Thursday, January 30, 2014

Disco Beave!

I'd never heard of Disco Beave before DWG featured them on their Lung Butters mixCD. "From the Projects" was just one of those killer random rap cuts that made you think, damn, gotta add that to my want list! Turns out it was a three-song single from 1988 on a little label out of Delaware, and I wasn't the only guy with it on my list. Anyone after this sucker was going to have to sink a lot of time and big bucks into the effort.

But Dope Folks has hooked us up! Not only have they repressed and remastered the original single, they also included an earlier version of one of the songs that Beave had released as its own 12" in 1987. It's limited to 300 copies, of course, and comes in a sticker cover reproducing the original "From the Projects" picture cover. My pictured copy is a test pressing; but the regular release comes with the more traditional DF-style label.

So, if you missed Lung Butters, "Projects" is tough. Despite his name, Beave is far from disco rap; he owes a lot more to early Juice Crew. His drums lack the technical proficiency of Marley's, but that's the only department he comes up short in. His tracks are big and rugged, his delivery is energetic and murderous, and his DJ, Zim Zam, gets busy. This guy could've definitely made noise on New York radio if he'd gotten his records in the right hands back in the day (he does try shouting out Red Alert, Chuck Chillout "and the rest of my New York City boys," on one of his songs; but I guess that didn't do the trick).

"From the Projects" may be the tightest, but the other three tracks are all up to par. The first version of "I'm Servin'" is a tight, smooth but hard track using some classic samples and def rhymes. Then the 1988 version updates by putting some of Parliament's "Flashlight" to great use. And "Hall Of Fame" actually features a different MC: B Gets Busy, instead of the Beave. He's got a bit of a lighter flow, but he holds his own; and the having the MCs swap out gives some nice variety to the EP. Plus, since the song is an ode to Zim Zam, it gives him their DJ the biggest opportunity to go off. Yeah, they're more rudimentary 80s cuts than the kind of stuff we've become accustomed to since; but it works great on the record.

Discc Beave is a big scratch off our want lists, so I'm happy. And listen. I've been, and continue to be, a big fan, of all the cool 90s stuff the limited labels like Dope Folks and Chopped Herring have been putting out on a now regular(!) basis. But I'm extra excited to hear golden '87-'88 music like this. So all I have to say is: more like this please!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tat Money's First Broadcast

Man, this latest release from Dope Folks is sooo 90's. If you love that decade, this release will be unabashed porn for you. Rhymes packed with references and gags, unnatural B-Real-like voices (though thankfully less extreme), songs about hitting "skins," verses that start with lines like "one potato, two potato, duck duck goose," dark bass-heavy beats with dusty samples laid over them, and hooks made up of everyone in the crew saying the same phrases in pell-mell unison. At one point, they even do the "diggita, diggita" Das EFX thing. It's so on the nose, it almost feels like one of those contemporary releases, where some new guys are pretending to have recorded their record back in the 90s by throwing in every cliche in the book.

But no, this is the real thing. Ebony Broadcast System is an independent Philly group assembled by the great DJ Tat Money in 1992 when the Hilltop Hustlers and A New Beginning seemed to be reaching the ends of their terms. He put them out on his own label, 1/2 Fro Records, named after the hairstyle he was rocking at the time [check out the photos on my Kwamé page]. There were a couple of 12" singles, which you may remember from Tony D's not-quite legitimate Philly Throwback compilation, and a rare cassette-only full-length that never really made it out of PA.

And that's what Dope Folks has brought us. The album was called Broadcastin', and like they're doing with Musical Meltdown, DF are splitting the album up over two pieces of wax - one for each side of the tape. So Pt. 1 comes down to a six-track EP, but two songs are just skits long skits, and kind of annoying ones at that. I mean, it's still good that DF put them on here for completionists' sake; but I wouldn't have been too mad to see them left off either.

The MCs are alright - again, how much they appeal to you will depend on how enthusiastic you are about that 90s style - but the real star is Tat Money. His production is surprisingly top notch. He's created four top notch phat tracks that you don't have to be a devotee of the era to appreciate; just love hip-hop. And while the EP doesn't boil down to one big showcase of his championship turntable skills, he doesn't leave you hanging. His cuts here are also well integrated into his production; he's not just going nuts on a vocal sample that's then dropped on top of the beat. Everything he does is a part of the instrumental in a way that you're rewarded for paying attention.

