Thursday, April 24, 2014

Are Two Trick Daddy's Better Than One?

Before Maurice Young became internationally known as Trick Daddy, there was a Flordian duo known as Two Trick Daddy's (no, I don't understand why they didn't spell it "Daddies" either ). And no, this wasn't Trick Daddy's first group (wouldn't that have been fun?). These guys just seemed to pop up out of nowhere, put out an album on Joey Boy Records, and then disappear just as quickly. The year was 1993, and their album title: Ain't Nothing But a Sex Thang, is obviously an attempt to cash in on the explosive popularity of Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. ...Never a good sign.

 But the connection ends their, because there is not a damned thing G-funky about this album at all. Sex Thang is a dyed in the wool Miami bass album through and through. And, produced by Felix Sama - who I'm usually not very taken with - it's actually pretty good. A lot of credit probably belongs to DJ Spin, who's only credited with co-producing two tracks, but seems to be their DJ through the whole album and may've had a bigger hand in composing these songs than the album credits suggest. This theory is evidenced by the fact that in the shout outs track, "Givin Out Props," they thank DJ Spin "for making those dope tracks on the Trick Daddy album." The title track, for instance, features a nice combination of break beats - including the famous Lyn Collins drums with the "woo! yeah!"s made famous by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock - that's a little more pure than hip-hoppers tended to expect from random Miami albums in the early 90s.

Or "Big Fat Girl," which sounds like it should be the worst song simply based on its title, actually features a phat update of the "Good Time" grooves The Sugarhill Gang blew up off of. The super old school with a modern Miami update reminds me a lot of something Mike Fresh would make. Couple that with some super funky scratches by Spin, and you have a song that's way more enjoyable than it has any right to me.

"TD Show" has them riding a high energy rhythm with some nice percussion. But it really comes alive when Spin gets busy on the breakdown and a subsonic window rattling bassline slips in. And their single, "Snatch and Grab," is a real head-nodding gangster track you'd never expect to find on a project like this. There's a clear Poison Clan influence, but that can only be a good thing. And even the more predictable entries, like "Head Pack" or "Doggie Style" (the latter of which is saved largely by the cuts) still have a doper feel than many of their ilk.

And the Two Trick Daddy's aren't just being carried by their production either. They might not be the most "next level" lyricists you'll ever hear, but they're more than capable MCs for rocking a variety of styles and make it all sound good. Sex Freek does actually sound a little bit like a young Maurice; but Jit (who sometimes also calls himself Ice) sounds a lot more like JT Money. So much so, I almost wonder if it's intentional that JT and Jit are such similar names. Probably not, but if you just heard one of these songs on the radio, you'd swear it was JT Money.

The Two Trick Daddy's pretty thoroughly disappeared after this album, which is kind of a shame. Jit did actually pop up on a DJ Uncle Al album (the same album that featured P-Nut after his partner Ant D's notorious crimes that landed him on death row) a couple years later, but as far as I know, that's it. I wouldn't be surprised (and would love to discover) he possibly did some more under a different name, because they had more to offer than a lot of their contemporaries. They probably lacked the star power to make any real break out hits like Maurice Young managed to do, though. But that's right up my alley. I usually prefer musically talented journeymen to pop celebrities for my hip-hop fix, so I actually found this album more rewarding than most of Trick Daddy's stuff. Maybe you will, too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Half a Klip Worth Half a Krap?

Here we have what is perhaps Kool G Rap's most maligned album (running neck and neck with Click of Respect), Half a Klip. Well, I've found that it's been very worth going back and revisiting his other commonly dismissed albums, so it was only a matter of time until I got to this one, right? And I can definitely promise that there are some interesting things going on with this project to discuss. Plus maybe we're in for another pleasant, underrated surprise.

Like Click of Respect, which can be considered "a posse album and not a proper G Rap album," this album has a built in excuse in case you do find it sub-par. It's an EP. Sort of. Originally, it was meant to be an EP, which is why it's called Half a Klip. Don't take my word for it, though; here's Kool G Rap explaining it in an interview with the now defunct, "(Why a half a clip not a full clip?) Cuz it's an EP. (laugh) Seven tracks. One track is produced by DJ Premier but the rest of it is from up and coming producers. There is a song on there featuring G Rap and his wife Ma Barker."

Well, obviously some things happened between that interview and the release of the album. About the only thing that's still accurate in G Rap's statement is that one track is produced by DJ Premier. It's not seven songs long, there's eleven. He says all the other producers are "up and coming producers," but one of the credited producers here is Marley Marl - you don't get less "up and coming" than him. And also none of the songs feature Ma Barker. So, hey, it sounds like everything changed for the better (sorry, Ma).

Yeah, it's eleven songs, even though there's only nine on the back cover and inside artwork, so I'd say changes were still being made until the very last moment. But I guess we're supposed to consider the last two as Bonus Tracks, since they're just alternate versions of songs from the first nine. In fact, track 11 is just a clean edit of track 9; so that's not really anything to get excited about.  And there's plenty more to get unexcited about. A lot of the production (including Domingo, MoSS, Dane JA and Ricky Snow) is pretty flat and boring. And some are quite short. One of the songs produced by G Rap's fam, The Five Family Click, fades out in such a way that it sounds like we're just not getting the whole song. Let me guess: they faded out before Click member Ma Barker's verse?

And how about that Marley Marl produced track? That sounds pretty compelling, right? Except, strangely, it's just a remix of "#1 With a Bullet," from Kool G Rap and DJ Polo's 1992 album, Live and Let Die, which was sixteen years old even at the time. And they cut out Big Daddy Kane's part!  What's more, listening to it, I really don't think this new beat is by Marley at all.  It doesn't sound up to his standards or in his style.  I suspect one of their "up and comers" produced this remix, and they're just crediting Marley because they wanted to use his connection to help sell this project (notice how his name's right there on the sticker on the front cover).

...But, it's not all bad. They've replaced Kane with a new verse by KL of Screwball, who must've at least been aware of why he was being recorded, because he mentions Kool G Rap in his bars. So it's a little bit interesting thanks to that addition, but it's really nothing special from KL, and doesn't even come close to Kane's original contribution. Oh, and they also removed G Rap's second verse, so it's only got two verses in total now. Couple all that with the inferior new production and this mix really isn't worthwhile except as a curiosity piece for KL's involvement.

