Saturday, June 28, 2014

Omniscence's Tri-Factor

It's been a minute since the last one, but the third chapter of Omniscence's Raw Factors has just landed. And I'm excited to say that this time around I've never heard any of 'em. We haven't heard low quality, mis-titled portions on the online mixtape versions, none of these songs appeared on my promo EP. It's all completely brand new. ...Except, you know, that it's from the 90s.

So, like the previous entries, this is a simple three-song 12" with the instrumentals on the reverse. No sticker cover, no frills. Just top quality remasters of three long-lost joints that we've been waiting decades for. It's not fancy, just essential.

Factors 3 opens with its hardest joint, "Represent." It features a young MC I've never heard of named Lil Kalef, but he more than holds his own. Both of them come off rougher on here than any of the Omniscence material we'd heard back in the day - it kind of reminds me of when Kool G Rap debuted Jinx the Juvy. It helps that the track has a serious New York vibe, though of course it's actually by Fanatic as usual.

The next track, then, has a smooth, nighttime vibe. Om's punchline style hear sounds a little more forced and dated here. If this was a new song, I'd say it's a little corny; but any heads picking up this release are surely fiending for the old 90s shit they've been missing out on. So you're gonna be happy to hear it, and Om sounds good enough over this track that even if it rhymes did rub you the wrong way, you'd have to give this song an overall pass.

And we finish up with "Dick Suck." We might lose female listeners here, or just mature ones, who don't particularly care to hear Omniscence brag about how he's going to get girls to give him head over and over again. But it's not actually a sex song. It's just all about how he and his crew finally made it, putting out a record (little did he know), achieving success, and so "this year, we're gonna get our dicks sucked."  This song actually sounds feels the most like the classic Omniscence material we've heard in the past, and it even features an uncredited Big Kap, who also hosted the original snippet tape most of us heard on those booty "mixtape" versions of Raw Factor. Oh, and he performed "Amazin'" with Omni on the Illstyle Live album. This is the song that will really fit all your expectations of what an unreleased Raw Factor track is gonna sound like... and that's definitely a good thing.

Look, you already know if you're one of the people that needs this in your life. If you were a backpacker in the 90s, reading the monthly Hip-Hop Quotables and tracking down the indie hip-hop projects you couldn't hear on the radio. If you're one of us, all you need me to tell you is that this volume doesn't disappoint. It's every bit as good as the previous entries. So don't let the facts that this is the third in an ongoing series and there's nothing fancy or glossy about the packaging to resell you on the concept let you lose steam and miss out on this. Because you'll regret ti down the line when you don't finally have the complete, original Raw Factor in your crates.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Before Cool V Was Biz Markie's Main Man

This one reminds me a lot of that Brothers Unique record, for some obvious superficial ways... It's an old school, PSA-like message song about the importance of education by a rapper who only put out one record. And it's produced by genre outsiders who usually make non-hip-hop records. Plus it's on Sutra Records.

But Abdul Tariq's record is also quite different. This time, it's not made by a bunch of jazz guys but disco guys. Specifically, it's produced by Bert Reid of Crown Heights Affair. And it's several years more modern, 1986, so it's got a much more electronic feel. Spacey sound effects, loud handclaps and multiple keyboard lines. It's super upbeat and happy, basically, with girls singing "got to get your education!" and Tariq joyfully shouting "pop pop pa-pa-pa-pop pow!" When he's not rapping to tell you to "keep your eyes in your books." What he lacks in skills he makes up for in sheer enthusiasm. And during all this, there's also a male singer on a funkier, almost Keith Sweat tip going off in the background.

The record label credits the R&B girls as Jamaica Girls, and that's not just a fun way to describe the neighborhood girls he brought into the studio to sing for him; they were an established disco trio who put out several records throughout the 80s. And they actually play a big part on this seven and a half minute song. They don't have a lot of lyrics, but they're singing more "pa-pop pa-pop"s and "educaaaayshun,"s through the whole song, even while Tariq steps away from the mic for breaks. The male singer isn't credited... perhaps it's Tariq himself. That would be a little odd, since he almost duets with him at one point; but it's certainly possible. And the keyboards are provided by Jeff Smith, who's apparently better known as a saxophonist. But here he's playing futuristic keyboard riffs.

