Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dope On Plastic

Dope Folks has been killing it for a while now. So much so, that I've acquired a lot of records from them I've wanted to blog about, and have been. But I don't want this blog to get too Dope Folks heavy, so I've been spreading them out and putting them off. So today I've assembled...

 The Five Dope Folks Records I Got And Have Been Meaning To Blog About, But Hadn't Until Now
...into one super post.  Ready?  Here we go!

Cage 1: Straight Out the Cage EP If you haven't seen Gentle Jones' in-prison interview with Pooch from Cage 1, go watch it now. Seriously, just do it. Now you should glean this from the vid, but real quick, Cage 1 is a Delaware group who released one killer, "random rap" 12" all the way back in 1989, and a small run of a CD album called Park Legend. It was hardcore, put also political and on some rough street shit. Sorta like 2 Black 2 Strong, but tighter. Also being from Delaware, Jones felt compelled not only to interview Pooch, but to lace Dope Folks with some of Cage 1's unreleased tracks. So they released this four tracker - both tracks from the original, grail 12" and two unheard tracks that are just as strong. Don't sleep on Wilmington, this is great!

Earplay Entertainment: '96 Brooklyn EP - Producer Tommy Gibbz released a pretty rare, 5 track EP on his own label, Earplay Entertainment, with his brother in.... guess what year. It featured five different NY artists: Oliver Twist, Khénya, HitMan, Dezert Storm and Strictly Homicidal. Some really nice, raw street level shit with strong influences from Biggie and Mobb Deep. that wound up on a lot of want lists. Plus, there's a female MC who steals the show on a single track like Essence did on Natural Elements' "Shine", or What? What? did on Natural Resource's "Negro League Baseball." Well, Dope Folks repressed almost the whole EP - they left off one track, as is their wont, to keep the original collectible - and added four additional, unreleased cuts from that camp to make it into a pretty hot LP.  Two more HitMan tracks, one more from Oliva Twist and an exclusive remix of "Cognac," a track Gibbz put out through Echo Entertainment in 1999 (no relation to Freddie Gibbs' "Cognac" song).

Plush Bros: The Plush Bros. Jr. Album - I guess it's a "Jr. Album" because it's only four songs? Anyway, the Plush Bros are a killer, indie Philly duo who put out some really killer 12"s in the late 80s and early 90s. One of their highly sought after 12"s was this 4-track EP, which Dope Folks repressed in 2012. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed and initially passed on this one, because it's just a simple repress. I mean, I know you can't just pull amazing unreleased bonus tracks out of a hat, but I when I first heard Plush Bros was coming from DF, I was at least hoping they'd include their other, rare and brilliant songs from Pay Hill. But, what can you do? It's a must have EP, and unless you've got $600 lying around for an OG, you've gotta give it up to Dope Folks, this is a very welcome and repress filling a big void. And maybe they'll round up all their other music for a follow-up.

Killed By Def Vol. 1 - I'm not sure what the Killed By Def title is all about. I think it's just Dope Folks way of grouping together some random, unconnected tracks on the same record. They dropped this in 2011 and they've only just recently come up with a Vol. 2. This is simply two, very rare, high dollar "random rap" one-off 12"s repressed and combined onto one nice, little EP. The A-side is "We Got Pull" and its instrumental by Paint It Black, a Connecticut duo (Russ Bee and GMan) from 1992, made famous by a DJ Azeez mixtape. It features almost the same instrumental (certainly the same root sample) as Larry Larr's "Da Wizzard Of Odds," but they rip it harder. The B-side, then, is a North Carolina record by a crew known as The Servants from 1994, entitled "Ripper (Hardcore Mix)." Plus its instrumental, too. I don't know if the song lives up to its title, but it's a phat, dark beat that's possibly more desirable than the vocal version. The A-side is the real treasure here, but the B-side's a nice companion.

Bolaji: Outer Limits - We're ending with one of their more recent releases, Bolaji was an overlooked Long Island MC on Zakia Records - the same label as Eric B & Rakim dropped their first classics on before they signed to a major. They also had King Sun and a bunch of "Roxanne, Roxanne" answer records. Anyway, Bolaji fit right into that roster, his records were dope and hardcore; but for some reason he never broke out like the rest. He's since resurfaced a number of times... In the 90s, he was collaborated on some solid indie vinyl on High Council Records, and he's actually been making good use of the internet through the 2000s - look him up on CDBaby; he's got a bunch of albums. I don't think he's ever reached the heights of his original Zakia singles, but Dope Folks have managed to compile an EP's worth of rare and unreleased of material by Bolaji from the late 90s. A couple of the songs appeared on a very rare CD called Project S.C.A.R., but they're making their vinyl debut here; and a couple songs feature some of his High Council compatriots. Again, I still prefer the earlier music, but it's hard not to enjoy this EP, thanks in no small part to Bolaji's original, head nodding production and very 90s lyrical aesthetic.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Written Off Your Psyche

You might remember me ranting about how excited I was by a couple really great releases by an underground NJ rap group called Written On Your Psyche a couple years ago. Unfortunately, by the time I'd discovered them, they'd already split up. So even though you could still go back and pick up their old records, it was definitely a bummer. But just because they split up doesn't mean they quit music. In fact, what I have today is All Of a Sudden, a solo CD by Psyche's Poet Substratum, now going simply by Poet, released by Delinquent Soundz in 2008.

Right off the bat, this is not as good as the WOYP material that got me so excited in the first place. But that's a very high benchmark; and taken on its own terms, it's a pretty neat, underground album.

Poet is definitely playing from a weaker position without Bolical Jenkins to rebound off of, but he's hurt more by the lack of Saheeb Bad Health on the boards. The lush, vibrant music of the later WOYP is not here, and that's a shame. Really, if you haven't picked up Grounded and the "In Control" 12", you need to do that shit. But, just because this album isn't playing on that level doesn't mean it isn't worth your time; so let's look at what we actually do have on here.

The music here is provided by a variety of producers. I don't know who DefDom is, but he provides two very nice tracks that come close to matching the Psyche sound. One of those tracks is hampered by a sappy, sung chorus; but that's the only corny hook on the whole album. Venomous, another Delinquent Soundz artist, loops some great samples on two more tracks. And DJ IRIS concocts a wild, percussion-heavy beat with a really funky old school vibe. Custodian of Records cooked up two chunky tracks in his traditional style (always a good thing); and WOYP's DJ Priority is back to provide some nice cuts for this album.

So that's about half the tracks - definitely worthwhile. Two more are just skits you'll definitely want to skip. Then the rest are more generic, indie hip-hop fare. Decent but not too exciting. On his own, Poet definitely sounds thinner. He does get a bunch of guests to help out - including Venomous, Phonetic, Skitzo & Victor KJ. They basically all wind up occupying the same space as Poet, though, so it doesn't feel like much is changing when the mic is passed. Only Skitzo really manages to bring a welcome shift in energy towards the end of the album. 

Lyrically, it's alright. Not much stands out as exceptional, and only one song (the juvenile "Please Don't Go") stands out as poor. The best verses are cool; the rest just equate to filler. Nothing wrong with it, nothing compelling about it. Here's a random sample: "Miss you as we wish you all bon voyage. Yo, my doctor says my lungs look more like London fog. Phonetic brought a bag and I brought my bong. Yo, we're patterning our philosophies on Cheech and Chong." Like... it's kind of clever? He comes off better when he's writing a conceptual song, like "Motivation," which is really a solid effort on all fronts. But most of the time he's just spitting verses it's hard to muster a strong opinion on.

The album ends with "Written Tape." I don't know if it was recorded for this album or (as the opening skit implies) dusted off from their vaults. But either way, it's a proper WYOP song, with Bolical back to trade verses with Poet. It's produced by Chicken Sandwich (uh?), who also did Written's early, pre-Saheeb material. It's fresh, and the hearing the pair reunite sounds as good as you'd hope. It's a really great, fun song.

So it probably reads like I'm pretty tepid on this album; and you might even wonder why I bothered to write about it. Well it's true, I am tepid on this album over all; but the highlights are high enough that they should be checked out. Hell, I'd get this album just for "Written Tape;"  But songs like "Motivation," "Cleaning Wit the Custodian" and "Lookin One Way" really are first class, solid songs, too. And even the rest is at least decent album filler. And even though it's a six year old, super indie album; apparently it can still be found new from CDUniverse of all places. Or you can probably just find it online to download. So give it a shot; I'm glad to have my copy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Whirlwind LP

Now on B-Line Recordings (a young but prolific UK label), Solid'N'Mind's Whirlwind D returns with his first, full-length LP, Nomansland. This doesn't carry over any of his earlier singles; it's all new material, except it features a new remix (or "Refix" as it's labeled here) of "Star" off his Bristol Built 12" from last year.