Oh, I guess I also have to talk about Haylie Duff. She's on here, and of course the internet being the internet, that's perhaps become what this album is best known for. Haylie Duff is Hilary Duff's sister, who's an even bigger pop singer and TV actress. But I believe they're both both. I don't know; I don't follow that teeny bopper shit. But apparently they're a really big deal in that circuit. And so, yeah, she's on here (though the liner notes incorrectly credit her for being on "Risin' Up," when she's actually on "On the Rise Again." It's their own fault for putting two songs on the same album with "Rise" as the key word of the title). Anyway, her influence on the song is very small. She sings one or two lines which I think are just then repeated as a vocal sample (rather than her singing the chorus each time), and it's kind of low in the mix. Like, I'm not bashing Ms. Duff; I don't know her and couldn't say if she's a talented singer or not. Maybe she's got an amazing voice; but this track didn't test her at all. She could really be any generic girl voice here. Her appearance here is just a novel footnote.

Curiously, there's a song on here called "100 Rounds (Original Version)." Why do they specify "Original Version?" There's no alternate version on here or anywhere else. As far as I can tell, G Rap never used these rhymes on another song or anything. I mean, it implies that we've all heard "100 Rounds" before somewhere else, but a later version; and now we're getting to hear how it was originally recorded... But I'm pretty sure it only exists in this one form on this album, so what gives?

Well anyway, I think it's time now for me to deeper dig into the vaults for another interesting article on Half a Klip that's unfortunately no longer online to get into more of the story. Producer Eric Vanderslice used to have a blog on Philaflava, and was apparently loosely involved with this project behind the scenes. He wrote some pretty interesting stuff about this album, which I'll quote liberally for you now, since it can no longer be found on the internet otherwise:

"The original idea was for Dan Mack [Dan Herman] (ceo of chinga chang records) to get a verse from G Rap for his artist out of Ohio named Epik. Now Epik has the typical 'new rapper' syndrome, he lives in Ohio, and instead of jumping on a train to go record with a legend on a legends beat, he asks Dan for money JUST to come out. Also keep in mind this is wayyyy before you could just 'get' a G Rap verse, I don't even think he was on Myspace at the time? Now if you're a moderately talented rapper with good connections and you had the opportunity to expand that greatly in one day, wouldn't you just show up? Dj Premier, G Rap, & Epik = instant credability for someone no one really knows beyond his area. He doesn't show, Dan and myself truck to G Raps crib in Jersey, get up with Domingo, chill, record, listen, burn the cd, and bounce. Fast forward well over a year and a half, I hear the Premier track finally leaks, and it's not the beat he recorded on, which wasn't much of a surprise to me. 


It was originally scheduled to be merely a collabo 16, in which G graciously blessed 24 bars for.

Dan is pissed Epik thinks he's too cool to come record in Jersey, so Domingo sees Dan throwing THOUSANDS of dollars into this project, only to try and cash in himself. I'm not saying I wouldn't have done the same thing, about 75 - 80% of rap is merely a hustle with a soundtrack behind it. However Dan isn't really rich, he's a real estate scoundrel making money on ebay and pumping that back into his label. Already WAY over budget he put over 10 thousand dollars into a G Rap verse and beat + scratches from Premier. Granted this is much cheaper off the books, it's two unaccessible to the public hip hop ICONS, and Dan talked his way into both spots to be able to do what he did, with what he had. I gotta give em a lot of credit.

The problem lies soley on Dans shoulders for the way this cd came out though. It went from a collabo with Epik, for Epiks project which already hit a few speed bumps. Interscope wouldn't clear the collabo Epik did with The Game for less than a zillion dollars so THAT got shelved, then he did a joint with Lil Flip that never saw the light of day either? Either way you add those 2, and a song with G Rap over a Premier beat you're looking at a tracklist that would interest a lot of people. These problems mount up and Domingo lends a helping hand, all the while trying to reach around into his pockets with the other, I mean a producers gotta eat right? That's why this cd ended up the way it did. Dan ran out of money and couldn't live up to his end of the deal financially or finally didn't want to lose any more of his money. He had no business trying to do this on his own anyway. Drama ensues, Domingo and Dan go back n forth, neither one of em are very stable and i'm almost certain G Rap just stepped aside. The only tracks that were made for this cd were the Premier track, 100 rounds, and Whats more Realer than that."

That's pretty damning stuff, and what you hear on the CD (this was a CD-only release, of course) does a good job of confirming the story above - it sounds like a non-album glued together out of little bits. The only shout-outs in the album liner notes, even, are from Herman, and say simply, "Dedicated to anyone who ever made something out of nothing! Half a Klip is the definition of that." It certainly is. Even when this was going to be just a seven song EP, I think they would've come pretty short. But stretching this out to a full-length album hurts it a lot more.

So, what does all this mean? Is this there any value to this album at all? Yeah, the Premier track is dope, musically and lyrically. Domingo and G Rap have three solid numbers on here, "The Life" is a compelling narrative from the master storyteller, and everything else here is at least decent. It's still Kool G Rap, he never comes wack. And most of this album is new and exclusive material. It's definitely his weakest album and probably holds up worse now than it did at the time (googling around, this album actually got a lot of surprisingly uncritical reviews). Ranked against other G Rap albums, this one definitely lives at the bottom; but try and listen to "Typical Nigga" or "What's More Realer Than That" without nodding along. This is still worth having for any G Rap fan - I'm certainly happy to have my copy. But if you don't already consider yourself a fan, this is absolutely not the album to dust off in 2014 (wow, it's only six years old); and even diehards are going to feel some disappointment mixed into their listening experience.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Mysterious Brothers Unique

Here's another single from Sutra. This one goes even further back: 1981. Musicians and brothers Dave and Dennis Williams linked up with a little crew of MCs known as the Brothers Unique, and this is their sole record: "School Daze." It was originally released on Glad-Hamp Records, a label owned by jazz legend Lionel Hampton (Benny Goodman, etc - look 'im up). It's one of the few records they put out that wasn't one of Hampton's, and certainly their only hip-hop release. Sutra then picked it up for a wide release.