But for us hip-hop heads, the most interesting name in the credits is easily Cutmaster Cool "V," who's credited with scratching on the B-side. Yeah, he's not on the main song. But on they have a Dub Mix and Instrumental on the reverse, and he scratches on both of those. I mean, you'd expect the Instrumental to be exactly like the A-side, minus the voices, but it's not. It's a couple minutes shorter and.... features Cool V.

And it's certainly the same guy. I mean, I could accept two "Cool V"s existing in this world as just a coincidence; but both calling themselves "Cutmaster Cool V?" It's gotta be the same guy. And this is 1986, the same year Biz Markie debuted on wax beat-boxing for Roxanne Shanté. In fact, the Dub mix features a small sampling of human beat-boxing, which could actually be a clip of the Biz. ...I mean, it's probably not, but hey you never know. Update: according to Cool V himself, it's him doing the beat boxing, inspired by Biz.

So yeah, the Dub Mix is the more hip-hop oriented of the two. It doesn't have most of the lyrics from the A-side, naturally, but it does have some vocals by Tariq unique to this version. And it has Cool V's cuts and that that really brief beatboxing moment I mentioned.

The instrumental has some scratching, too; but it's just for a little bit. Despite being called the "Instrumental," it's got a good deal of vocals, including a lot of singing by the Jamaica Girls. The most notable unique element of this version is that it has a huge saxophone part. Nobody's given credit for that on the label, but it's surely got to be Smith, right?

Anyway, this whole record is fun. It almost feels like one giant song, rather than three versions of one song; and that's the way I'd recommend listening to this one. Just rock it all the way through like a huge monster jam. Lyrically it's pretty light and preachy, but it's just so hyper you won't even notice. It's too bad Tariq didn't make any other records, because I'm sure they would've been fun. But I guess Reid had his non-hip-hop career to get back to, and of course Cool V was called away to make all those classic Biz records; and we wouldn't want anything to have stood in the way of those. So this winds up being just an entertaining one-off, as well as an interesting historical footnote.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Push It To the Limit Rapp

Hip-hop, what took you so long? It wasn't until 2006 that Rick Ross sampled the epic "Push It To the Limit" song from Brian DePalma's Scarface. I mean, Scarface is like #1 iconic movie associated with gangsta rap. The Geto Boys made so many great songs with its crazy vocal samples and took so much inspiration, to the point where one of their lead members changed his name to Scarface. Clips of it have been heard on literally countless rap records - go ahead and try, you won't be able to count them all. And just about every inch of the soundtrack has been combed through for usable hip-hop loops.  Remember that killer Kool G Rap and CNN collabo "This Is My Life?" They flipped that peppy tropical music from when Scarface went to Havana to score and turned into a sick track.

And yet, midway through the movie, one song in Scarface is put front and center. It's a big, 80s pop rock monster. And they play it during a montage of Scarface's rise to power, so you're really listening to the full song play front and center, rather than behind dialogue and sound effects. It's not score, it's a massive song with lyrics and energetic background vocals and everything. But nobody looped it until 2006. I mean, technically, somebody may've used a little snippet and merged it into their track; but nobody made a real "Push It To the Limit" song before Ross.

And he really uses it. Like, I can remember an interview where DJ Ready Red talked about how he mixed multiple samples creatively in every track he made and didn't respect producers who would just loop the main thrust of a song and call it their own. Well, by that standard, he must hate "Push It," because this is doing nothing but rocking that song.

Not that I think there's anything inherently wrong with that (sorry, Red). I mean, hip-hop comes from a long tradition of making "rap versions" of existing songs... Spyder-D's "I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic)" is one of my all-time favorite hip-hop songs; but I certainly can't praise its instrumental originality - it's just Nu Shooz's "I Can't Wait," turned into a rap song. After all, it all springs from the original hip-hop house parties where MCs were rapping over spun records, not newly created beats; and it's not like anybody was trying to claim they wrote those disco tracks. And just like Spyder-D called his version of "I Can't Wait" "I Can't Wait," Ross is totally up front about calling this what it is: "Push It."