I've talked about D's adult approach to our genre of hip-hop which is sadly typically written off as a genre for and by kids before, and he certainly hasn't put that down. "Old man rap" are literally the first three words we hear on this LP. But fortunately, he stops short of entering Pitman territory (ha ha). In fact, while he certainly has a variety of topics and things to address over the course of this LP, the energy seems more directed at just making a bumping, mass appeal album.

As such, it sort of rises and falls based on its production. Not that it really "falls," mind you. It's lowest points are still good stuff. But the waves of how much it pulls you in are generally based on how funky the beats you are. For example, "How I Get Ill" doesn't really come alive until Beatrix's scratches at the end. In fact, this album is filled with excellent scratching, which really elevate the proceedings. Then you also have "Gain My Perspective," which, lyrically, is one of the message-iest songs on here: "children die each day because of another man's cause."  That kind of song by almost any other artist would be a drag, but it turns out to be a real high point, thanks largely to the super deep bass funk groove sampled and hooked up by Mr. Fantastic.

It's songs like "Run Fast" where D trades verses with Phill Most Chill over a hyper, high energy cut or the aggressively paced posse cut "Stronger" that really grab you. Or "Stories From the Battlefield," where DJ Spatts' production (including some excellent use of "The Bridge") and DJ Tones' cuts fuse perfectly together to create a track so alive it wouldn't even need vocals. I really can't say enough about the turntablism on here. There are multiple DJs contributing to different songs: Theory 77, Sir Beanz OBE, DJ Tones, Specifik, Beatrix, Mr. Fantastic and Miracle; but they all feel perfectly at home. Seriously, if you're into the art of scratching, this album is a must-have. Other recent artists have pulled it off on a track or two, but across a whole album? I think this is the best example of how it should be done that we've had in years.

"Night Time" feels the most like a classic Whirlwind D song, in terms of his previous work. It's got another deep, compelling groove (and yes, more nice scratches); but this time they really feel like they're there in support of D's song-writing, where he narrates nightly visitations of anxieties and regrets like ghosts when he can't sleep. It's evocative and atmospheric, like a more sophisticated "Play This Only At Night."

Oh, and that "Star" refix? It's okay. Produced by someone named Phil Wilks, it's driven by a computery bassline which will have your head-nodding. But it just doesn't feel as organic or... necessary as the original. It's the weakest spot on the album, and I kind of prefer to think of it as just a "bonus track" stuck on at the end. It's not bad, but it does sort of undercut the superior tone of the rest of the LP and probably could've been left off. Save it for an extra 12" B-side for the completionists. It's not that it's bad, but that everything else all along had been better.

And if we were grading records strictly on physical presentation, this would have to be contender for album of the year. It comes in a full color, picture gatefold cover with all the lyrics inside, and includes a glossy insert with more artwork and the man's discography. At £15.99, you're certainly getting the most bang for your buck in terms of the physical product. At a certain point, there must be a lot of pressure on you as an artists just to make music of high enough quality just to live up to the record you're putting it on. You know, for a thin little white label EP in a generic black sleeve, you can feel comfortable spitting any ol' guff over a crappy beat; but when you're putting together a big, fancy gatefold, I know I'd be thinking, damn, am I capable of creating what it takes to live up to this packaging? But fortunately, Whirlwind D is. and he's assembled a line-up of DJs and producers who go above and beyond. This is an album you'll not only appreciate on the first listen, but want to go back and play again and again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Custodian of Records, Lost and Found

You may remember me writing about my disappoint in Domination Recordings for not pressing up any physical copies of The Custodian of Record's surprisingly impressive 2009 debut, Burton Music, in Hip-Hop Connection. After that, they did eventually press up a handful of CD copies (which I thus like to take credit for), but those were promo only. It was basically just relegated to being an mp3-only release, which is a shame, because this was really the sort of music created to exist as a real, tangible object. I mean, even the cover art was designed to look like a 12" record label.  Plus, of course, all mp3-only releases are just shames in general, but that goes without saying. Anyway, years later, that musical injustice has finally been righted, as Burton Music is now finally available to own... on cassette.

It's been put out by Lost Records, one of the most slept on of the limited releases, though they might've briefly pinged on your radar when they dropped J-Force's unreleased 12". And, oh shit! Looking at their site now I see they're putting out Z-Man and White Mic's awesome Vegetable and the Ferret EP on green vinyl! Why didn't I know about that? Whew, anyway. They've also made a limited run - 100 copies - of The Custodian's debut album on red cassette, at a normal, non-limited price.

Fun fact, Burton Music is actually an expansion of an earlier, self-released CD by The Custodian, simply titled The EP. That EP featured 11 tracks, plus three bonus beats. All of those songs wound up on Burton (some titles changed; but the music's all unchanged), except the bonus beats, which remain exclusive. Good luck finding that, though - I only got one because Custodian sent me one directly, which is actually how I first heard of him years ago. But it's really a hardcore collector's item only, because not only does Burton feature all the full songs from the EP, but it adds a whole bunch more, for a total of 20 tracks, making it the definitively desirable version.

You probably won't recognize many of the featured artists on here. I'm from Jersey and look out for NJ hip-hop, and even I hadn't heard of most of the MCs on here. The only names you'll probably know are Shawn Lov who has a song called "Man We So High" and an appearance by Thirstin Howl III, appearing alongside a guy named Murdoc. But the important thing to know here is that they all deliver the styles and ethos that The Custodian is shooting for on this project. This isn't a variety album. Custodian does make a point of showcasing that he can make music that doesn't all sound the same. But unlike most producer-based albums where every song is by a different artist, it doesn't feel like a scatter-shot collection of songs going off in all directions with no through-line of tone. Perhaps because he's not working with a lot of quasi-celebrity egos, he's able to wrangle everyone together for one cohesive vision. In other words, where most of these type records wind up being a compilation packs that just happen to be entirely produced by one guy, this is decidedly The Custodian's album.

This winds up meaning that there are no weak spots. Over the course of twenty songs and a loaded roster of MCs and groups, that's surprising. But the production ranges only from terrific to very good, despite its length, there's nothing here to skip.  ...Well, that's maybe not entirely true. There's one instrumental bit near the end that sounds like he's just letting the soundtrack to an old Emanuelle movie play through. Seriously, what's up with that? But it's not bad per se, just a weirdly random moment. And it's short, so it barely registers.

Don't let the fact that most of the names are unfamiliar put you off. I really recommend you check this one out. Sure, you can look at a Wu-Fam group album and recognize all those names; but they'll be sloppy messes with only intermittent points genuinely worth having in your collection. Not here, the whole album is tight, and nobody comes off as a cornball. I'd like to see Dreddy Kruger pull that off.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Other B.U.M.s

Like a lot of heads, I was a big fan of The B.U.M.s sole album in 1995. They had a few other nice 12" tracks, demos and Wake Up Show appearances, but they basically disappeared despite having a vocal and critical following. So many of us are often on the hunt to discover lost material of theirs. For some of us, it's gotten to the point that we uncovered a whole other group who called themselves The B.U.M.S., even though they don't seem to have ever released anything. On first look, you would think finding something by these other bums would be a big disappointment. But here's the best part: they're just as good as the original B.U.M.s, if not even better!

The famous B.U.M.s are Evocalist and D. Wyze, two west coast MCs would managed to bring all of the pros with few of the cons associated with backpacker rap to the west (specifically Oakland), helped a lot by some great smooth, jazzy production that was just developing in the mid 90s. Their acronym stands for Brothas Unda Madness.

These B.U.M.S. are from Bushwick, Brooklyn, and their acronym stands for Black Urban Music of Soul. Both of those acronyms are pretty tortured, but these guys made up for it by creating an alternate group name: The Bummy Godfathas. The Oakland B.U.M.s signed to a major record label may also have played a major role in the Godfathas changing their name.

And they share a lot musically, too. Again, utterly 90s jazzy production with smart yet tough lyricism, or "mellow hard," as they put it themselves. Their ideologies have as much in common as their name. And it's another duo of MCs, this time going by the names of ML Penn and Vincent Cold. Check out this tight demo track of theirs that's been floating around the 'net for a few months now; love that production!