It's an electric (though not electro, mind you) disco rap that really captures the energy of disco more than a lot of its peers which wound up sounding like sappy, watered down disco that only really set itself apart by featuring rappers on it. It's got a great prototypical shout chorus, and the Brothers' way of trading verses back and forth with different styles and even doing voices keeps things lively and danceable. Very few records of this period pack this much bounce.

The downside is that it features the corniest rhymes you'll ever hear outside of an After School Special. And their cheerful voices sometimes sound like they're auditioning for a PBS childrens' program. I don't get why they chose to spell "Daze" with a "ze" here, because this is practically a propaganda piece in the way it fervently sings the praises of education. The guys who write Sesame Street songs would rolls their eyes and call this preachy.

But hey, education's a genuinely good cause; it's not like they're putting the military industrial complex on a pedestal. And the Brothers, Mighty D, Mack Attack, The Ice Man, and Romeo, the teen of the crew, manage to have enough fun with it - not just by making a catchy tune like I've just described, but by always changing their lyrical approach. one verse they're warning you about the dangers of winding up homeless, and the next they're doing a playful "big word style" to flex their own educations, "What ladies can you hope to please if you can't even say your ABC's? You gotta dazzle them with phraseology, and social ideology. And then I ease into sexology; and then, good God, another victory!" If only the bulk of the song had managed to shake its didactic nature like that.

Here's the thing about this Sutra release, though. It's different. It's the same music and starts out the same way. But it's actually a shorter edit (5+ minutes as opposed to 8+ on the original Glad-Hamp release). You actually have to be pretty familiar with the song to catch where they cut the three minutes from, because they clip short snippets throughout. For example, between the first and second verses, there's a little hook and mini-rhyme, and then they're back in sync.

So fuck the Sutra version, right? The Glad-Hamp version is the one to own, surely. And, yes, I'd definitely say the original, full-length version is the preferable and definitive version of the vocal mix of the song. Maybe the song will be too corny for you to get into, or maybe you'll love it; but one thing you won't be saying to yourself as you hear it is "this would be so much better if they took three minutes out of it!" Especially since, again thanks to they're very differently written verses, it never feels redundant. In fact, the shorter version fades out during one of the coolest parts of the song!


The Sutra record has something special going for it on side B. If you look at the photo, you'll see my 12" is a promo copy (and written on). But it doesn't matter, the promo and retail copies are the same;

If you weren't hip to the Brothers' jazz connection through the whole Glad-Hamp connection, you'd pick on it once you flipped this record over. Both of these records have the Instrumental version on the the reverse, but you'll notice the writing credits on the Sutra version have an extra name added: John Stubblefield. Stubblefield is an old school jazz saxophonist, and on the Sutra record, they give him the instrumental to play over. It's back to about 8 minutes in length and and now it's a rocking jazz disco groove. One or two other rappers have done something similar with their B-sides (Mix Master Spade comes to mind), but I believe the Brothers Unique were the first. What's more, this is easily one of the best examples. In fact, a lot of listeners who can't get past the cheese factor of the vocal side might find this to be the preferable, definitive version of the song and the one to own. It's a call you can only make for yourself... Or, you know, just break down and get both.

Anyway, the Williams brothers continued to have long careers in the music business; but I wonder whatever happened to the Brothers Unique. I sometimes wonder if they were just jazz guys using aliases for this one record,having fun with this new rap fad; but they seemed to have rapping pretty well figured out for a couple of outsiders just jumping into it. And I know there's an old soul group called the Brothers Unique, but I assume there's no connection short of one being the namesake of the other. I'd love to know these guys' story, let alone hear another song or two from 'em. Maybe even one that isn't about school.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Before There Was Sparky D, There Were...

The Playgirls is one of the oldest female rap groups on wax*. Before making her name feuding with Roxanne Shanté and getting involved in the epic Roxanne Wars, Sparky D was one one of The Playgirls, who released their debut 12" single in 1984 (Sparky's famous debut, "Sparky's Turn," dropped in 1985). It's called "Our Picture of a Man," and it came out on Sutra Records, home of the original Fat Boys albums, along with many others.

This is back before 12" singles were typically loaded with B-sides and remixes, so it's just the one song and its Instrumental on the flip. But it's pretty tight. Produced by Spyder D, who'd go on to back Sparky's whole career all the way to today, it's got a very funky, appealing track. Spyder's voice even appears on the track. And The Playgirls have cool voices, a lot of energetic interplay and some smooth flows for 1984. It's 1984, so yeah there's a ton of hand claps and definitely sounds of the period. But it's always shifting and feels very alive, with elements of the music changing through out all the verses... There's keyboard horns, and a funky keyboard bass; plus a catchy xylophone riff and some very naturalistic sounding drums for '84.

They really rock it. Ostensibly, the song's about... well, like the title says, their idea of an ideal man, versus the men they meet in their everyday lives who fall well short. And they definitely address that: "Think it's all about you, ain't a damned thing funny. You've got to be crazy if you want my money. Money ain't the world that a fellow needs, but you'd rather go spend it all on cocaine and weed."  But they wind up breaking into so many harmonies and choruses, and eventually just ditch the concept all together and kicking fresh bragging rhymes 'till the end of the record. Like they're just having too good of a time to worry about dragging the topic to the end of the song, and that good time is contagious.

Now, not to be confused with The B. Girls - the all-female rap group Sparky joined later in the 80s - the Other Playgirls are Mo Ski and City Slim.  Sparky's the only one who made a name for herself outside of the trio, but they turned up one more time on Sparky's "The Battle," where they have a pretend beef and battle each other on NIA Records. It's a shame they didn't record more, because all three of them were good rappers' but I guess it was just Sparky who got the momentum after "It's My Turn." That's too bad, because I think some more Playgirls records would've been more fun than just Sparky on her own. But I guess it just wasn't to be.