Production credit is given to JR (although, interestingly... they don't credit anyone on this 12"; only in the album notes), and to be fair, it's not like Ross is just literally rapping over original instrumental. They loop just the main chorus portion and throw on some typical Miami bass studio sounds in there to flesh it out with more of a proper 2000s hip-hop feel. But they certainly use the signature, most identifiable moments, including the original "push it to the limit" line from the original hook. And, rather boldly, they actually keep that vocal part rocking throughout all of Rick's verses. Ross actually has to add his own "push! I'm pushin' it. Push! I'm pushin' it" hook on top of that just to separate it from the rest of the song. The only thing it's missing (and probably would've had if this version was made twenty years earlier) is a breakdown that uses even more lines from the original song as a bridge.

You can front if you want to, but this sounds dope, and the rest of the day after hearing it you'll eb walking around your office singing "push it to the limit" to yourself. How could it not work? It was a total freebie, a  a gimme for the first rapper to come along and scoop it up. Plus it's thematically perfect for Ross as he lays done his typical bars about, of course, pushing weight. That was the unintentional(?) pun of the song in its original context, so it's too obvious for Ross not to do it here. That's actually the song's weakest point, since a lot of his lyrics are too generic to really be compelling, and the only lines that stand out are kinda corny ones, like that "who ever thought that fat girl would grow into Oprah" line. A little more time spent on the writing could've made this song one of the greats; but as it is, it's more just a fun 12" to keep in your collection that you can always go back to for an easy, head-nodding amp session.

This was his second single after the platinum hit "Hustlin'," so it probably gets overlooked a little more than it deserves. And like that one, it's featured on his debut album, Port Of Miami. This Def Jam/ Slip 'N' Slide/ Poe Boy Records 12" comes in a sticker cover and just features Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions on both sides. And even DJs who don't like Rick Ross may well have this one in their crates just for that instrumental. But come on, it's quintessential Rick Ross; this beat waited decades for this guy to come along. Even if you're a die-hard backpacker, you've gotta give the man this one.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Crazy L'eggs, Not Crazy Legs

You may've noticed I have a keen interest in exploring the fresh, under-appreciated rap records from the 80s and 90s Miami scene. I've found myself often saying, "now, this isn't your typical..." But what is the typical? I figured it's time I wrote about a "generic" bass release, if only as a reference. This is the kind of record that had most of us shaking our heads on the east coast whenever we heard mention of Miami bass.

Right off the bat, let's be clear. Crazy L'eggs is no relation to the hip-hop icon Crazy Legs, of the original Rocksteady Crew break dancers. Crazy L'eggs (named after the brand of pantyhose) is best known for making a club record out of the kindergarten song, "If You're Happy and You Know It" ...which stayed surprisingly true to the original.

Crazy L'eggs is one of those rappers who didn't rap. Like Luke. His earliest singles featured Aim To Please, who did his rapping for him. But his later releases did away with rapping entirely and just relied on L'eggs doing a bunch of shouty hooks. And also like Luke, he didn't do his own production either; which always had me wondering why a label had signed him to make records in the first place. I guess he was a local DJ or something with a name to cash in on?

Anyway, this particular single is "Doin' His Own Thang" from 1993 on Pandisc Records. Pandisc picked him up after he did the admittedly distinctive hook to a successful Prince Rahiem song ("Loose My Money"), and put out all his records through the early 90s. He only released a handful in his full career, actually; and he never had a full length album, though Pandisc would sometimes sneak out more unreleased Crazy L'eggs songs on random compilation albums which were probably intended for an an unheard LP.

You generally don't see his picture on his 12"s or anything (the sticker cover to this one doesn't include his image, just the same blue background), so my cassette picture cover is interesting in that regard. It's produced by Devastator X, who of course had a hefty career in Miami bass, and so this has a very heavy instrumental. If you've heard both, you might've noticed that parts of it are actually pretty similar to 1994's "Happy and You Know It," which X also produced; and which featured several identical musical elements. In fact that's because "Happy and You Know It" actually recycles this instrumental completely - it's the same track, only with the children's song chanted over it in place of some of the original chants. In fact, some pressings of "Happy" included "Doin'" on the flipside. But between the two, this is the one I have to go with, if only because it's impossible to listen to "Happy and You Know It" without feeling like a huge goofball. But even if you put that factor aside and unselfconsciously rock out to either song, I think I'd still say L'eggs sounds better on this one.