So, this is shipping now at Dope Folks' usual (nice and affordable) pricing and limited to 300 copies; and again, this is Broadcastin's first time on wax. The sound quality is quite good. If this is from the tape, they did an excellent job on the remastering. I'm definitely feeling Tat Money's work on here, but there's a second record Dope Folks dropped concurrently with this one which I like even better - look for that post tomorrow.  XD

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hidden Breeze

Man, I can't get me enough Breeze! You may remember his slick, underrated album T.Y.S.O.N. on Atlantic Records from 1989, or maybe you just remember him from his cameos on all those King Tee albums. He was the best rhymer in The LA Posse; but he never quite broke through the music industry. He was signed to Def Jam, but they never released any of his material (labels, how can we make that happen??), and eventually wound up on an indie label that put out a cool, underground 12" in the early 90s, but never managed to release that long-awaited second album... which was to be titled, appropriately enough, Blackballed.

So, starved for Breeze records, I picked up his one cheesy, crossover-attempting single, "Great Big Freak." The video played on Yo! a couple of times, and it's not bad or anything. It uses some chunky funk samples and the Posse were pro producers. Furthermore, both Breeze and guest/ fellow Posse member Big Dad have kick some fly deliveries with an emphasis on fast, multiple rhymes to keep their core fans happy. But let's face it; a song about girls and excessive instrumentation really isn't the kind of song we wanted to hear from Breeze.

But this 12" has an exclusive remix on it. And like I said, until someone raids the Def Jam vaults, we're stuck with a dearth of Breeze material, so I picked it up. And the remix is pretty good. It uses a lot of the same instrumental, but adds even more. New samples, deeper bass thumps, a nice change-up for Dad's verse. At times it's almost too much and feels sloppy; but for the most part it succeeds in turning it into a more creative, energetic street mix. The idea seems to have been to a put a little more hip-hop back into the song, and it does... but at the end of the day, it's still "Great Big Freak." I recommend it for anyone who legitimately considers themselves a Breeze fan; but if you're just passing through, I'd suggest picking up literally any and every other Breeze song before copping this one.

The B-side, "T.Y.S.O.N." is much more in line with the kind of Breeze we want. A harder track with Breeze just flexing skills and battle rhymes, with these really awesome Muhammad Ali (no, not Tyson) vocal samples comprising the chorus. It's great. But, of course, it's just an album track. Hell, it's the title cut. And nobody should be checking out "Great Big Freak" unless they've already got the much stronger LP, so it's kinda pointless.

Rounding out the 12", we get the Instrumental for "Great Big Freak" on the A-side, and the Censored Version of "T.Y.S.O.N." on the B. So there you go, something even less desirable than a regular album cut. But if you were bored and and desperate enough to play the Censored Version anyway, like I was, you stumbled onto a pretty awesome surprise...

It's actually an exclusive remix! Yeah, they weren't lying about the "Censored" part, and that's definitely annoying. But this was Breeze in 1989, there's not a lot of cursing to cut out. So after the intro, it basically plays through unhindered. He just says "fuck" once in the first verse; and amusingly, they kind of miss the mark and censor more of the word after it than the "fuck" itself.

And the remix? It's dope. I mean, the original is already killer, so it doesn't need any improving on. But this is definitely a hype alternative. They're actually using the same philosophy as the "great Big Freak" remix, where they use the same core instrumental, including all the signature sounds (and yes, vocal snippets); they just sometimes swap it out to add more funky samples into the mix. Some of it has more of a P-Funk mix, which you'd think would be a step down from the edgy, screechy feel of the original; but it actually comes together perfectly. It never dips into sloppiness either. It's just def! And if you've listened to "T.Y.S.O.N." a million times over like I did as a kid, this breathes all new life into it. Oh, and where the original version always fades out, this remix keeps going with some fresh cuts by Smooth the DJ - not really like attention-drawing fast DJ-slicing-up-the-wax kind of stuff, but just rubbing in all these great grooves.

So it turns out this is something not just for the serious Breeze fans desperate to squeeze every last drop of music from his too short career. This is a hot little 12" that, because it's so slept on, can usually be picked up out of the virtual dollar bin. As you can see from the scan, my version is the promo version, which just comes in a plain sleeve with one of Atlantic's infamous "When You PLAY IT, SAY IT!" stickers on it. But there's also a regular, commercial release version which comes in a picture cover and has the exact same track-listing, including both remixes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Return Of King Tee!