Well... while thinking I was buying some lost Oakland B.U.M.s music, I recently picked up what turned out to be some more lost Bummy Godfatha music. This is an acetate, meaning it's a test record made by a record manufacturing plant for the artist to hear and approve before the actual record is pressed. They're usually not nearly as tough as actual records - you could scrub all the music clear off this one with a sponge. So they tend to deteriorate unless handled very carefully, very decidedly not built to last and leaking sound quality along its path. They're also often single-sided. But occasionally an acetate is made, and for whatever reason (though presumably that reason is almost always money) the final record is never made, and suddenly your cheap, junk record is a priceless artifact. What we have hear is a phat, double-sided acetate 12" single of unreleased B.U.M.S. material. Uh, the east coast ones.

Fortunately, the black vinyl is only peeling off the very outer edge of side 2... it doesn't actually touch any of the music. So it's a bit crackly, but generally pretty good. And the music? Does not disappoint!

If you can make out the handwriting, we have on the A-side an LP version [what LP?] of "All In the Norm," followed by a remix.  The LP version sounds just like something the Oakland B.U.M.s would make, to the point where it genuinely had me questioning who I was listening to. Smooth tones, fat drums, not only would it fit in perfectly on Lyfe 'N' Tyme, they would've made it a single for sure. But it's definitely not them.  Their playful writing style is another match, but their voices definitely aren't. Plus they keep referring to being from the east coast. Honestly, it's like The B.U.M.s are really a four man group, who've just been cruelly separated by geography.

The remix uses most of the same elements as the LP version, and in some ways sounds the same, but this time has ultra-deep bass notes. Like Miami-deep, except with a west coast gangsta feel instead of a down south booty jam. New York style with west coast elements? They're so fucking Unda Madness!

We get another song on the B-side, "Dialogue," complete with an Inst. version. They come harder on this one, and the music's even jazzier; but it's not as catchy as "All In the Norm." It's kind of the perfect A-side/ B-side relationship, actually. It makes perfect use of Keith Murray's pitched down voice for the hook: "my dialogue comin' straight from the slums!" Objectively speaking, they do come off as better MCs on the A-side - the extra aggressive style doesn't feel quite as naturally in their wheelhouse; but I don't see how anyone who appreciates 90s hip-hop couldn't love both joints.

I guess these guys never got a deal and thus never made it out the gate, but I hope they at least scored some Unsigned Hype columns, because they more than merit it. If ML or Vincent ever actually see this, contact a limited label immediately - your stuff will sell for sure on a 2014 vinyl EP.

P.s. - A lot of credit goes to Oxygen of Sputnik Brown for uncovering and sharing biographical details about the Brooklyn B.U.M.S. while also searching for more from the Oakland ones.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Still Scarred, Interview with Verb of The New 2 Live Crew

Here it is, finally, my interview with Verb, the fast rapping, lyrical member of The New 2 Live Crew and Disco Rick's Wolf Pack. If you've been watching my videos, you know I've been tracking this underrated MC's work for a while now. So, with no further ado...

I first wanted to ask you about "2 Live Freestyle." On the notes for that song,t he album and the single, you see Fat Daddy credited with appearing on there. But you don't hear him on the record. You have two verses, though, so I was wondering if that was a last minute thing to replace him, or just what's the story there?

Yeah. He was going to be on that, to my recollection. At that time he was working on a song he was doing with Don Ugly for his Madd Blunted project. He was in the same studio working on that at the same time. Actually, he was going to be a member of The New 2 Live Crew.


Yeah, but Fat Daddy and Chris Wong [Fresh Kid Ice]'s voices... he was a higher octave than Chris! So I don't know if it was a Luke thing or a marketing thing or what, but... the fact is, me and Fat Daddy were homies. I knew Fat Daddy before I knew Chris. Actually, Fat Daddy was real cool with Marquis. Even before Balli and the Fat Daddy, he was first introduced to the whole 2 Live thing because him and Marq was more cool. And then over the years, him and Chris became more cool. But Fat Daddy actually wrote Chris's verse for the "2 Live Freestyle."

Oh, okay. I could definitely believe that! I always had the impression he wrote or co-wrote a lot of his stuff from that era.

Yeah, because it was: okay, I need to keep up with young Verb. So Fat Daddy was like yeah, I helped him with his verse. I don't know how much of the verse he wrote... And then I heard he was supposed to get on the record, too. But maybe it was the politics or somebody at the label, I was wishin' he could get on the record, but they were like no, you gotta do a second verse. And that's how that happened.

Yeah, I always figured it was something like that. Maybe they thought it would be confusing to have another guy on the first New 2 Live Crew record and people wouldn't be clear on who was an official member or not...

Right, right, right. For the majority of those sessions, while we were in there recording that stuff, you had Fat Daddy making the transition from being a rapper to learning the SP1200 and working on Madd Blunted. And actually the "Shake It" record and all that stuff was recorded right on top of that, at the same time.

Yeah, there's actually a song that's on Fresh Kid Ice's album and the Madd Blunted album; it's the same song.

Right. And actually, "It's Your Birthday" was supposed to be on Back At Your Ass.

But you guys weren't on that, that was just Luke.

But that was our idea! See, what had happened was:L  we went on the road, you know, you get ideas on the road. And everybody was singing "it's your birthday." Fresh Kid Ice had the concept for that song, and when he came back, I remember specifically, he had the idea and that song was supposed to be for our album. But Luke procrastinating to do the record. And Chris told me, you know what he's gonna do? He's gonna hold the idea and do it for his shit. And sure enough, he did that.

See, when I came to Luke Records, I brought DJ Slice, who did "Yes 'N' Deed" for Society. That was my homeboy that I brought in prior to Luke Records. I brought him in and I also brought in DJ Spin, who was a guy that I met at school. So when I came, they didn't only get Verb, they got a facelift in the production with a guy from Philly with that sound. And then you had DJ Spin who was my best friend and crazy on the turntables and transferred over to production. He did all of the singles... pretty much took Luke through the dark era after the Mike Fresh sound. This guy still gave him a plaque with "Raise the Roof" in the later years. He went on to do some stuff for Trick Daddy later on and get some plaques for Trick Daddy, like the song he did with Twista.

I actually just uploaded a video about DJ Spin, one of his albums, last night.

For real? Yeah, that was my partner; he was my best friend. We used to spend the night in his room and he would be on the wheels and I used to be rappin'. Actually, that's how "Scarred" came about! I had the idea for "Scarred;" I actually brought "Scarred" to Luke. I had the concept, and what happened was Fresh Kid Ice and the New 2 Live Crew had already finished. And I came in, I had this break! You know, Luke had The Pac Jam, which was this  little teen club that's next to Luke Records. And they'd test records at that club. During part of breaking that record, I was out of town. I'd gone to Luke like, look man, this is the break! They said what is it? I said, this is Barry White. They said like, nah; he basically wasn't interested in the idea. I said go over to Pac Jam, have them play this record, and tell me what you see. So he procrastinated on the record about three or four months. And what happened is, the record started catchin' fire. It didn't occur to nobody to go in there and see the people going crazy until they started getting calls.

And at that point, we had differences as far as how my career was going, as far as what was going on with the budget. That then actually was supposed to be on Luke's album. And when he called I said to myself, you know what, this record is going to be track fifteen, this record ain't gonna get no shine. I was pretty much disappointed in the direction the company was going as far as me as an artist. Because I wanted to do hip-hop. I always wanted to be an artist that would do pretty much what Society did, but at that time you could not do that in Miami! In Miami, that's kinda the reason I always got a bum deal. It's like you couldn't be hip-hop in Miami 'cause bass was runnin' Miami, and then when it became cool to do that, pop came into New York.

To us on the east, you brought this new credibility to the 2 Live Crew, like oh, they have a lyricist now?

Yeah, and I coulda done a lot more, but I had to stay in the lane. You gotta remember, I was a young kid, I was gettin' a shot. I didn't particularly want to be in the 2 Live Crew. Because at that time, New York hip-hop was still pure. This was [Verb asked me to cut these names; but just think of the big east coast NY lyricists of the early 90s to get the point] era. So I'm signed, this is what I'm listening to; but I'm in Miami and this is what's selling.