The instrumental is ever-changing and replete with dope sounds and samples. I brought this up as an average record, but instrumentally it's actually better than average. But with no rap verses, the beat had better change up a lot; because otherwise it's nothing but a litany of unending and completely generic bass music phrases for the full duration: "whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Yeahhh! To where? In the middle! To where? In the middle! To where? In the middle! To where? In the middle! To the flo', let's go! To the what? To the flo'! To the what? To the flo'! To the what? To the flo'! To the what? To the flo'! To the what? To the flo'! To the what? To the flo'! One more time, let's do it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it! Whatcha wanna do? Ride it!"

Now, don't just skip that highlighted bit. Read it carefully. That's a literal transcription of just thirty seconds of this five minute song. And it just goes on like that. When he said, "one more time," I just thought oh no, please! I understand that this was meant to be played in clubs where you can just rock out to the instrumental; and I'm sure everyone who actually enjoyed this song in 1993 probably just tuned this guy out. But it's fucking tedious to actually listen to; and what does it say about a MC whose music is best enjoyed by tuning him out?

It turned out, Crazy L'eggs really needed Aim To Please. Or any MC or singer who could carry the vocal portion of a record. Oh, and a solid, established producer to make his instrumentals. When he had that combination, his records worked, and when he only had one or the other, they only half-worked, as in this case. So it's obvious why L'eggs needed those guys, but the question is, why would any of them need him?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Back When Everything Was Alright

In 1992, Father MC returned with his second album, Close To You; and it was heralded by this lead single, "Everything's Gonna Be Alright." This was his big reunion with Jodeci. He made them famous with his (major label) debut single, "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated" in 1990. But since then they'd blown up in their own right. This was after "Stay" and Forever My Lady; Jodeci were two of R&B's biggest rising superstars, alongside Mary J. Blige, who'd also blown up by singing on Father's first album.

So when Father returned, everybody was asking if Jodeci and Mary were back, and indeed they were. Father MC released two singles off Close To You, first this one and then "One Nite Stand" with Mary. The downside was that Father was getting eclipsed by his back-up singers; and once he tried releasing an album without them, his career on Uptown/ MCA Records was done. But in 1992, who cared? Everybody was still working together and we were all happy.

"Everything" is produced by Mark Morales and Mark C. Rooney - in other words: Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention. This was the heyday for Markie Dee's smooth, R&B-heavy New Jack sounds, and Father MC's albums were the perfect fit. They'd done a big chunk of his debut album, including his three biggest singles, and the majority of Close To You. In fact, separating from the Fat Boy may've been as key to Father's downfall as separating from Mary and Jodeci.

But while the Soul Convention brought a lot of musicality and instrumentation to their records; there's not much to credit them with here, instrumentally, besides the core idea. Because on this record, they're sampling Chic's "Good Times." And they're basically using it exactly the same way The Sugar Hill Band replayed it in 1979, to the point where they could basically just be performing over the instrumental version of "Rapper's Delight" whole hog.

Of course, Mark and Mark also co-wrote the song (along with Hasan, also of the Soul Convention) and Father himself, so they presumably did more than just bring an old Sugarhill Records 45 into the studio. But here's where this record really falls short of their debut success - lyrically, it's not nearly as well written. I've talked about the impressive, even genuinely touching, songwriting show-cased in at least parts of "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated." Well, there's just none of that here. There's nothing particularly wrong with Father's rhymes here, mind you - he doesn't say anything stupid or cringe-worthy, which is a lot more than you can say for a lot of rap records today - he's basically just saying a lot of fluffy filler that amounts to nothing. This song isn't about anything except that Father and his boys are here and isn't that nice?

But the upshot is that giving "Rapper's Delight" a 90's new jack spin works wonderfully. It has a whole new life here, sounds great with its old school hand-claps and more modern (though still vintage) syrupy keys, and Jodeci kill it. Revisiting this song over twenty years later, and it's immediately evident why Jodeci were going on to a huge career outside of Father's shadow. They stand out far and above all the generic R&B singers you'd hear providing hooks and bridges on countless other rap songs of the decade.