King Tee is back!  If you haven't heard, King Tee has released a new album.  I mean, you might argue that this is a mixtape rather than a proper album. He did release it first online as a free download billed as a mixtape in 2012. It's not really mixed, but a couple songs do bleed into each other (I hate that, by the way), and it is even referred to as a mixtape in the music itself at one point. But this is now a proper, physical CD version, released in 2013, available all over, including amazon, who has it listed as a "Collector's Edition, Limited Edition, Limited Collector's Edition." That's going a bit overboard, but it is more legitimate now, right?

And this is exciting, because this is his first new album (or mixtape... it's not like he's been releasing those over the years) since his 1998 Aftermath album barely came out in 2002. I mean, yeah there was The Ruthless Chronicles in '04, but that wasn't a real album. It was just a bunch of tracks from Thy Kingdom Come and some other random odds and ends. That was a huge mess (which I broke down here); but the the short version is he hasn't really come out with a solid batch of new material since the 90s until now.

 And it's.... pretty good. A lot of the production feels cheap, and again it's top heavy with cameos: We've got: MC Eiht, Big 2 da Boy, Yung Gold, Xzibit, Silky Slim, Butch Cassidy, Eastwood, BG Knoccout, Roc C, Sean Price, Rampage, Valle Ru, 1st Generation, Short Khop; Mitchy Slick, Tha Relitivez, Staycee Adamz (hook girl), Mac Lucci, Brevi, 2nd II None, Rapheal Saddiq, C-Bo, Matthew Aaron (hook guy), Deadly Threat, MC Chill, Ruff Dogg, 1 Punch, Jay da Man, J-Ro, Roscoe, Ras Kass, Styliztik Jonez, Tristate, and Dresta. And that doesn't even include the guys' whose voices you just hear in the skits or overdubs. Some of those names are better news than others, but overall it's the same issue Kingdom Come had - Tee buries himself beneath a sea of friends. Get some confidence, bro!

When it works, though, it's dope. "Soul Plate" has Tee reuniting with Threat - plus the long lost MC Chill (yeah, the one originally from CMW), over a hard, musical track and some nice little DJ slices for a hook. Shit is serious and atmospheric; these OG's ain't playin'. "Good To Ya" sounds more like a 2nd II None song featuring Tee than the other way around; but that's still a good thing. The only drawback is, again, the production feels a bit chintzy. A little sample would've gone a long way*; but it's still a head nodder. And Tee does at least keep one song for himself, the opener called "The Return" where Tee lays down the law. He's still the great King T(ee).

Other times, he falls short. The beat for "I'm Gone" just feels like a trendy mess of Tee trying to keep up with whatever the kids are listening to these days, and winds up producing some pretty generic Youtube fodder. He's got two versions of the same song in a row: "Sharkz In da Watah" and "Sharkz (Suwoopmix)." It has different guests and different verses, but it's the same beat. He probably should've just mashed them together into one longer song, but it's really not that great to begin with. And the last song, "A Letter To My Homeboyz" is...just Dresta by himself? Tee's not even on it! It's also pretty damn sappy.

So Still Trifflin' has been upgraded to a "Collector's Edition, Limited Edition, Limited Collector's Edition." If you're a Tee fan, the good material stuff is enough to make it worth the purchase. Especially since a Tee release is a rare thing now. Haley's comet may pass by before we get another one. But the content of this album definitely feels like a mixtape, and even though I'm not optimistic about it, my fingers are crossed that this really is a prelude to something more.

*They've gotta be avoiding sampling for budgetary reasons, which is a definite detriment, but the album is loaded with vocal samples on the hooks and stuff... There's a ton, and some very conspicuous, easy to recognize stuff. Surely those are just as copywritten? If you're willing to risk that, why not make the music better while you're at it?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Big Daddy Kane Dominates the Unda-Ground

Jesse West is one of those hip-hop artists that's been doing it in the music industry for a long ass time, but has never commanded the spotlight. Hailing from the Bronx, he dropped an album on Motown as far back as 1989, changed his name to 3rd Eye in the 90s to drop some indie 12"s, and even became one of Puffy's Hit Men. He formed a group with Nine called 24/7 that had a couple underground singles but no album. He's probably worked with more artists behind the scenes than we'll ever know; but then again, he seems to have managed to leak an awful lot of it out to the world over the years.