The group (including Spyder) briefly reunited in the 90s, though, to release an independent 12" answer record to Apache's "Gangsta Bitch," but that was mostly just another Sparky solo record, with City Slim only appearing on one of the three songs and Mo Ski completely MIA. ...In fact, according to the shout-outs at the end, they don't know where she is, saying, "to my girl Mo Ski, where ever you may be. If you're out there, here's a shout out." It was also on a total, grimy 90's hardcore vibe; totally oppositional to their past sound... but still fun. I don't think The Playgirls could help being fun.

That's why this record holds up much better than you'd expect it to. So if you've never heard it, I recommend giving it a listen. It's a treat.

*Not THE first of course... The Sequence's first 12" dates all the way back to '79!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Deep Into the Blackwatuz

See how "1. Radio Edit" and all are
off-center? I bet there was a 3. Inst
removed at the last minute.
In yesterday's post, I mentioned that "you might not've heard of" Blackwatuz. Well, you see I never intended to just leave you hanging there, because today's post is going to explore the depths of the Blackwatuz, particularly focusing on their only other 12" single, "Da' Kitchen" on Cipher Records and Echo International.

So, yes, Blackwatuz (as in "black waters") was a Jersey crew; it consisted of Vegaroc (MC and producer), Cyklopz (MC), Nasteeman (MC) and Greg G (producer). They produced the entirety of that Imperial Guardsmen EP. Dahead Beatuz Productions team (here credited as Da' Head Beatuz)? Yeah, that's Vegaroc and Greg G, and naturally they handle all their own production on this single, too.

This single here predates The Imperial Guardsmen (1999), and interestingly, it also features Sakinah "Sah-B" Britton. In fact, that connection is what first lead me to their record back in the day. Unfortunately, she doesn't really have a verse; she just does part of the hook, and her classic, high pitched voice sounds pretty watered down and generic here. In other words, they could've gotten any girl to fill her small role; they didn't tap any of her potential, so it's not a 12" to pick up if you're just a Sah-B fan.

So it has to rise or fall based on the strength of The Blackwatuz themselves. And it mostly rises. The production isn't amazing, but it's effective enough (and interestingly, not in the style of the Imperial Guardsmen stuff). The concept of the A-side is strong, talking about making love through the metaphor of a soul food kitchen. "Can I cook in your kitchen, baby?" However, some of the lines ("the way you slob on that corn of the cob makes me throb") really fall short of their ambition here by being just too juvenile and on the nose. But if you can get past that, it works; and it has a really cool instrumental vibe that helps sell it despite its lyrical missteps.

"No Boundaries" is the harder-edged B-side you've gotta package a high concept song like "Da' Kitchen" with to keep the heads happy. Everybody's rapping harder and faster, kicking just raw freestyle rhymes. But the instrumental is still unusual, with a very slow, atmospheric vibe and a sung chorus by Lil Debbie (no relation, of course, to the White Girl Mob's latest starlet). Not the kind of thing you'd expect at all for a rugged street-targeted B-side, but it's pretty good. And the MCs definitely come off more impressively here as traditional spitters than they did saying lines like "I'll go diving for fish; won't need a knife and fork when that fish is on my dish" on the A-side.

For what it's worth, the track-listing here is a little off (typical Echo!). The label lists Radio and Street versions of "Da' Kitchen" on side A, and Radio and Street versions of "No Boundaries" on the B-side. Really, both Radio versions are on side A, and both Streets are on B. So you get all the right stuff, just in a different order; no biggie, just thought I'd point it out.

I'm sure they recorded some more, unreleased tracks; but I don't think Blackwatuz out anything  out after this and the Imperial Guardsmen. I think that's less about how strong they were as artists, however, and more about how they just got to the game a bit late. By 2000, the market for indie 12"s like this was being shut down by the internet, and the tides were turning towards glossier, pop rap dudes. And this isn't any amazing, mind blowing, next level stuff; but Blackwatuz did manage to make some respectable random rap for heads to uncover if they're feeling venturous.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Jersey's Imperial Guardsmen

This is an interesting record right here, especially for Jersey heads; but really anyone into the 90s indy vinyl scene should be intrigued by this line-up: Raggedy Man, Sah-B, Blackwatuz (okay, you might not've heard of them) and Nocturnal (the same Nocturnal I posted an interview with a couple months ago). They all came together to release The Imperial Guardsmen in 2000, an indie EP on Tribal Child Records, the label Raw Elements used to be on in the 90s.

Now the production, provided by the mysterious Dahead Beatuz Productions team, is... interesting. It seems to be based on just looping single, big chunky samples over a beat. I kinda like it, but it's not the kind of thing that impresses you and makes you want to seek out more of their stuff. It's enjoyable, and is more effective on some tracks than others... Overall it's pretty engaging, if a bit low-fi sounding.  But that's how we like our indie 12"s, right?

First up is Blackwatuz and Sah-B with "Black Summa," and if your mind is immediately leaping to Sah-B's debut single, "Summa Day," you're on the right track. Instrumentally, it's pretty dissimilar, but conceptually and lyrically it's like "Summa Day" part 2. But of course, this time it's got the Blackwatuz guys on it, and lyrically it might even be a little stronger. The production's at its catchiest here, too; and there is a singer (Judith LeTemps) adding a hook, but it's only in the background behind the Watuz doing their own hook. She winds up sounding more like a sample in the background, which is cool.

Then the Blackwatuz return for "Da Floods," which is their lyrical skills flexing track. The beat loops up a classical record, sounding like a Stoupe beat, even with a similar change-up in the music every so often. No Sah-B this time, disappointingly, but otherwise it's all good.

Raggedy Man's track is next. His was my most anticipated song before I actually heard this, but now that I have it, it's my least favorite on here. I could still see it being some peoples' favorite, though. It's a bit different, going for a more playful, Grand Puba vibe. The beat's a nice rolling piano and Judith LeTemps is back doing her chorus behind the MC's own chorus vocals, but this time she doesn't sound like background. The track is a nice rolling piano loop I haven't heard used before, and Raggedy is bringing the clever wordplay and personality... but maybe it's the drums? I'm not sure; for some reason it's just not clicking for me.

We end with "Money-N-Power" by Nocturnal, featuring Vega (of Blackwatuz). Nocturnal comes off on this one and the track has another Stoupe-ish feel (though not as close as "Da' Floods"). So it's a good, solid way to end the EP.