The 12" single, besides coming in a glossy picture cover; also provides a couple extended mixes. There's your Radio Version, which is basically indistinguishable from the album version, and it's Instrumental. Then there's a Club Joint, which really extends the track, almost doubling its length. There's no new verses from Father, but a lot more of Jodeci and plenty more "Good Times." The Club Version has an Instrumental, too. And then, finally, there's the misleadingly titled Soul Convention Dub Joint. I say it's misleading, because it's really not a Dub Mix, but a full vocal version with all of Father's raps and Jodeci's singing. It's just... even a little bit longer than the Club Joint.

And for my money, The Soul Convention Dub Mix is also the ideal version of the song. It puts more of an emphasis on Jodeci. I mean, obviously they have to sing a lot more just to fill up the extra running time (we've gone from three and a half minutes to six and a half), but they also have a different acapella introduction and perform a few more routines, including some "baby yeah"'s sung in the style of "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated." Father's verses sound good just by virtue of them being rap verses that sound good over a track like this; but Jodeci are the absolute stars of this song, so turning this into a Jodeci monster cut that just happens to have some appearances by Father MC works to this record's advantage.

There's nothing especially different here. There's no version with a different sample set or versions by other big name producers. It's just one song spun out to longer versions. But in this case, that's enough. If you wanted to show somebody who'd never heard of Father MC, just what he was about; this encapsulates him perfectly. All of his strengths and why people bought his records back in the day, and his weaknesses and why he hasn't had the longevity of Kane or Biggie. Including the fact that Jodeci are totally stealing his show here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

One Man's Ultramagnetic Treasure...

I shouldn't have to tell you how amped I was when I first saw this pre-order pop up online. Black Pegasus was finally(!) releasing a real, vintage unreleased Ultramagnetic MCs recording on vinyl Limited to just 200 copies, this is a never-heard-before Paul C mix and edit of the great "Ain't It Good To You." As you can see, it comes in a nice looking picture cover, it has the instrumental on the flip, and at $35 a piece, sold out pretty quickly through Black Pegasus's bigcartel store.

So this is a new mix and edit; but there's a reason it's being phrased like that. This isn't a "remix" in the popular sense people think of remixes today, where it's been given a whole new instrumental with different samples and instrumentation. It's just been mixed differently. The biggest difference you'll notice instantly is that a very subtle percussion line on the album version (that rapidly and repeatedly goes "thudda thudda DUM!") has been super deepened. It's now like a big phat bassline. It also has a new intro, playing in with more of the softer sounds from the original sample's context. And the other elements have been pieced together a little differently. For instance, there's a part now on Ced's verse where all the music cuts out except for that one "DUM!" down beat at the end of each bar, like a Miami bass mega-drop, giving a cool emphasis to his delivery.

And just to be clear, this is not at all the "Ain't It Good To You" remix that was included as the B-side to "Simple Metaphor" on that mysterious bootleg release. That version is totally different.

Unfortunately, this release loses a lot of its luster once you actually put it on your turntable and get to listening. Not that I dislike this version, not at all. This new mix is dope, however the sound quality is pretty poor. The bass is all broken up. You know when you turn the bass up on your stereo to where the meters are in the red and everything sounds staticy and fuzzy? That's this. It sounds better if you turn your bass down so it doesn't totally blow out; but even then it's still not great because it's blown out in the recording itself. But if you don't lessen it, it blows out a lot worse.

More problematic still, the record plays too fast. It's a 45, but when you bump it up from 33, it's too much of a jump forward. The good thing is that you can correct this if you have a turntable with pitch control. I found somewhere around 4.5% to be the sweet spot to take it down to. I mean, you might be tempted to argue that it's meant to be a faster remix - in their description, Black Pegasus writes that this mix is sped up as if that's a good, intentional thing - but you'd only say that if you hadn't actually heard the record. It's just off, the vocals sound rushed and trashy; and once you slow it down, it sounds good and natural. That's the silver lining here. If you do have a turntable with pitch control (and many don't), you can correct this problem to the point where it's not a problem at all.