This white label is one such example. "Survival Of the Fittest" is credited to Big Daddy Kane (in big letters) & Jesse West (in small letters), but I suspect this was recorded for an unreleased Jesse West album that never came out (I mean, look at the label scan, even the catalog numbers tell you this is first adn foremost a Jesse West project). Unda-Ground Records was a short lived white label run that released a few white label 12"s in 2000, including a second 12" by Jesse West with more big name collaborations. So I think some album got shelved, but Unda-Ground salvaged all the noteworthy cameos.

Anyway, 3rd Eye's alright; some of his indie 12"s are cool and he can hold his own with the big names. But of course I bought this because of Big Daddy Kane. And it doesn't disappoint. Kane comes off nice. Jesse is a producer as well as an MC, and he's made a cool, tough yet subtle track for Kane and Jesse to flow over.  They're constantly going back and forth, passing the mic over and over for short, tight verses. Amazingly, there is no hook at all. They just keep passing the mic and kicking verses for the whole song. Jesse has a nice, mumbley street-style kind of flow; but Kane easily steals the show his flawless delivery and edgy rhymes. "You can't compare me to another, word to mother, ain't no other. When I smother, run for cover from a brother who's kickin' those skills you can't get enough of. Damage I cause on the mics that I be touchin' got niggas wantin' to remake 'Self Destruction.' You fuckin' kiddin' me?" This is stronger than a lot of records put out under his own billing.

This song is... mostly uncensored.  All the curses are left intact. But at one point, Kane takes a shot at somebody at the end of one of his verses, and the name is cut out. I've listened to it a couple times and I can't figure out who it's supposed to be. It's surprising they cut it out since it's a white label - it's not like it Motown made the call. I'd love to find out find out, or even get a completely uncut version some day, because this is a hot track. But again, that little clip is the only editing done to the song.

So, also on this 12" is the instrumental, which is okay but basically just a single, constant loop. Its not one of those strong instrumentals that holds out on its own even without the MCs on top of it.

And flip it over and we get another Jesse West collaboration (and also a sloppy dub mix) called "Nights Like This" with Xzibit. This one uses the same samples and basically remakes the instrumental to The Outsidaz' "Rah Rah," only it's a little softer and watered down. So, it's the same thing only not as good, although it at least brings in different horns on the hook. X rocks pretty hard on this track; but I just can't get past the fact that this isn't as good as the Outz track - it just lacks the punch of their instrumental and the energy of their style. It's so similar I can't stop thinking about it; but comparatively, it's weaker. If you've never heard "The Rah Rah," you'd probably dig this track more; it's pretty decent on its own.

So, anyway, I'm not a huge Jesse/ 3rd Eye fan; but all of his material is at least decent. I've got some of his indie 12S and stuff; but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to recommend any of them to you guys. But this 12" is the exception; because Big Daddy Kane owns it. Unda-Ground had the right idea giving him the big letters.  ;)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Raheem Knocks Slick Rick Out the Box?

What? To posts about Raheem in a row? No, no, no. That post was about Raheem of the original Ghetto Boys, not to be mixed up with Rahiem from The Furious Five, Lil Rahiem from the Boogie Boys, Raheem from Jazzy Jay's crew or Prince Raheem from Miami. This is Raheem the Dream, who added to the confusion by dropping the "The Dream" part of his name later in his career. He started his career recording some cool, mid-80s single with underrated producers Mike Fresh and DJ Toomp. But he pretty quickly struck out on his own, recording single after single and album after album all on his own. Meaning, in addition to the rapping, he produced and wrote all his own stuff, and released it all on his own label, RTD (get it?) Records. He eventually renamed his label to Tight 2 Def... yup, he's the guy behind Dem Franchise Boyz, The Dream (who just left Def Jam earlier today) Young Dro, etc.

So Raheem is pretty expert at pimping our little music industry; but I've never been too into his stuff. Very typical Miami bass kinda stuff (though, strictly speaking, he's from Atlanta)... with lots of gimmicky pop-chasing dance songs. The only other single I have by him is "Short Shorts" (which is exactly like you think it is) because it featured the return of MC Shy D after the whole Luke Records disaster, and I was more than curious. He's not terrible and his success over many different hip-hop eras says a lot; but generally speaking, he represents the kind of bass music that makes me want to tell people "there's more to the scene than just that!"

Still, I had to pick up "Knock 'Em Out the Box." Why? Because, as its title makes pretty clear, he's flipping Slick Rick's classic [and I realize I can be guilty of over-using that word, but it absolutely applies here in every sense] "Children's Story."