You get all the songs on side R, and then clean, radio edits of each on side PG. It might take a little searching, but overall, this is a cool, sleeper 12" I'd recommend for most fans of the indie 90s 12" days, with an added appeal of historical interest for this into the Jersey underground scene.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What To Get the Madd Blunted Fan Who Has Everything

"Rock It-Don't Stop It" first appeared on a 1994 Vision Records compilation Bass In da Hood, before later turning up as an album track on Madd Blunted's full-length debut, A Day In the Life Of Madd Blunted in '95. Madd Blunted is essentially a two-man pair... like a lot of hip-hop groups, guys they're down with seem to drift in and out as semi-official members; but the heart of the crew is essentially Phat Daddy, formerly of Balli & the Fat Daddy, and ragga MC Don Ugly. There's no difference between those initial '94 and '95 versions of "Rock It" except that A Day In the Life adds a vocal sample of a countdown at the very beginning of the song. But then they released it again as their second single, this time as the Rasta Remix.

"Rock It-Don't Stop It" is actually a pretty good song, but not very memorable. It's comprised of Miami bass cliches, both lyrically and instrumentally, to the point that if you're hearing it for the first time, you'd think you'd heard it dozens of times already in the past. Plus, it sounds a lot like Madd Blunted's first single, "Shake It." Similar verses, similar choruses (I think at one point, a "shake it, shake it" chant in "Rock it" might even be a direct lift from "Shake It"). Both use heavy doses of "Planet Rock" (hence the title of "Rock It") and other standard Miami bass record sounds. The only real reason to tell them to apart, unless you're intimately familiar enough with the songs to know the lyrics to the individual verses, is that "Shake It" features Fresh Kid Ice, and "Rock It" doesn't.

It's definitely not a song I'd play for somebody who'd never heard Madd Blunted before; they've got way more interesting stuff than this and anybody who isn't a big Miami bass fan would probably dismiss it pretty quick.  But if you don't dismiss it, I think you'd have to admit it's a pretty well produced and solidly constructed song. It may be full of old samples, but they're proven to work and are used to their best effect here. There's also a scratch break-down by DJ Spin which is really impressive. I mean, just that little thirty-second clip alone would make the record worth buying. And while Phat Daddy really doesn't bring any noteworthy lyrics, both he and Don at least bring enough energy and enthusiasm to the track to keep up with the high bpm.

So you can see why they'd release it as a single. A well-crafted club song designed to fit like a square peg into a square hole of the Miami hip-hop market.  But you can also see why, especially since it's following up their very similar "Shake It," they'd have to smack it around and reconfigure before dropping it as their second single.

So the first change you'll notice right away, is that the original "yeah, Madd Blunted's in the house" intro, which segues into the first hook, has all been removed and replaced with a new intro by none other than Disco Rick. He doesn't kick a verse or anything, just the intro, but just having him on the record at all is a very noticeable distinction. After that, the most obvious change is that they use a lot more of Don Ugly ...which makes sense for a "Rasta Remix."  On the album version, he just as one kind of chorus/chant in the middle of the song. Here, that segment is used as the main, recurring hook (replacing some more generic "bounce that thang" and "work that thang" chants), and he now also has a reggae-style verse midway through the song.

Musically, it's not all that different, though it has been tweaked... the "go 'head, baby" chant during DJ Spin's scratch segment, for example, has been replaced with female porn samples, though his cutting itself is the same. The changes are primarily in the vocals, which have really been reworked. In fact, Phat Daddy's first verse on the album version has been replaced with an all new one. It's tempting to consider this more of a "Rock It Part II," except a lot of the vocals, including Phat Daddy's second verse, are unchanged. But it's certainly a very substantial remix that at least succeeds in making it sound more distinct from "Shake It." I can't really say this mix is inherently any better than the original, but it definitely has more of its own identity.

There's two mixes on the 12", but one is just a clean edit of the other. Flip it over, and you have another album track, "Gettin' High," which is a catchy and upbeat song that's not really impressive but will definitely have you bopping along anyway. It has two versions: Smokin' Blunts Mix and the Radio Mix, but the Smokin' Blunts Mix isn't a new remix; it's just what they call the main LP version.

So, overall, it's a decent 12", but nothing to go out of your way for. There's much more interesting material on their album, so I wouldn't recommend it for the casual listener (unless they're big turntablism fans willing to buy it just for a very brief DJ Spin moment). But it is interesting if you're a serious Madd Blunted fan, and an engaging companion piece to the album. That's why I'm calling this post: What To Get the Madd Blunted Fan Who Has Everything.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Questionable Lyrics #4: Trigger Warning: Robin Givens

In 1989, Kool Moe Dee wrote a very angry record directed at women because he gathered that they were all out to cozy up to him only to later steal his cash. Mind you, he wasn't just out to deflect specific women he perceived to be gold diggers; for him this applied to all women. As the chorus said, "No, I ain't got no girlfriend. No, I ain't buy no car. No, I ain't got no babies. A lot of ladies? Nah, they want money." That's a... strong stance. I mean, that means he's celibate now, right? Well, anyway, it's actually another line from this song, a  small section from his second verse, that stood out to be as particularly interesting:

"I know the game; it's old and lame.
You're holdin' a flame for my name and my fame.
Livin' like Givens schemin' on Tyson;
But she got lucky, 'cause he was a nice one.
But I ain't nice, and I don't play that."

Mike Tyson - the convicted rapist famous for biting the ear off an opponent in a boxing ring, in addition to multiple convictions of assault -  was a nice one? It could be, in the words of McBain, "that's the joke." Or maybe it's just that Tyson was going through a brief period as a hip-hop hero (which I've discussed a bit here, but is probably due for a post of its own). And, after all, this preceded pretty much all of his arrests and controversies (specifically: the cases of sexual assault in 1990, rape in 1992, two assaults in 1998, two assaults in 2002, another assault in 2003, possession in 2006, DUI in 2007, and an assault in 2009), so maybe we were all just a little more naive in 1989.