You're only as good as your team, and what happened to the record label was: as soon as I got there, 2 Live Crew opened the door for groups like H-Town. Because that was Luke's last shot. Actually, Joe Weinberger invested money in with Luther Campbell to take a shot with this 2 Live Crew project. The project was so successful, Luke came out on the road to see how successful we were selling these shows out; he got off the road to go back in the studio and record his solo album. Part of what hurt the New 2 Live Crew is that we were ready to go out on the road but we had to wait because he wanted a 2 Live Crew AND a Luke ticket. So you got a group that's hot and on fire, we could tour on our own, but he wanted us to wait for his album. And by the time that record got done, we were done. I mean, we shot a good video for "You Go Girl," but you know.

And how did Trick Daddy come into all this? Because "Scarred" is basically the song that launched him.

Well, you've got to look at the situation like this. Trick came in off a concept - and this is not taking nothing off Trick as an artist; but this is how Trick was introduced to the world. Trick was introduced off an idea that I came up with. Because I came up with that break, how it was used. At that time, we had probably 90% of the album done. Luke probably came in two or three days and filled up everything on the record. A lot of what he was saying wasn't relevant. He had sort of lost his impact on what he was bringing to those records. But if you listen to "Scarred," he was different, it was different.

Okay, it was nothing that was gonna play on the New 2 Live Crew album. The "Scarred" record is etched in time as a classic Miami record as far as bass. Chris Wong came up with all the ideas for the New 2 Live Crew stuff... this is the ideas, this is what we're gonna write to, that's that. Verb came up with one idea and that was "Scarred." I wrote "Scarred" in like five minutes thinking I'm gonna do this quick record, get this check, and this'll be pretty much the last thing I do with the label.

If you look, me and Trick never performed that record together. After we did the video, we never performed that record. When you get a hit record, or a record that could've been bigger...

"Scarred" was major.

Yeah, it was a pretty big record, but you know. But when you have situations where egos get involved... Luke is the type of guy where if you're not all the way in, he's gonna kill the record because he don't want you to get shine off a situation.

Well if you remember from that video I did on it, looking at the "Scarred" cover, it's just his name on it, it's just his picture on the front and back. Just from the packaging, you'd think Luke did all the rapping, though obviously he never raps...

No, no! It wasn't like that. See, and that's the thing. Pitbull took my place in the performing of that at.... I forget what award show. They did that record without me. Pitbull took my place. Once the record start burnin' up, I actually called Luke and I told Luke. This is what happened. Luther Campbell got a third of the record, I got a third of the record, and Barry White's estate got a third of the record for the sample. Okay, the clearance of the record was nowhere near as high as Barry White's estate got. Barry White wanted all of the record, his estate. Okay. Luther Campbell did not want to give me a percent. He wanted to give me the percentage that he gave Maurice Young, known as Trick Daddy. No disrespect to Maurice, he was just young and comin' in the game, but I didn't agree with that. So I never signed off o the record. So when the record actually came out, they never had any clearance from me as an artist.

Now, they were negotiating me with and Maurice Young so that we could sign and get deals. Luther Campbell had to have us sign a lease to a five year contract for the labels to buy into his company at that time. So his guy signs him to Universal. Everything flopped over there at Universal except Dru Hill. I mean, some stuff did what we would consider good, but to Universal that's a flop. So you've got Luke coming out with "Scarred," Verb had never got compensated for the record and THEN you've got the record coming out on the Eddie soundtrack with Whoopi Goldberg. So we had some issues there where we had to get some money, and that's what with me and Luke on that record.

I could honestly say, when people say Luther Campbell is a bad CEO, I never had a problem with him. When I signed, I got my checks from him. I got some checks from Joe Weinberger. I never had a problem, everything that was in my contract I got. Maybe some differences on some royalties, but that's neither here nor there. Me and Luke were cool, we were always boys. In fact, he trusted me a lot more than he trusted a lot of other people. But at the end of the day, it's the music BUSINESS, and I felt, as far as the record, I could've taken "Scarred" and did it myself! But I brought the record to him, and I wanted him to compensate me right for the record. Look, you get a third, I get a third, let Barry White get a third, and however you want to do Trick.

You gotta remember, this record was done before Trick even came into the picture. Trick was the icing on the cake.

You mean the record was totally finished without him and then you went back and added his verse?

This is why I wanted to do an interview. You never know what your best work is gonna be. Probably my worst day as far as me writing, to me, happened to be the biggest record of my career to this day, as far as how the world knew me by, commercially. So now if you look at the record, you'll see the nasty version, which was the original version, I have two verses. What it was gonna is: I do one verse, Luke do the hook, your boy Verb come back again, I give you your second verse, Luke do the hook and then Luke do this rant, you know how he do, for the outro, turning it into a party record. That was "Scarred."

What happened was, this new guy get out of jail named Maurice Young, this heavy hitter, hungry guy, come out of jail. He comes in, he did the record and attacks it like a pit bull and it's history in the making.

Listen man, you gotta consider how disappointed I was with this record. I get a call to say, hey man, verb, did you hear this record? I say no. You gotta hear this record, they put Trick on it! I say oh okay. I listen to the record, I say that's nice, but I'm still thinking it's gonna fifteen, sixteen on the album. No man, we're thinking of making this shit a single! I said, oh shit! (Laughs) I'm thinking in my mind, they got Biggie Smalls, Ice Cube... this record's never gonna be a single. They call me back and say Verb, this record is gonna be a single, this shit is crazy.

You gotta remember, this is almost a year after I came Luke with this record. If we had did this back when I told Luke to move on it, it would be even bigger than that!

So, you put Trick's stuff on there and it's like okay, now you have to go in and you have to do a clean version. So now, at this point, me and the record company really got differences. The only reason I'm going in and doing this stuff is because I've got fans and people telling me, look, just do it for promotion and stuff, blah blah blah. So I go ahead, I'm cussing like a sailor on the original. So I'm so frustrated with the situation, I go Trick, look, there's no way I can clean up this second verse unless I rewrite a whole a different second verse. I say look, if you want, I can clean up this first verse and I can give you the second verse. So if you notice, on the dirty you got two verses from Verb and on the clean you got two verses from Trick. But that took my shine because you hear more of Trick on the commercial record than you hear of Verb!

Right, and that's the one they shot the video for and everything.

Exactly! So can see how disappointed I am with the company. I never knew this guy was gonna be on the record, I never knew anybody was gonna be on the record. It's just unfortunate. And so what happened with the situation with me and Luke is when the record went viral I called Luke and said Luke, the record is high on the charts, you know, take care of me, man. And we got in an argument and that probably was the first argument me and Luke was in, and it was the last argument. It wasn't even really an argument, I mean he just told me that, in so many ways, I need to call the motherf'ers at Universal, etc etc. And I'm not putting up with that, so that was that. We never had no run ins from the day that I got there 'till "Scarred."

And actually, I had a solo record that I was working on when I was with Luke.

Yeah, I was definitely going to ask you about that. Because you saw those videos I did of all your songs spread out on different compilation albums.

Yeah, so what happened is I got a lot of money. You know, if I wasn't loyal I could be a lot bigger than I am now, because those people saw from the moment I was there, how I took over with the stage. You know Chris, god bless his soul, was never an out front guy. He was the most distinctive looking guy in the group, but he never was the out front guy as far as being an entertainer. You could say, okay, the China guy is the most distinguishable guy in the group. But the management and everybody over there was telling me, look, you gotta go solo. Why don't you just go solo? And I'm like, this guy brought me into the group. I'm not going to turn on this guy. But everybody at the company and all the management was like Verb you gotta go solo. I felt like I could never let Chris down, because I had a lot of respect for his bringing me in to the organization and doing that.

But what happened was, one day I heard a record in the studio. And they say, oh man, we got this record, a 2 Live Crew record! I said, a 2 Live Crew record? We never did no record. No! I said, you mean a record with... and they said yeah, Marq and them! And I heard "Hootchie Mama."

Right, when they briefly reunited with Luke on the Friday soundtrack.

And I said, what... the... fuck? So the next day I called Luke, and me and Luke was real cool then. And I said, look, I got to set up a meeting with you. He said alright, no problem. I come through with what I come with, I got all my producers, I say look, I need to do a solo album, these my people, this how it's gonna sound. He said let me hear some stuff, I let him hear some stuff. He funded me up, he signed the contracts, he loved it. That's when Verb started working on his solo project. You see, I didn't pull the gun on Chris, Chris pulled the gun on me! I guess it was politics.

So did the album never come out because Luke Records folded into Lil Joe?