This 12" was sorta rare, back before Serato and the consolidating power of the internet made every record with a pressing of over 200 copies cheap as chips. It comes from a little dip in his career, after his initial come -up, but before he achieved some bigger dance hits later in the 90s, and it's taken off one of his least known albums, the Straight From the G State EP. But as far as I'm concerned, if you have this 12", there's no need for the EP.

So, the song starts out with a familiar Ricky D sample being cut up, "As we go a little something like this." Then the beat kicks in, which is the "Children's Story" instrumental, except with a deep, deep bed of thundering bass drops laid underneath.Raheem doesn't work too hard on this one, but he comes off well enough, just kicking generic raps about girls, "rolling with the fellas" and his status in the rap game. No complex or clever rhymes or anything, and he throws in lots of empty lines like "Kriss Kross made you jump, but I'ma warm it up." But his voice sounds real cool over Rick's track and he delivers some basic lines in some fun, creative ways. Couple that with some nice cuts by his DJ Fly Ty, and you have a song that may look like a tacky knock-off on paper but in reality just works. It's fun. And the bassed up version of "Children's Story" is just dope.

The B-side here is "Drop Them Draws" (also from G State), which is utterly predictable; but still well produced and fun. It's every cliche in the book, including samples and percussion you've heard a million times before on a thousand other songs just like it. But it's certainly a well crafted and catchy example - this Raheem is undeniably a pro even if he isn't elevating anything.

Round that out with a clean edit and instrumental (or "Bass-A-Mental") version of "Drop Them Draws" and you've got a pretty neat little 12". "Knock Em Out the Box" is obviously no threat to the original; but it's a really fun regional variant that I think anyone who's a serious enough head to be reading this blog will be surprised how much they end up digging it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Return To Monster Island

This dropped the same time as Young Zee's Musical Meltdown Part 1, so it took a little while for this one to sink in, too; but this is Dope Folk's concurrent release: Monster Mixes by X-Ray. X-Ray is the producer for Darc Mind and Legion of D.U.M.E., both of whom Dope Folks has already put out EPs of, so it makes sense that he'd return. But instead of those two groups, this time it's material by The Monster Island Czars, a bit of a hip-hop super group consisting of guys like MF Doom, MF Grimm and Kurious using aliases taken from Godzilla movies.*

So, various members have come and gone from the group, it may or may not have broken up and reformed a couple times, and it's not always clear who's considered an official member and who's just doing a guest spot. Basically, the Czars just seems to be a blanket term for whoever gets down with the gang and records a song. Many of the most famous members seem to be ex members, if the group is even still considered to be together at all. ..And again, just to make it all the more confusing, everybody's using aliases. Not even necessarily consistent aliases (Kurious has been both Gappa and Biolante... I think).

Being that this is billed as an X-Ray EP, we know that all of this material must be from before 2004, because that seems to be when he, a.k.a. King Caesar, left the group. All six tracks here, in fact, first appeared on X-Ray's self-produced CD-R Monster Mixes Vol. 1, half in a series of two (there was also a Vol. 2) albums from 2002 and 2003. All these six songs come from Vol. 1 and are making their vinyl debut here.

So just what have we got? The labels add a little to the already confusing nature of the M.I.C. by referring to the artists sometimes by their monster aliases and sometimes not. For example, one song is credited to MF Doom, and another is credited to Rodan and Megalon. Dope Folks is just following X-Ray's lead here, however, as he listed them the same way on his CD. So let's break it down and clear it all up.

The opening track is "Run the Sphere," credited to the M.I.C. featuring Jet-Jaguar, Kamackeris, King Ceasar, King Ghidra, Kong, Loch Ness, Megalon and Rodan. That line-up translated is MF Grimm, Kwite Def, X-Ray himself, MF Doom, Kongcrete of The Reavers, ummm... even I don't know who Loch Ness is, Tommy Gunn and Onyx the Birthstone Kid. Listening to the song, they don't seem to rhyme in quite that order, though, and there's an extra credit, as there are only seven verses (and yes, X-Ray does rap on this). There's another version of this song on Rodan's solo album (Theophany: The Book Of Elevations) called "Run the Sphere v.2.3," which features an additional rapper in between the first and second verses of the original (the one that starts off "hold up; those that knows I knows I ain't got the time"), though. I believe that to be Loch Ness, who is erroneously also credited here. ...You'll note that Loch was never credited on the original 12".

