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.

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