Well, two things happened. Luke never folded into Lil Joe. You gotta remember, there's two things you have when you're with 2 Live Crew. Number one, I don't care how old your records are, you're never gonna get booed, no matter what market you're in. You know why?


The one killer that they based their performance on is four or three or two naked, raunchy women. SO in the clubs, the drug people, mostly males that go in... You gotta remember, in 1993, we're on tour with Wu-Tang Clan. We're on tour with Outkast. Outkast did not want to go before us. They had a record that was platinum, Outkast was certified platinum that night we were performing! And they told us look, you go in and headline the spot. But we wasn't getting headliner money. So that's a crutch that, as an artist, it can make you lazy.

Then, at that time, companies started taking out Artist Development. So now you have Verb, you have no Mixx, you have no Mike Fresh. You had Verb, a dope artist with his producers, but these producers don't have Artist Development. A lot of people think Luke had a lot of geniuses around him, but I think he just had dope producers who brought stuff to him. Mr. Mixx? That dude was a genius! And Luke was a genius for what he did at that time, but Luke started losing his ears.

So when I got there, I didn't have no Artist Development, I signed the record and I got lazy. I was used to Chris coming up with the concepts and I didn't know how to put the whole song together. So basically, what I would do is go to the studio, get stoned out of my mind and do a verse, then practically go bang a broad in the studio. Didn't have my shit together and that's what happened. After a couple months, you have an A&R guy come to the studio and say, well, we wanna hear what you've been working on. (Laughs)

Put it like this. When a group like the 2 Live Crew comes to an artist, that's like putting a platinum spoon in somebody's mouth. It took away the hunger for Verb as an artist. Because when I'd go on the stage, I didn't work for these classic records that I'm singing that people know in every venue that we go in. I didn't create that work. So for me to shift from that as an artist, I didn't have the proper people and management. It's like Jordan getting to the Bulls without Pippen and without the coach, you understand? He's gonna be great, but these people helped Jordan develop. So if I would've met Mixx or Mike in their heyday, you would've heard a different Verb. But those guys were done when I got there. And you see the chemistry between Society and DJ Slice? Well, they stayed together for that summer.

But you had a bunch of dope, finished songs.

Well, what happened is, the next death blow is, MC Shy D versus Joseph Weinberger. 2 Live Crew was ready, but you needed money to do a credible 2 Live Crew album. Money which Luke probably didn't have, so they had to go back to Joseph Weinberger. Remember, The New 2 Live Crew saved Luke Records. Then he came out with a solo album and then he came out with an H-Town album which surprisingly went platinum. And then you got a lot of bad stuff coming after that, you got a U-Mynd album, Poison Clan's stuff never really took off. So that was a bad investment. So, I don't know what was going on with his money, but what I heard was that before he could get some more money, Mr. Weinberger told him that he's got to sign over some properties. And Mr. Campbell didn't like that so Mr. Weinberger got fired immediately.

So here's a guy that was an inside guy since "Me So Horny" and post the Atlantic era, this guy was one of the main attorneys over their. So that was the end of a chapter right there. And that was the beginning of Lil Joe Records Inc. Because what he did is he took the 2 Live Crew, singed them to his imprint, he put an end to the bankruptcy and he bought the catalog. He acquired me in the buy-out, but he would've had to pay me a shitload of money. So he released me. So he bought that situation, but for in order for him to keep on going, he would've had to hit on all those contracts. So he released me and I was able to go through all this stuff with LaFace and freelance and all that.

Everybody wanted to be Suge Knight at that time. There's a lot of drug dealers who signed me and paid me and I did records you probably will never hear. So Verb was comfortable floatin'. And what killed me was - this was another black era. I'm in the club and I met this guy who was an A&R for Jermaine Dupri. He said, listen, I got this deal. This guy Tony Mercedes is doing this compilation album. He said let me do some work with you, I got some stuff with Jermaine Dupri and I could do you, too. Long story short, he wanted to make sure Slip'N'Slide was in on the deal and everybody was on point, but Tony Mercedes wasn't happy with the numbers this guy was negotiating. So, I don't know, about four or five months later, the same deal comes back around and Slip'N'Slide comes to me and says Tony Mercedes is doing this compilation for LaFace Records. So I think maybe they knew somebody over there at LaFace and they said well, we have Trick and we're not going with this guy, but if you want to deal... Anyway, long story short, I didn't hear from that guy; that guy didn't do what he said he was gonna do. They were giving him a hard time. He actually said, man are you sure these guys working with us? I said yeah I'm sure. But I find it funny that I ended up brokering the deal with an A&R and ended up doing the record with Slip'N'Slide and Slip'N'Slide having the advantage. You follow what's going on?

Well, the record did wind up on LaFace. You're talking about the one with JT Money?

This is what happened. We went in and I think it was about $24,000. Ted [Lucas, founder of Slip'N'Slide] didn't think we could do another record nowhere near what we did with "Scarred." Remember, Trick Daddy's coming out with his album. They want me to introduce Trick to the world, being the same guy that introduced him to the world before. So they're on the phone with me, they know I put "Scarred" together, so they ask what ideas do you have for the record. I said, well listen. I wanna do this, I wanna use this Prince sample, and this is what I wanna do with the record. So we go to the studio, I call my boy down and say sample this record up right here and we're going in,. We did the record, they paid up, we go in the studio, we cut the record. Tony was a guy, he gonna get you a plaque. He's a guy who never put out a single with a company like this that don't get some kind of plaque. I said, what you do is, you let him put the record out, right? Then you drop Trick's album on the back end of the momentum of LaFace. That'll give Trick into a good situation with his album and that'll push Verb into a bidding war with a major.

We did the record, and they wanted to keep the record. I said, Ted, you don't know what to do with a record like this. Your company's not developed for a record like this. Ted comes to me like, listen man, I want the record man. What would you say about us keeping the record? I said, look, Trick's my boy. If you feel like this record's gonna set his career up, fine man. So I let a record go, where those masters were supposed to go to Tony Mercedes and I was supposed to get another big chunk of money from LaFace Records. And that record was supposed to go to LaFace!

And you're talking about "Gone With Your Bad Self."

That was supposed to be the first single. But Ted kept that for his artist, so Tony Mercedes got upset and he said well, look man, scratch that. You and JT get in and y'all do a record. That's why I'm on the compilation twice. You see, I had to save face with Tony. But that ended up shooting me in the foot because, just like I predicted, they didn't know how to work that record. They put this girl on there... I didn't like this. The way I wanted to produce this record, you had DJ Spin and then you had Funk [producer Righteous Funk Boogie], the beginning of Funk. But even though Spin produced the record, he didn't put his fingerprint on it. He just programmed it. So you hear more of Funk in his beginning on top of a Spin record. That's why it's not clear. It's like a hybrid, with Spin at his end and Funk at his beginning. But I still think it was good enough to make something happen if it would've come out through LaFace, because they wouldn't have put that chorus on there like that. That type of singing would have never flown.

So when that came out, that didn't do anything and that kinda made things go cold with me. And then I actually signed to Lil Joe Records. And here's a guy who really wants to, at that time, put a record out, but he's a guy coming from a different perspective of life. You have hip-hop, which is so raw, and this guy came across a couple of bad people, dealing with this music. Like life, some people cool, some people not. This guy got robbed, stuff like that, dealing with people from hip-hop music. Here's a guy who can get on the phone and broker deals with chains like Target and stuff like this, so you know, him dealing with these street thugs kinda put a bad taste in his mouth and put me in a bad situation. He wanted to deal with me because he already had history and he already know: I can make money with Verb. But the thing is, he didn't want to deal with the grassroots of the project. I would have producers come, he would sign the contract, cut the check and the guy would say look man, tell Joe I appreciate the business, I just wanna shake his hand. I'd go back and say yo, this guy says he appreciates doing business with you, he wanna shake your hand. And he'd say well, tell the guy I'm not here.

(Laughs) Right.

Even though these guys didn't go to college, some of these guys have high IQs. So when I come back and tell this guy, oh he's not here, he'd say oh fuck it, man. He don't wanna come speak to me? It's not a right or wrong, it's just unfortunate when those situations happen; and at that point he wasn't willing to get his fingers dirty with hip-hop. With radio, he kind of got blacklisted because he went against hte almighty Luke. Things of that nature. I think he got kinda paranoid, he didn't know who to trust. He stopped putting a lot of money out. He had a couple of artists before me that didn't pan out. I really feel I created some of my best work and really created a niche for myself there. I wish a lot of people could've observed the stuff I did at that time, they would've been surprised.