Anyway, the title "Run This Sphere" should probably be pretty familiar to you, not just from the Rodan album, but because "Run the Sphere" was also the group's debut single in 2001 on Brick Records. But X-Ray didn't produce that (or the remix on the B-side of that first 12"). So even though the label doesn't say so, this is the remix he made for Monster Mixes. I'm not sure I can say this is better than the original, since that was pretty fresh; but this is a very cool alternative, much smoother and heavier.

Next is "Doomsday Remix" by MF Doom featuring Pebbles the Invisible Girl. "Doomsday," of course, was the title track of Doom's debut solo album on Fondle 'Em, before the Monster Islands Czars were a thing. This remix is really fresh, breathing new life into an older track. And, just to be clear, it's not the widely released "Doomsday" remix from the MF EP that Doom did with Grimm in 2001. That was good, too; but this is a different one, and even better.

Next is a Darc Mind song called "You da One." I'm not really sure why this track was included, as it's just an album track from their main album, Symptomatic Of a Greater Ill (and, as such, isn't making its vinyl debut here). It was also included on Soul Food and the Monster Mixes CD, so X-Ray must just really like it. It's certainly good enough, but I'm surprised Dope Folks chose this over one of the many other options. Oh well.

Flipping over to side 2, we get "I Seen It All" by Spiega, a.k.a. Spice of The Reavers. He has a voice and flow very similar to Kev Roc, giving this the feel of another Darc Mind song. And that's certainly a fine thing.

Next is "Century 21" by Rodan and Megalon. We've already established from the "Run the Sphere" credits that Rodan and Megalon are actually Onyx and Tommy Gunn. Onyx, of course, is one of the original KMD members; and Gunn may actually be best known for the 12" he released on Fondle 'Em under the Megalon pseudonym, "One In a Million." Anyway, this is a really tight track, with a very addictive sample. Rodan even included it on his solo album in 2004. That album - though less obscure than Monster Mixes - was still CD only though, so the song is still making its vinyl debut here.

Finally we end with Kong's "Broken Nose Flow." This has a cool, darker flow than everything else on the EP, evoking a crime film soundtrack, and cutting up an iconic Mobb Deep vocal sample (you can probably guess it based on the song's title) for the hook. And Kong has a really slick, non-stop flow on this one, making for a really nice closer to this EP.

You know, now that I think about it, perhaps the reason X-Ray sometimes credits rappers by their monster alias and sometimes not is because some of this material (i.e. the "Doomsday" remix) wasn't really recorded for a M.I.C. project, but just the artists' own solo ventures. That would make sense.

Anyway, it was a bit complicated, but we've sorted it all out. At the end of the day, it's a nice EP of six really good tracks by the Monster Island fam.  All good choices except the Darc Mind is sure to be a duplicate for anyone who's a big enough fan to be buying the vinyl. So I really would've liked to see another song chosen instead. ...I mean, I don't know. Maybe Dope Folks is planning to ultimately release everything from both Monster Mixes volumes onto wax, anyway. That way nothing will have missed its shot, in which case why not just stick it on here, too; as more of a bonus track? But until such a time, I have to consider that the one disappointment of this otherwise fine EP.

*As the Godzilla flicks got goofier, and the number of rival monsters got ridiculously large, they eventually came up with the conceit that all of the monsters somehow wound up living on a shared island, called Monster Island, until one or two of them needed to escape and stomp through Tokyo for another sequel. In the entry I remember most clearly from my childhood, a little boy somehow winds up on the island and befriends Baby Godzilla, and so he gets real Godzilla to fight all the other monsters and help him escape. Or something.

Monday, January 6, 2014

When Krs-One Brought the Cold Crush Back

The Cold Crush Brothers are most famous for their 70s contributions to hip-hop before it became a record-making musical genre, and everybody became record label recording artists. But they did release a series of fresh 12"s for Tuff City in the early 80s, and of Grandmaster Caz continued with some high quality solo material. I mean, there was that 1988 Cold Crush album, Troopers, but that was really just one Cold Crush rhymer, Almighty KG backed up by DJ Tony Crush. Most of the crew was MIA. And they stayed that way until Krs-One stepped in, and got the full Cold Crush Four (Caz, Easy AD, JDL... they're all back) back together for a new record in 1995 on his own label, Front Page Entertainment.