But the line isn't really about Tyson, it's about Robin Givens, best known for playing a high school student in the network sitcom, Head Of the Class. Well, the reference is of course that she was married to Tyson for about a year (married in 1988 and divorced in 1989, then remarried to someone else years later), backing out of the marriage claiming assault. Apparently Dee couldn't bring himself to believe that Mr. Tyson was the violent type, and that Robin Givens must've been lying and "schemin'" to get him for his alimony.

It's infinitely beyond one line in one rapper's song, though. What's struck me is how many other rappers felt compelled to use the exact same line in their own songs. You thought rappers couldn't stop biting each other's Tinactin references? Wait'll you get a load of this. I spent the last couple nights trying to remember Robin Givens lines, and here's what I came up with:

"So how ya livin'? Like a turkey on Thanksgiving?
Or like Robin Givens?"

That was perhaps the most memorable is Big Daddy Kane's question on "Another Victory."

"It's in my nature to keep robbin' like Givens."

And who can forget the above quote from Rock on "Headz Ain't Ready?"

"Success ain't nothin' without someone to share it with,
Except a girl with a Robin Givens Starter Kit."

Positive K obviously shared Moe Dee's views on "Minnie the Moocher."

"A fat eye, 'cause that's just what I'm givin'. I hate hoes that try to play niggas out like Robin Givens."

Of course, you know JT Money had to get in on this, which he did on Luke's "Movin' Along," the song that reunited The Poison Clan and also featured Likkle Wikked. I mean, the phrase "I hate hoes" seems to appear in his bars more ofthen than the word "the."

"Like Robin Givens, I'm concerned about your plastic."

Common, back when he was Common Sense, had a little diss song for the ladies called "Tricks Up My Sleeve."  It featured some random female rapper spitting game back to him towards the end of the song, and she tied it all together by also referencing "the head of the class."

"Catch Tyson for half that cash like Robin Givens."

Certainly an unforgettable example is 50 Cent's classic "How To Rob." What's interesting to note is how long after Moe Dee's record came out, this line was still alive. This one dropped in 1999, a full decade later, and it's not even the most contemporary example we'll see.

"Like Robin Givens, skins want to make the big toast."

Maestro Fresh Wes gets in on it for his under-rated underground single, "Mic Mechanism."

"Now you look booty like that bum Miss Givens."

Oh yeah, and LL Cool J took that shot on "Junglin' Baby." It's not about her divorce, though, just her looks.  Is that... better?

"Now you're sayin' I'm missin'
True love, huggin' and kissin'
Like Tyson and Givens, that's the condition."

BWP have some fun by gleefully adopting the persona of a heartless gold digger on "We Want Money," and couldn't resist taking Robin down with them.

"But the bitch was scandalous like Robin Givens,"

MC Eiht jumped on the dog-pile on "Can I Still Kill It?"

"Takin' over spots like my name was Robin Givens."

Rah Digga kept it simple on "Break Fool." 

"I'm livin' to destroy Mikes like Robin Givens."

Red Hot Lover Tone adds an extra pun to the concept (mics/Mikes) on his single "#1 Player."

"A Brooklyn Queen rushes Russell Simmons?
That's like Tyson rushin' Givens!"

Pete Nice inverts the reference (sort of) on his 3rd Bass hit "Brooklyn Queens."

"I bring turmoil like Mike and Robin Givens."

I remembered Erick Sermon had a line about her, but I looked it up online and it was actually a compliment unrelated to her marriage, "more flyer than Robin Givens" ("Bomdigi"). But then I realized that wasn't the song I was thinking of, so I kept looking until I found the above, from "We Don't Care." Even that, though, doesn't push her as an iconic gold digging totem like the rest.

But I knew there was a lot more. Rappers have made Robin Givens into a hip-hop boogeyman, a legendary figure who could appear at any time, in the guise of any woman, to take you for all your money. An evil witch to be feared. So I went google crazy - in the process discovering that Smoke DZA even wrote an entire song called "Robin Givens" - and came up with a ton more.

"Ain't no room for Robin Givens."

Says ESG on "How We Swang."

"I suck up men like Robin Givens."

Philly rapper Hearoshima proves he's confident enough in his masculinity to drop the above line.

"Me so blinded, ain't see the Robin Givens in you."

Beanie Siegel dresses down a "crazy bitch" on "Bread and Butter." Notice this Givens thing doesn't turn up on many PC songs...

"I call it Robin Givens:
Flo Rida extort ya, take you Pinto to Porsche."

And speaking of un-PC, you know Flo Rida's gotta have one ("Roll"). I like how he speaks as if he coined something original, too, deep in this long line of the same simile, and his being one of the most recent (2008, twenty years after Moe Dee).

"A lot of women is real, some bitches Robin Given.
I never give ‘em no liquid, no pot to piss in."

Wale and Rick Ross teamed us to bring us that lyrical treat on "Play Your Part."

"Dodging Robin Givens, balling like I’m Roger Clemens."

And Rick Ross dipped into the well again, with John Legend on "Who Do We Think We Are."

"And the bitch who fucks with my cash,
Robin Givens, I'll whip your ass!"

Kid Rock has a whole verse on "Pimp Of the Nation" going at famous women from Rosanne Barr to Tipper Gore, and of course you know who that includes and why.

"And yes I know the rules: never marry Robin Givens."

By the time Lil Wayne got to it on Bun B's "Damn I'm Cold," it was a codified rule.

"And I see them rappers is actors, boy, they so Robin Givens."

Ace Hood adopts it as a standard adjective and applies it to MCs on "Have Mercy."

"I don't know no Robin Givens, plus we can't get that involved."

Chamillionaire's "Playa Status" was just aching for a Givens line, and it got it.

"Scandalous like Robin Givens,"

Kane and Abel (specifically Kane) cite among the "7 Sins" on their song with Master P. P has another Givens reference on a different record ("Watch Deez Hoes" off his Ice Cream Man album), but he goes the Sermon route by having his guest Mr. Serv On dropping another line complimenting her looks, "I ain't trippin' if some hoes look like Robin Givens."  I mean, you know, as big a compliment as a line can be that still refers to "hoes."

"Material girl in a material world,
Don't try to play yourself, you only slay yourself.
So when a guy says, 'Yo baby, how you're livin?'