But that stuff is so spread out, because what happens, you'd get a couple of months of genius and then he's suing this guy and the records are held up for five to six months. And you know, hip-hop is changing every two to three months. Hip-hop now is nowhere like where it was six months ago. So you get back in the studio and the stuff you recorded is not relevant no more. So we kept having to start up over and over and over. And it's hard for me to compete with a guy who already has a catalog he's trying to work; it's nothing for him to pull ten to twenty songs together, slap a label on it... he doesn't even have to go to radio, spend no money on it. Just go right to the major chains and get a deal to start making money. And we already had some differences in terms of how I wanted the record to come out, what I wanted it to sound like, and dealing with Joe. He had people that I thought was dope, but he wouldn't deal with those people because those people had ties to Luke, or were people he didn't like. And so I couldn't deal with those people. So that was the situation right there.

And so Lil Joe owns everything, right? Your stuff and all those former Luke artists.

Yep! You gotta realize, these companies play the publishing game. Artists that we hear with samples that become some of the best ever samples are from groups that never were released. And for these companies, it's not in their best interest to put artists out. At first that might be a lucrative situation to put artists out, then they change up and realize maybe we oughta just go with a catalog and publishing. You hear a lot of these artists get in these studios and record these albums for next to pennies, and then whoever owns that company, no disrespect to them, but they're not in a situation where they've have to necessarily put that stuff out. SO generations later, their grandchildrens' grandchildrens' grandchildren stumble upon this stuff and say, oh look! I got some lost 2 Live Crew in here and that stuff be gold thirty or forty years later. And so that's how you've got some lost albums coming out now redigitalized and stuff like that.This is what happens, Companies get paid for recording artists and having albums for publishing purposes, but not putting it out for general consumption. It's a monster, man! A lot of people asking why you don't hear your favorite artists? It's politics. It's not because this person's a good guy or a bad guy, or this person fell off lyrically. It's politics.

If Miami was New York, it would've been easier for me to bounce back because you got Warner Brothers, you got Columbia... If it's not Warner Brothers, you could go to a subsidiary like Elektra or Atlantic. In Miami, you only had Luke, Hot and Joey Boy... and Vision. And Vision was done! They were pretty much putting out compilations, too. And Pandisc was done and just putting out compilations. What the smarter companies do is go into a hiatus where they don't sign artists anymore, but just put out compilation albums. And you see that stuff, when I was there and you say, well how did this record go on this compilation? Easy! 'Cause you've got Verb coming in saying I need twenty grand, I need ten grand, I need to be able to live. Oh well, could you go in the studio and do some work?

You hear that song I did about the record companies? That was an actual situation I was going through! And that song was freestyle because that's me saying look, if you got Verb. I got people waiting to hear product from me and here's a guy that wanted me to go and work in the warehouse! I won't get into that, but we just had differences of opinion. And I felt like I should be doing records and putting records out, but there was some bad artists that got there before me so this guy didn't trust anybody. I always felt like he should've been in the position of a Jimmy Iovine.  If you don't wanna deal with these guys, put somebody in a position like a Dr. Dre to get the product and just bring it back. But the problem is, he didn't even trust a Dre! So that's why you never got some stuff that came pure out of that company, this guy was just paranoid. Like I said, I don't know his experience, I won't speak on it or say it's right or wrong, but I understand and it's just unfortunate. You never seen some good art that was painted over there that never got released.

And some stuff that did come through that label at the end felt cheaper or unfinished, like the second Madd Blunted album [in retrospect, I realize that album I was thinking of was on Joey Boy, not Lil Joe - whoops!].

That was me being in an uncomfortable space because I always felt like let's not half-ass the people and give them these records on these bullshit ass compilations. I didn't even like the artwork on these albums. I didn't want my album to come out with a cover anything like this person was doing. That was my vision. It's like if you have a house and this person says let's just slap some paint on this house and sell it. And then this person says, why don't we renovate the house? It's a different perspective, you understand? His thing was slap some paint on it and sell it when I was like we have to be particular about this project. We just had different views. It's different if you have a label that doesn't have the luxury of a catalog. Then they have to make it work with their artists. But if you've got a catalog you can work, your main thing is gonna be working that catalog and squeezing every penny out of it, suing everybody you can sue. And when you sue these people and shaking people down,t hat put a bad taste in peoples' mouths in the industry.

Even with the Ringmaster situation [Verb was featured on the soundtrack to the Jerry Springer Show movie, Ringmaster], it wasn't like oh you're so great we wanna work with you. There was a lawsuit there! So it was almost like a bully move.

So do you think there's much hope of your lost albums coming out now? Or are those vaults just sealed forever with the changes to the music industry?

Well, right now you've got some stuff I'm working on independently; I'm probably gonna drop some stuff for the heads. It's not like I've never been in the game, like some 37 year-old rapper just trying to get in the game. At least you have to say this is a guy who was out before and did something on the level. You've got guys like Ross, 38 and Plies and Jay-Z still dropping albums and they're still going strong. So I've got some stuff I'm trying to introduce as as far as mixtapes.

But as far as the old stuff? We'll see! If the mixtape do good, it'll be like the Ross situation.

Oh right, yeah, that second album of his that was all old unreleased stuff.

Right! These companies, man, they have the albums, but they're unsure of you as an artist. You know, I have a song with Ross right now! That's at Joe, you know. In fact, I was supposed to be on "Take It To da House" record with Trick. But we couldn't make it make sense with the company. At that time I was working with Slip'N'Slide, I always thought they'd o good by me if I ever got a situation and be instrumental in getting me back out to the world the same way I helped their situation. But when you're not an artist going gold or platinum that people have heard from in a while, it's kind of hard to get on an even playing field.

You know, I'm responsible for Trick going to Slip'N'Slide. Because he called me and was like, yo, this guy doesn't wanna give me two grand, man. I said look, Luke Records is done, man. I know this guy who wants to give you some money and sign you. I said, this record company is done, go ahead. And he went.

Slip'N'Slide kinda did the same thing with Society...

Look, I was supposed to sign with Slip'N'Slide Records. Trick pulled for me to sign. But I'll go on record and say TED LUCAS DON'T HAVE EARS! He don't have ears! Here's a guy whose ears are worse than Luke. Here's these guys who are blessed to have the right situation come to 'em at the right time. So I get a hold of Trick at Slip'N'Slide and he says, look man, you're not doing nothing,w hy don't you come over here? I go over there, he's got Buddy Roe... I'm not on the top of my game at the time, so Buddy goes, look man, let me hear some stuff!  So I start telling Buddy Roe, right now, uh-uh. He's like, look man, I have to hear a verse from you. SO I spit a verse and then I see Ted tell Trick, hey, come here man, let me talk to you. So they went outside and I knew from there, you know what, I don't sound like trick, I don't sound like Buddy Roe, this is not gonna happen. The only reason Society got over is there is because Yes 'N' Deed had bass in it and it was movin'. It was proven and it was relevant. You gotta remember, I predate Yes 'N' Deed. So all that stuff fell in his lap.

So Ted comes back in and says, what do you wanna do? I'll sign you but we really don't have the capital. I said, what you mean? He said, we just signed Society, we just signed Trick. I was not interested in playing a Lost Tribe role for Slip'N' Slide where I sign for peanuts on the dollar. So what I did, I went to the giants, got paid a shitload of money, but the team was a bad team. It's like you sign with a team, you don't get no money, but the team's going all the way to the play-offs. I don't regret it because half of those guys didn't make the money I made and I didn't even have no releases. The only guys who made really any money over there was Trick and Trina. So I don't regret my moves, but my company wasn't as active as Slip'N'Slide.

So when they signed Ross, who I had on my album, we were discussing the politics. I was surprised he didn't sign with Slip'N'Slide. I said Ted Lucas is never gonna put Rick Ross out. Why do you ask that? Because Ross sounds very near to the work that I do. And let's look at this: he never put Ross out. What happened? Some real stuff happened that was in Ross's favor. Number one, when he came out with Trina, he was in a position where he wrote. Because he had some experience writing for artists, so he wrote for Trina and that's how he was able to get on and put his foot in the game. And that put his foot in the game. But if you look, nothing after that. He had a mixtape come out where he went against the company for not moving on him. He had to make himself hot. Here's a guy who's been on Slip'N'Slide for a couple years and had to go underground and mixtape like he was a new artist. Got a deal with Def Jam, but you already signed to an indie! An indie already signed to a major!