And it's a fresh, wild (and I suppose also fly and bold) little 12". It's produced by Krs One, and definitely has that rugged, mid-90s indie vibe. Hardcore New York ish. And over it, the Cold Crush are doing full-blown new routines, including their trademark harmonizing, verses and lots of active back and forth. This is no quickie throw away record; care was put into this and it shows.

It's three songs (plus instrumentals for two of them on the flip). The first, "Cold Crush Flava" sounds the most extreme in terms of its contrast between Krs's production and the Brothers' flows. They're really keeping the old school traditions alive, and the beat is really on some raw street shit. But it works, it's dope.

The next songs are even better though. Second is "Resurrected" which starts off with a guest appearance by none other than Chuck D. See? I told you this was no little throw-away. They clearly pulled out all the stops, so it's a shame this record didn't get wider recognition. Anyway, Chuck kicks his verse acapella and then the beat kicks in with funky, deep bass notes and the Crush with a tougher flow. This time they're determined to fit in with Krs's changing beat, and they pull it off like pros. They still do a little harmonizing, but this time it's more about delivering hardcore chants in unison than the sing-song stuff they're known for. Though they stay true to that at the same time. "Cold Crush Flava" was like giving the original Cold Crush sound a 90s sound-bed; but "Resurrected" is the Cold Crush updating themselves for the 90s. And unlike a lot of old school comebacks that tried it, this one works.

Finally, the last song is "Hut - Girl." This one branches off in the other direction from "Resurrected." Where that one opted to modernize, "Hut" takes it back with a fun, old school jam. They kick light-hearted verses about the types of girls they like in between upbeat shout and call hooks. This time their harmonizing is to tried and true tunes, and the beat is basically a really phat 45 King or Red Alert-style horn sample over a super dope bassline and some big beats. It's kind of like those old school track Doug E Fresh usually puts on his albums, except they're still kicking full verses and it sounds more like a complete, polished song. But it's definitely in that tradition.

I guess the guys were hoping this would lead to a deal, or at least bigger publicity, because they didn't follow it up with anymore Front Page releases. And that's a shame, because this is definitely gold star moment on both The Cold Crush and Krs's resumes. It was surely hampered by all the inferior, half-assed comebacks other artists were making around that time. But this is the real shit, so if you missed it the first time around, track it down. It can be had pretty cheap.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Start the Year Off With a Wonderful New Album (And a Little Year In Review)

Wow, where did this album come from? Where is the publicity? I was just randomly on accesshiphop and happened to see that Josh Martinez had a new album out. I'm a big fan; I've had a page dedicated to his discography on my since the 90s. I follow this shit. But there it was: not a preorder, not a mixCD advance, or a limited tour release. It's his latest album and it's been out.

It's called Blotto and it's the album we always knew he was capable of and been gasping for while he kept messing around with The Chicarones and other side projects. Forget Pissed Off Wild {and apparently Josh feels the same way, since the press for this album calls it his sixth album since his last solo album World Famous Sex Buffet five years ago). Not that the Chicarones weren't good, but it always felt slapdash. Not Blotto. Blotto sounds just like his greatest hits from his past albums. I mean, it's really fucking exciting. This is even better than World Famous Sex Buffet. I mean, his best albums have had songs this good before, but this is the first time the whole album's been this good. This is like "Under Abstract Art" - The Album. It's also the first album in a long time to bring me back to that time when Anticon was an exciting and amazing collective, and not just a lame indie label I can no longer pay attention to.

Every song is emotional, sincere, intelligent, creative... it's just really good writing. And yet the material isn't one-note at all. One song's about a failed relationship, another's about the devil, and another's a refreshing take on the usually un-engaging rapping-about-the-status-of-their-music-career song. Why is it refreshing? Because he actually makes you relate as opposed to just saying yourself, look, I really don't care about your petty drama with your record label or music journalists.

"My money's runnin' low; how low can it go? My confidence is tied up in the money that I owe. I can't go to the store; I told folks I'm on tour. If they see me they will know I'm just at home doing blotto."

Again, it's just really good writing. And delivery. Josh doesn't let two sentences come out without changing his cadence or adopting a new voice or style. He'll dance right on the edge of getting too sing-songy, and literally singing some of his hooks, but then pull it back with a perfectly enunciated, multi-rhyming fast rap flow. One song, "Man Down," is heavily reggae influenced, but it's all still unequivocally Josh.