I'm not livin' like Robin Givens!"

Even Ultimate Force shared the sentiment on their song called "Girls."

"First you look at me wrong,
Like uh uh, no he didn't.

Then you turn into Robin,
Only you start to give in.
Get it?"

Oy vey. Yes, Wiz Khalifa, we get it. ...That was from "Friendly."

"Bitch, I got a sister who schooled me to shit you chickens do:
Tricking fools; got a whole Robin Givens crew that I kick it to."

Even Jay-Z threw down on this trend, on the predictably titled "Bitches and Sisters" on the Blueprint 2. He had a related line about Tyson on "Holy Grail," too.

"The Famous story of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens:
The Biggest niggas get beat Senseless by little women."

Curren$y still touting the narrative on "#JetsGo."

"And Robin Givens, she's still tryin' to play me like I'm Tyson."

Bizzy Bone might be expressing some delusional - even wishful - thinking on "Less Fame."

"I hope you more like Anita Baker than Robin Givens.
No, I don't know that lady, so let me quit it."

Forced rhyme aside, Andre3000 gets about as fair as anybody's prepared to on John Legend (his second appearance on this list!)'s "Green Light."

"Don't diss me, 'cause I'm the reason why you livin'.
This ain't Mysonne and Ness, nigga; this is Tyson and Robin Givens."

Of course there can't be a stupid lyrical trend with Royce da 5'9 saying "me too!" The song is called "Y'all Must Of Forgot," although the correct expression would be "must have forgot ...ten."

"Niggas in Compton'll make your ass see sparks like Robin Givens."

MC Ren represents both NWA and Mike Tyson on King T's "2 G's From Compton." I think. I don't actually get why Givens would've seen sparks.  I get he means gunfire for Compton,  Someone help me out here.

"They momma said,
'Only fuck with niggas that's paid,'
On some Robin Givens shit."

Ho-hum... Bishop Lamont also said the same shit every in rap has else said, on Reality's "Look At California."

"You can take a lot from this mic like you Robin Givens."

Fred the Godson copies Red Hot Lover Tone's punchline mic/Mike pun on "One Time."

"Hey yo, we fuck the mics up like Robin Givens."

And so does DJ Drama's Willie the Kid on "Desire Washington."

"You think you livin',
Tryin' to dress up like Robin Givens."

With Kool Keith, it's hard to tell if he's just being perverse or what here on "Sideline," but I'm pretty sure he's basically just accusing another theoretical girl of adopting the same role everyone else is referring to when they cite Givens.

"The punch line king, on the run from Robin Givens."

No, Lloyd Banks, you can't have the Punchline King title with tired lines like this from "They Love Me In the Hood."

"Getting money like a bitch - um, Robin Givens."

And of course Lil Wayne just had to come back for seconds in order to use it in that shitty, sentence then subject punchline style gimmick that was never cool on the Rich Boys song "Bigger Than Life." Ugh.

There's two aspects of this rubbing me the wrong way here. One is the whole "He Man Woman Haters' Club" feel to all of this. And I'm no Robin Givens supporter - I don't follow all this celebrity gossip junk and I don't think I've ever been particularly impressed by her as an actress. And it's also not like I'm shocked to see a little misogyny expressed in my rap music; I don't even necessarily mind it in most cases (music is art, after all, not an instructional guide). But it's so relentlessly unanimous. How about a little diversity? I mean, do rappers making the reference today even feel like they have a particular insight into the Tyson/ Givens marriage, or a serious opinion on it at all? Or do they just say it because everybody else says it, and tumblr has replaced critical thinking in the 2010s?

Then of course, there's just the plain old, basic "every MC is writing the same damn punchline" issue. Like, how do you feel like you're any kind of pop song writer, let alone a poet contributing to the art form, when you're writing the fifty billionth punchline where the gag is that Robin Givens is a gold digger? Do you really believe your competition is gonna be shook as you're etching that into your book of rhymes? Even if the worst is true about Givens and you loved the line when you heard Kool Moe Dee drop it, this has still turned into a creatively bereft lyrical garbage dump where everyone's biting even the most useless fodder.

For once, I'd like to see an MC take a slightly feminist stance and use Tyson as the negative reference and give respect to Givens for getting out of a frightening, abusive relationship. And before anyone says it, no, I don't know for sure what happened in their marriage behind closed doors, and if Givens' allegations - or Tyson's counter-allegations - are true. But neither do any of the MCs taking Tyson's side, so why not one person show a little guts and suggest the alternative (and seemingly much more likely) scenario?

Or just stop stuffing all their rap verses with vacuous celebrity references in the first place.  Someone could do that, too. But what the hell, at least it was fun brainstorming all these examples. So congratulations if you made it to the end of this monster piece. And god knows how many I missed (please post 'em in the comments!). But before you give up on humanity entirely, let me close out with two nice Robin Givens lines, both from The Wu camp:

"I love my black women, from Erykah Badu to Robin Givens."

Prodigal Sunn on The Sunz of Man's "For the Lust of Money/ The Grandz."  And:

"It was amazing, I seen Robin Thicke and Robin Leech,
Robin Williams, Robin Givens and Meryl Streep."

- Shawn Wigs describing his ideal of "a real award show," on Ghost Face Killa's "White Linen Affair (Toney Awards)."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Natural Elements, Old To the NEw

Chopped Herring, I think I love you. Continuing their divinely inspired partnership with the Natural Elements crew, they've now dropped their third jewel-laden Elements EP. Thus one's called All Hail NE; and it's noteworthy because it's mostly new material, though they still manage to maintain their tradition of getting NE's classic material still desperately in need of a proper vinyl transfer onto wax too.

If you caught their latest video on Youtube, you may've spotted a link to a new 7-song EP on ITunes. Well, I don't know who gives a crap about some mp3s (heh. Okay, I guess some people do), but I was infinitely more excited to discover that there was also this vinyl version quietly being released by Chopped Herring. The track-listing's not exactly the same (more on that later), because, again, Chopped Herring's dipping back into the vaults, whereas the ITunes EP is 100% new material.