Wait a minute, you had Rick Ross? But you didn't have the ears and he was too risky! That's what happened to Verb. Miami wasn't ready for Verb.  It's like Star Wars, you're too early, you're Buck Rogers. You're right on time, you're Star Wars.That's why you see the stuff with Plies, 'cause Plies sounds kinda like Trick Daddy, in that kind of a vein. You never heard an artist remotely like a Ross or a Verb come out of there since then. People like what they like, I'm not knocking them, it's just different experiences where people come from in life. At the end of the day, it is what it is. So, that's what happened.

And that mixtape you mentioned...

It's not out yet. Right now I'm into production and engineering and making rhymes and just doing some stuff, experimenting with some Southern stuff. Of course you're gonna hear some east coast stuff. We're just gonna be all over the place. It's kind alike the Guns & Roses album, where you take eight years, and you keep recording and recording and recording... What is it, The Great Wall, the album Guns & Roses just did? The most expensive record in history to record. That kinda was the lost albums from Verb.

So props and thanks to Verb for talking to me and solving some of these long-standing mysteries... I'm definitely hoping all his music comes out, old and new. His new mixtape reunites him with Trick Daddy, and I'll definitely be spreading the word when that drops. By the way, I've just found another unreleased song of his from the 90's on a Japanese compilation called Bass Patrol (no relation to the group) vol. 19. It's crazy.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Verb, Luke and Devastator X's Secret Garden

Okay, you've just seen my Verb interview preview, and the full text piece is coming up. And I know Verb's catalog may seem small, though if you look through my past coverage of him you'll see I've been unveiling rare and hidden songs by him for a while. But there's still more generally unknown, obscure Verb cuts to be discovered that I thought I'd take this opportunity to point out. Several are tucked away on Luke's Greatest Hits album from 1996 on Lil Joe Records, one of the earliest releases from that label after they bought up Luke Records' back catalog.

I never picked this up back in the day because I already had his albums (plus it's not like I was ever a huge Luke fan). And the cover pretty strongly suggests that it just groups together songs from his three previous albums. But look at that blurb in the lower right hand corner: "Features 4 New Remixes and 4 New Songs Previously Not Released." That's the interesting stuff. And once I found out it included a heavy dose of Verb, I ordered it online.

Greatest Hits opens with a Special Edit of his biggest hit, "It's Your Birthday." Fortunately, this isn't counted as one of the four exclusive remixes, because it just the same album version minus the annoying intro where Luke sings "Happy Birthday" acapella. This is probably just a way to cheap out and save on publishing, since the "Happy Birthday" song is famously not in the public domain (Lil' Joe would continue to use this shorter edit on their future compilations and reissues); but frankly I'm happy to see it go anyway. It's just like a shitty, irritating skit tacked onto the front of the song.

The other non-new tracks are basically four of his singles up to the point of this album: "Breakdown," "I Wanna Rock" "Where Them Ho's At," and "Work It Out," plus the random In the Nude album track "Whatever." That's it; everything else on this album is new. Shit, if I'd realized that, I would've bought this album back when it came out.

So, let's look at the remixes now. All four remixes were made in 1996 by Mr. Mixx. That's a pretty big win - Mixx's production was definitely the biggest loss Luke Records suffered in the early 90s. Hearing him back on Luke's material now is pretty sweet, although I'm not sure he really put his all into these four mixes.

First up is "Dr. Dre Is a BXXXh AXX." You're probably thinking, wow, I've never heard of that song before! But it's really just a retitled "Cowards In Compton." Well, I mean, it's not just a retitling; it's an all new remix by Mr. Mixx, which is pretty interesting. He slows it down a bit and gives it a pretty minimal instrumental, with just a P-Funk noise sample and a very g-funky bassline and keys. They also add a new chorus with someone saying, "Dr. Dre is a bitch ass nigga... Suge Knight is a bitch ass nigga" in a deep, pitched down voice. It's... okay. The way it's kind of stripped down with the "Atomic Dog" effects is a good idea and should work on paper, but it feels under-cooked. I feel like if Mixx had spent another week toying with this, it could've been really dope; but as it is, it doesn't work. But it is at least cool to hear a song with Luke's real MCs (JT Money and Clayvoisie) on this album instead of just his generic shout and call party jams.

And that quality carries over to the next Mixx remix, "Head, Head and More Head (Pt. 1)," featuring KT Money and Jiggie Gee. It has kind of a similar remix style as "Dr. Dre," with a new bassline, and syrupy keys. The bassline is funkier here, though, and it's all a lot more upbeat and catchy, thanks in large part to the nature of the oiginal song. Still, it feels like Mixx is hung up on keeping up with the times and learning new production styles, as opposed to his earlier 80s work, which he was a deft master at.

The other two of Mixx's mixes are "Come On," another of his shout and call singles, and "The Hop," a random Freak for Life album track, also in the shout and call style. These aren't in the same style, and feel more like genuine alternate takes of these songs. Like, these could easily have been on the 12"s.

Finally, we cone the new songs. All four are produced by Devastator X (who'd worked with Luke even before the Luke/Lil Joe split on an earlier single edit of "I Wanna Rock"), and three of which feature Verb. The first is "Welcome To Club Hell," a busy, hyper track full of sirens and samples, cuts by Devastator and Kool Dee Jay Flex, and Verb doing some fresh fast raps to keep the pace."Dance" is similar, though a little less hectic, and also features Devastator on the mic. He's chiefly a producer, but has rapped on his own records and with MC ADE. He's fun and has an engaging voice, but he sounds a little too old school on these more modern tracks - a little fish out of water.

Anyway, these songs are barely Luke songs; I strongly suspect he never actually had a hand in creating any of them. They basically just sample his voice for hooks and background. That's probably more of a pro than a con; but I think we'd be even better off if they were allowed to drop the pretense of these being Luke songs and just making the best songs they could on their own. But... I guess you can't be mad at a Luke Greatest Hits album holding to every song at least being Luke-related.

So the last two songs are "Bounce/ Rock the Beat," which again features the pair of them and has X more adeptly kicking a fast, modern flow. I think his vocals may've been artificially sped up a bit, but still. The other song, then, is "Lipstick On My DXXk," a Devastator X solo cut, though it actually has the most Luke samples on it and sounds the most like an actual Luke song. It's kinda funny that you can actually make whole Luke songs without Luke's actual involvement. It's just a formula anyone could assemble with the right studio equipment.

Overall, this album is a pretty boring listen with way too much shout and call junk. I mean, it beats the average Luke album in that it's not full of long skits, tedious talking "songs" and other album filler he always padded his album with. And the shout and call songs work instrumentally, as their great showcases for his various producers to make rich and lively megamixes. I mean, listen to "I Wanna Rock" and block out Luke and his frat boys blurting out "doo doo brown" constantly, and it's actually a fantastic hip-hop instrumental mix that just needs a little extra scratching or actual verses to fill in the gaps. But Luke isn't a DJ or a rapper, so he could never hold a whole album, even his greatest hits.

BUT, also like all his other albums, there are enough guest appearances and good producers working overtime to make the albums worth picking up for more serious fans who are willing to skip through 75% of the albums to find the exclusive highlights. Nothing here is as great as the highlights on his official albums were - the new stuff here is definitely the skimpy budget version of those. Mr. Mixx's remixes are alright, but disappointing enough for even Mixx fans to skip over, and the Devastator X and Verb songs are better, but again would've been better off without having to shoe-horn in Luke. This project definitely feels like what it is - a miserly money grab. But I think the new songs are worth it if you can get this cheap, which you definitely can. And it's hard not to want this alternate Dr. Dre diss, even when you know it's going to be underwhelming.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sony Finally Releasing the Nas Demos!! ...Kinda, Sorta

Due to be released on April 15th, a promo copy of Sony/ Columbia's upcoming 2-disc set of Nas's Illmatic XX has just landed on my desk. Illmatic XX is the 20th anniversary re-issue of Illmatic... which was last reissued in 2012 by Get On Down as a "Gold Edition." And before that in 2006, and before that was the 10 year anniversary "Illmatic Platinum Series," and before that in 1996 (and that's not including the many, many bootlegs and unofficial pressings). So, basically, since its initial release in 1994, this has never been out of print and you could pretty much pave the streets of the world with Illmatic CDs. Which is cool because it's a great album. But since everybody under the sun must A) already own Illmatic or at least B) have access to a bajillion cheaper copies of the many former pressings, the natural question: why would anybody spring for yet another reissue in 2014?

