because the Deviants' label apparently reached out to John of GoodFelons and got permission to press this up. And it was released in May as a limited vinyl EP (at a standard, non-limited price), with some on green vinyl, the rest on tradition black, and all in a sticker cover. In fact, it's apparently even "dedicated to the pursuit and full exoneration of JOHN "BIG MAN" VENIZELOS." Interesting. Anyway, it's a solid EP. Marco Polo has managed to create some really good singles in the past; but I tend to find most of the rest of his albums are filler (production-wise, at least), with lots of hills and valleys. However I found this EP to be nice and consistent throughout.

And now Six2Six have taken things even farther, expanding The Green EP into The Green LP, for a new CD release. This features the entirety of the EP, plus three new bonus tracks, bringing it to full album length. Interestingly, these new tracks are not produced by Marco Polo (even though the cover still has the "ALL PRODUCTION BY MARCO POLO" declaration on the front cover. But before you dismiss it with an, "oh, weak" and walk away... Let me tell you, these tracks are 100% up to par with the rest of the EP, and even stronger than some of the tracks. We get two all new songs and one remix, all from Six2Six's roster, naturally.

The remix is the Constant Deviants song, which they sometimes spell "Chronicles" and sometimes "Khronicle." Either way, it's the same vocals with an all new track by Custodian of Records. Now, like I said earlier, I was already happy with Polo's production work on here, so I wasn't sure how much this really needed a remix, but what Custodian has done is totally flip the atmosphere, giving the song a totally different feeling. If you weren't paying careful attention to the lyrics, you wouldn't even think it was the same song.

Even better is another Custodian production, "Rehab" by Sparrow the Movement. It's a refreshing take on the theme. Not to me all sermonistic about drug use or anything, and I can't front on Heltah Skeltah boasting, "I been high for days. Two pulls and look at you, you're sweating, nigga, wipe your face!" But it's refreshing to hear an MC with something realer to say by the end of this album. And Custodian does a nice job of matching his surroundings. If you weren't aware going in, you could listen to this album all the way through without realizing the producers swapped out at the final stretch.

Finally, you get one more, all new Constant Deviants song, It's self-produced, but production's always been their strong point, so that's all good. At the end of the day, the hardcore vinyl heads probably won't feel compelled to double down for a CD to get the bonus tracks. But the mew material definitely enhances the product. Removing the question of format, The Green LP is definitely preferable to The Green EP, and I'm happy to see this second edition get a physical release at all. Hell, I'm happy just to see another release get rescued from GoodFelons' collapse. Props to Six2Six!