And the production's just as good. It's rich and original - I'm not recognizing a single sample, but it's very full of instrumentation and very alive. But it never has that band feel. These are produced hip-hop tracks, not garage-bound jam sessions. Regular Josh beatsmith Stuey Kubrick [is that an alias for Josh himself, or is there a real Stuey?] is on hand for almost half the album, so the quality's expected. But more than half the album is handled by a guy named Sapient. This is the first I've really come across him, but looking online, apparently his resume is pretty deep. Well, based on this, I'm going to have to look into the rest of his music. Or maybe Josh just brings it out of him. But either way, every element on this album just works.

This album is feels so much like Josh's brain turned inside out, you could listen to the whole thing without realizing there are any guests. But actually, there's several. Sapient rhymes on one "Numb" (he's good; but definitely more impressive on the production end), and Josh's labelmate Evil Ebenezer appears on "Ashes." Finally, Ceschi appears to fulfill the cosmic, contractual obligation that every artsy indie hip-hop artist feature him on their album. He actually comes pretty tight though, helping to make "My Jacket" one of my favorite songs on an already killer album.

So, ordering this CD from most online stores gives you a free little pin and sticker with it. But I've noticed on Josh's bandcamp there's a whole scaling pay option, where you can get all kinds of extras, including a t-shirt, shot glass, poster, hoodie, beanie, and more stickers and buttons. None of it's actually extra music stuff, though - no 12" or bonus CD - so personally I'm fine with the simple, basic edition. Just the CD for the lowest price. But if you like swag, Josh is definitely providing.

I can't go for the cheap joke that this is the best album of the year when it's the first week of January, because this technically came out in November 2013. But I can damn near call this the album of the year taking all of 2013 into account. But to speak for a whole year, I've gotta think about that, so let's put it all into context and look back at 2013:


We saw some very underrated releases from Gurp City: Grand Killa Con and Rime Force Most Illin'. Most of you reading this are probably still sleeping on these with the rest of the world, and it's your loss. Earl Sweatshirt dropped Doris, and despite one or two skip-worthy tracks, was really good. I don't get all the "disappointment" talk around that one. Maybe kids expected something more pop music oriented? I don't know. It felt like exactly the album I was expecting to get to me.

What else?

We got the collaberation album I wasn't convinced would actually came out: Necro and Kool G Rap's Godfathers. I understand Necro's rapping ruined the proceedings for them - and I definitely get that - but it didn't ruin it for me. And while G Rap didn't write any greatest hits into his catalog, he didn't disappoint, and Necro's production was a great match for him. I'd really like to see Necro scrub out the embarrassingly bad lines out of his verses in future, I'd definitely be down for a follow-up. Also that Inspectah Deck and Esoteric EP was pretty good. Mad Child kept wildly jumping back and forth between being alternately ill and wack. Eminem is working is way to making good music. Nothing I'd want to own on vinyl yet like his classic 90s material, but he's definitely at least heading in the right direction. And the Banzai Fam EP finally dropped in October... look for a review of that coming soon. But if you already know, you know.

Meanwhile, the limited game has been on fire in 2013. We saw the arrival of a dope, new limited label: Heavy Jewelz. And somehow Good Felons put out some of their best releases after collapsing. Chopped Herring just doesn't stop putting out really impressive, lost releases... like 3-4 a month. It's insane. Phase & Rhythm, JVC Force and Masta Ace were the highlights for me, but there's been so many, I haven't even been able to get them all. And Dope Folks is right there breaking the finish line ribbon alongside the, rescuing Omniscence's lost material (prompting him to make a comeback and prove he's still got it), and of course Young Zee, which is for me the biggest release of the year. And I can't get specific yet, but the Part 2 has a surprise that's gonna blow your mind even more than the Part 1 did! CH and DF are both putting out so many amazing releases, I can't keep up, and I love it!

So overall, the signal to noise ratio of crap to good music in 2013 has been pretty high, and unfortunately probably caused even a lot of earnest listeners to miss out on most of the year's highlights. But hidden beneath all the pop music and internet fads there's been a compelling little undercurrent of good shit. And even the mainstream, big media corporate stuff seems like it's gotten a little catchier than it was the last couple of years. It was definitely another year we had to dig and shuck, but if you did the work it paid off. So I'm actually pretty happy with 2013 - I'm about to go give Blotto another spin as soon as I post this.

Now let's just hope 2014 doesn't fuck it up.