The exciting answer: they've finally included the demos!!

Well, kinda sorta, partially.

Illmatic XX is a 2-disc set. Disc 1 is Illmatic, just like it's always been. All the same songs, nothing new except, admittedly, some extensive liner notes. But 2 disc is all new (kinda) - the Demos, Remixes & Live Radio disc!

Unless you're copping the vinyl. Illmatic XX is a double CD, but only a single LP, so... the vinyl is just another in a long line of completely redundant, generic Illmatic reissues. Woo.

But oh well, so sad, let's talk demos already!  Nas demos have been floating around, taunting collectors, for decades.  Hand labeled cassettes have sold for crazy money on EBay. One Leg Up Records announced a demo EP of the demos in 2009 but then closed up shop. Complex listed it in their "30 Greatest Hip-Hop Demos" aggregation article, and they had audio because... low quality dubs have appeared on rip blogs and Youtube for years. In other words, we've all been anxiously waiting and salivating for these to be cleaned up, mastered and officially released for years and years.

And Illmatic XX finally delivers.... one. Yup. Just one of the songs. Admittedly, many of the songs floating around as Nas "demo" seem to just be unreleased tracks from early in his career, but still after he was signed and working for the label. So, in other words, not strictly speaking his demo songs.  But that doesn't make them any less desirable to us fans, since they're still great and unreleased. Like, did they think we wouldn't want "Number One With a Bullet" because it was intended for an unreleased Kool G Rap project instead of his demo tape? Crazy talk!

And even if you're going pointlessly strict about ruling out anything that isn't strictly from his original demo, we all know there's two OG demo tracks out there, the other one being "Nas Will Prevail," a sick early version of "Ain't Hard To Tell" with an alternate instrumental and alternate lyrics. It's pretty great, in fact. But it ain't on here.

The sole demo joint we have here is "I'm a Villain." Yes, it says "Demos" right on the packaging; but that should actually read just "Demo." But at least it is a great demo track, produced by Jae Supreme (according to the liner notes... I know the popular theory is that Large Professor made it, but Sony says no) using some lyrics that later found their way onto other Illmatic tracks, and freshly remastered (albeit still still full of pops; I guess they sourced this from a vintage acetate?) for this release. They got this one song right, but where's the rest?

The rest of disc 2 consists of a Stretch & Bob radio freestyle... the "Live Radio" part. And the rest are just the remixes from the old 12"s singles... most of which were also included on the 10 Year Anniversary Illmatic Platinum Series. They go a bit further this time, though, including two of the weaker remixes that were made exclusively for the UK 12"s. They're not bad. But then they also don't include other bonus tracks that were on the 10 Year Anniversary Platinum Series, "On the Real" and "Star Wars." So they give and they take away, making neither version definitive... devoted fans will have to buy both.

Now let me guess. If we want "Nas Will Prevail" and "Number One," we'll have to wait for the 30th anniversary edition. Then maybe "Just Another Day In the Projects" on the 40th anniversary. This feels exactly like the mess of that Natural Elements CD, which was also an "anniversary" edition, where they pulled off the jewels we all wanted to make room to re-sell all their biggest songs we already owned. Sony's just dolling out these tracks one to two at a time, something they can keep pulling out of their hat to sell you more editions of the basic catalog disc. Eventually, our grandchildren will have all of the songs remastered - along with a thousand identical CD copies of the main Illmatic album they can shred and build owls out of - and compile them onto one bootleg vinyl. And finally we'll have a really great, worthwhile release I can get behind. In the meantime, you'll have to decide for yourself how badly you need the one unreleased track to buy this CD set or not.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bart Simpson, Not Yet Free

So I was listening to one of the audio commentaries on the latest Simpsons blu-ray: season sixteen, the episode where Bart becomes a rapper (why not? he'd already released a hit record with DJ Jazzy Jeff in 1990). 50 Cent has a great cameo where he tells Bart to stay in school, then turns to his agent and asks if that counted as community service. Anyway, I was pretty surprised to learn from that commentary that the hip-hop music of that episode was composed by pretty much the last person you'd ever guess to be producing Simpsons rap: Boots Riley of The Coup.

The Coup are one of hip-hop's strongest and most sociopolitical groups in the genre. They were from California but still somehow managed to wind up signed to Wild Pitch for their debut (although strictly speaking, they had an underground indie EP release two years earlier... but Kill My Landlord is the album that really introduced them to the world at large), and really knocked audiences out in a way only Public Enemy, Paris and X-Clan had managed to before. At least since "The Message."

But the problem I've always had with The Coup is that none of their later work quite lived up to their first initial single, "Not Yet Free," "Dig It" was a decent follow-up; it had a great instrumental, in fact better than "Not Yet," but overall the song didn't have nearly the same power. And "Funk" should probably have just remained an album track. I still followed them to their second album and all, and really appreciated "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish," with its clever misdirection and funky track; but they still never reached the heights of this debut.*

It's an interesting, non-coastal kind of song, with a very pure, New York "dusty jazz" horn sample ...though the sax, along with the bass and keyboards are actually played live by original musicians for this record. So you've got this rich, Roots-like music and scratches by their DJ, Pam the Funkstress all it's over a dark, serious yet funky bassline. But the beat's rhythmic slowness and the MCs Oakland voices clearly betray their west coast origins. Finally, add to the mix the backing vocals (credited to a Vilisa Johnson) and ever-shifting instrumental - the song gets a whole second life when it switches as Boots says, "capitalism is like a spider." It gives the Coup a sense of being more important than regionalism or the classical division of hip-hop styles.

And over twenty years later, I can still recite that one verse from memory. You remember when the beat stops dead, and a lone, tapping snare comes back too bring in these new, rudimentary bass notes. Boots says,

"Niggas, thugs, dope dealers and pimps;
Basketball players, rap stars, and simps.
...That's what little black boys are made of.

Sluts, hoes, and press the naps around your neck;
Broads pop that coochie, bitches stay in check.
...That's what little black girls are made of.

But if we're made of that who made us,
And what can we do to change us?
The oppressor tries to tame us,
Here's a foot for his anus.
Well, since the days when I was shittin' in diapers
It was evident the president didn't like us.
Assassination attempts? I'd root for the snipers.
My teacher told me that I didn't know what right was.

Well, she was wrong, 'cause I knew what a right was.
And a left, and an uppercut, too.
I had a hunch a sucker punch is what my people got,
That's why I was constantly red, black, and blue."

Fuck, "root for the snipers?" This was not a group hung up on being PC or what might upset listeners. But it was earnest and serious; not being extreme for the sake of shock value or media attention. You related to the sentiment, even you weren't quite bold enough to say it first. ...I played this single to death back in '93.

The B-side, "I Ain't the Nigga," is a cool, serious twist on the beat used for Masta Ace's crazily fake duet with Biz Markie, "Me and the Biz." It's a rejection of the popularization of the word "nigga" and its adoption in contemporary American and hip-hop culture, ironically using an NWA (since they're the group that effectively blew it up) vocal sample of Cube declaring, "I ain't the nigga."  Also, keeping the Juice Crew connection, they use Big Daddy Kane saying, "if I'm a slave, I'm a slave to the rhythm" from Kool G Rap's equally topical, but more uplifting "Erase Racism." In fact, "I Ain't the Nigga" has been carried over from their 1991 EP, but remixed with a completely new instrumental. Instead of the smooth and funky bass-driven track here, the original much rawer, drum and funk guitar-driven track. I could see preferring either version (that chunky "Gasface Refill" piano underneath the hook puts this Wild Pitch version over the top for me), but both are solid and worth having; this was definitely a successful remix.

...Again, not exactly the kind of artists you'd think would be crafting Simpsons raps. I can't imagine Rupert Murdoch had any idea what kind of anti-establishment polemicists he was hiring. I'm sure The Simpsons' writing team loved that.

By the way, be sure to check out the "Instrumental" version of "Not Yet Free." Beyond being the instrumental track, the vocals aren't just removed but replaced with some big sax soloing that's pretty hot.

*I've also listened to bits and pieces of their more contemporary work after E-Roc left the group, and I've got "My Favorite Mutiny" on 12"; but never really got into it. Maybe it's time for a revisit?