So, what have we got exactly? There's definitely some interesting material to parse here. Considering how their past releases of odds and ends and bootlegs have made the Natural Elements catalog pretty confusing already, I'm going to break this down track by track:

1) DoNE - Natural Elements put this song online back in 2011. For a long time, NE had been operating on divergent paths, either as solo artists or in smaller groups. So this was an early (the first?) reunion to have their original producer Charlemagne back with them behind the boards, and that as hot as a lot of their separate ventures were, they were strongest together. A real return to the classic NE sound.

2) All Hail NE - The title track, "All Hail NE" is a Scram Jones produced joint they released sometime early in 2013, but just recently made a video for. A really strong track to coincide with the EP releases.

3) DoNE (Instrumental) - What's a vinyl release without exclusive instrumental tracks, right? This one's pretty self-explanatory.

4) Survive - This is one of their original, OG tracks pre-dating their first EP,. It's been hiding in the shadows all these years... on their earliest snippet tapes and bootleg releases. It got its first official, cleaned up release on that crazy anniversary album; but of course that was CD only. So this is its (non-bootleg) vinyl debut.

5) Off-Beat Bop - This was a mysterious DJ Sebb ("B-Boy Document")-produced song that wasn't from their Tommy Boy album but still popped up on that anniversary album. Again, that was CD only, making this its vinyl debut, boot or otherwise.

6) Turning Tables (Acapella) - WTF? Well, "Turning Tables" was a cool new song NE put out online early last year, an ode to hip-hop's great DJs (it's a pun; get it?). But even though the song's never gotten a proper release, Chopped Herring's decided to only include the acapella? I mean, sure it's a treat for acapella collectors and remixers; but not putting the actual, proper song on here first? That's just weird.

So, we have some very interesting choices. The ITunes EP features exclusively new material, so basically they only have two tracks in common: "All Hail NE" and "DoNE." That one doesn't have the instrumental or acapella version either, though they do include the complete "Turning Tables" song, as well as some other new NE joints. The biggest loss in the translation for me was "Competition is NoNE," possibly my favorite of the new Charlemagne-produced NE songs to date. Yeah, it's gotten flack for sampling some teeny-bopper song, but since I don't listen to that crap, the association doesn't bother me.  I just appreciate it as the killer NE groove that Charlemagne turned it into. I would've loved to have it on here, especially in place of, say, a random acapella.

But at the end of the day, this is another terrific Natural Elements release. Maybe it's not the ideal track-listing I would've personally assembled, but you've gotta put aside what could've been and look at what is. And "what is" is another essential, must have slab of wax for any Natural Elements fan.  I'm especially pleased to report that their new music is totally up to par with their 90s material... Sadly, that's very rarely the case with artists like these. But Natural Elements have really mastered the retention of everything that we fell in love with - in terms of lyrics, vocal stylings and production - while still keeping it fresh. A tremendously rare feat.

And considering this is already Chopped Herring's third Natural Elements EP, I guess it's not too unrealistic to hope that any song we wanted but didn't get here may still turn up on volume 4, right? "Competition Is NoNE," Knick Knack"... You know what the world needs, Herring. But in the mean time, I'm gonna sit here and be super happy with what I just got.  :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RapMasters 7: The Best Of the Laughs

If you were a kid who loved in rap in the 80s, you've gotta remember the RapMasters tapes. Sure, there were a cap ton of compilation albums with no exclusive material, even back then. But they all tended to have the exact same songs.  If you wanted "Rapper's Delight" and "It Takes Two," the world was your oyster. But if you were ready to delve deeper, you didn't have many options outside of finding all the original records. So RapMasters was a welcome alternative. Sold cheaper than your average cassette and so widely distributed, you could pick them up at delis and comic book shops. And sure, they contained the same over-exposed songs every other compilation did. But since it was an on-going series that eventually reached fifteen volumes, they were forced to get more creative with their song selections just to fill all that space.

(Behold: the whole lot!)
And that they did. Some relatively underground stuff, like the Too Kool Posse, old Just-Ice, Schoolly D, Ultramagnetics... They actually gave you a nice selection of what was available from the genre, and whoever was making the selections had some really good taste. Priority Records put these out, but they had a surprisingly New York bent. Each one was tape was loosely based on a category, like The Best Of the Rhyme, The Cut or The Old School. Some were pretty distinct - The Best of Hard Rockin' Rap featured all songs with 80's metal guitar riffs - but others, like Best Of the Jam, were pretty generic and arbitrary. On the inside they listed all of the volumes with all of the track-listings of each tape, and you could tell the budget went up for the later entries, because the last four tapes had an extra fold out that included each song's writing credits and copyright info.

Since this is April 1st, I've opted to focus on RapMasters 7: The Best Of the Laughs. It's actually a pretty well-thought out line-up. While every song definitely can be seen as a sort of "funny" song; it's not a collection of hip-hop's goofiest novelty rap records. No Rappin' Grannies or Rodney Dangerfield cheesiness. Rappin' Duke is on hand, and so is Joe Piscopo's crazy "Honeymooner's Rap" with Eddie Murphy (curiously billed here as Lost Episodes, as they were on Laff Attack, even though that name doesn't seem to appear anywhere on the original records); but most of the songs are by credible artists. Whoever put this together was definitely concerned with making a genuinely good listening experience for hip-hop fans, not just stringing along a bunch of silly foolishness.

Like, if you were assigned to come up with funny rap songs from the 80s, would you have come up with Chubb Rock's "Caught Up" or the unexpectedly adult "That Girl's a Slut" by Just-Ice? But, yet, they're certainly humorous raps. There's two Fat Boys songs: "All You Can Eat" from Krush Groove and "Chillin' With the Refrigerator" with William Perry, probably their most novelty-style record. There's also two from Bobby Jimmy and the Critters (not only was he hip-hop's own "Weird Al "Yankovic, but he'd just signed to Priority), naturally. Doug E. Fresh & MC Ricky D's "La Di Da Di" fits the bill very appropriately, and you also have T-La Rock's obscure album track "Tudy Fruity Judy."  ...Yeah, there's a lot of human beat boxing on this tape.

So if you're looking for a good, silly mix to celebrate this April Fool's Day with, don't forget that golden b-boy stanced figurine from your youth. He always brought The Best Of everything.