Unfortunately, that still leaves you with the muddy sound from the previous paragraph. And yes, the instrumental has the same issues.

I'm not really sure what the deal is here. The label credits "additional edits" to DJ Ves 120, who's down with Black Pegasus. So is this just some contemporary reworking of the original? Ves 120 couldn't have been working with Paul back in 1988, right? Is this another faux-vintage thing?* Or perhaps they did find a vintage re-edit, but because they thought it might not be different enough to capture fans' interest, they decided to mess with it more to distance it from the original? Or maybe the speed-up is a result of Paul just experimenting with the track for fun, never intending for audiences to hear his tinkering. But then that still leaves open the question of what Ves 120's additional edits actually are. ...Either way, I'm not mad at this edit (minus the fixable speed up); I just wish it was a better quality master of it.

So, anyway, this record is supposedly the first in an "Ultra 7" series from Black Pegasus. $35 was already excessively pricey for a 7" before we knew what the quality was like, and now I'm really wary of what the future volumes will be like. As it is, I can't recommend this to anybody except those of you who read all of this and are thinking "I don't care, I need it anyway!" I see you out there; I feel you guys. Hell, I might still pick up the next one. But I have to stress that, unlike some other records I write about here that more casual listeners might want to try dipping their toes into, this is for very seriously hooked Ultra collector fans only. Everybody else can just feel relieved that they're not missing out on much at all this time.

*TR Love specifically explains that this is vintage in their promo video, though.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Previously Unreleased Lakim Shabazz?

In the last couple years, Tuff City has released "Rare and Unreleased" compilation albums from several of their signature hip-hop artists including Priority One, Grandmaster Caz, The Undefeated 3 and this one right here by Lakim Shabazz. As you might expect, the records lean pretty heavily on the "rare" half of that promise, but there are still some genuine, sweet unreleased tracks to be heard, so let's have a look.

The Ol' Skool Flavor Of... Lakim Shabazz dropped in 2006 as a single LP only (i.e. no CD counterpart, although it is on ITunes). According to the label's website, "Tuff City delves into its vaults to come up with some rare and unreleased recordings." It comes in a nice picture cover which handily labels exactly which of the tracks are "PU" (Previously Unreleased). Specifically, there are three. But before we get into those, let's look at what else is on here.

"Arms Too Short" - This is an abridged retitling of "Your Arms Too Short To Box With God," the then B-side exclusive to Lakim's greatest single, "Black Is Back" from 1989. This is a great song and saves somebody who owns both of Lakim's albums the trouble of needing the 12" single as well. Nice one.

"Smash Him" - This is an abridged retitling of "When You See a Devil Smash Him" from Lakim's second album. Nothing particularly rare about this one.

"Need Some Lovin (Lakim Remix)" - This is one out of a couple remixes featured on the "Need Some Lovin'" 12" single from 1990. Dope, though completists will still need the 12" for Anttex's remix.

"Notes Of Def" - Is another one from the second album.

"Style Wars" - Is... another one from the second album.

"No Justice No Peace" - Is another one from the second album, and worse yet, it was the other single from that album.

"Style Is Free" - Is actually not from the second album, but The 45 King & Louie Louie's 1990 album, Rhythmical Madness. A final welcome addition.

Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Why is half the album just a solid chunk of Lakim Shabazz's second LP, Lost Tribe Of Shabazz? Anyone familiar with Lakim Shabazz knows the dude has a huge list of genuinely rare songs that have been peppered on other peoples' albums (mainly the 45 King's) over the years. He's an artist just dying for a compilation of this nature; but they totally fuck it up by just repressing half of his second album. And what's more, the overwhelming majority of these rare, uncollected tracks are on Tuff City records!  It's not like anybody actually expects them to incur licensing fees making the perfect Lakim collection.  But if they'd just filled it with cuts like "Raw Dope Rhyme," "Master Of the Game," "Hands Of Fate," "Horns Are Horny" or so many others, it would've been a much more worthwhile collection. And even a better listening experience. How utterly stupid.

But, whatever. A better compilation may've been better, but we're all here for the PUs anyway, so let's get to the important stuff.

"Africa" - This is... so god damn good. How had this gone unreleased all these years? It's obviously vintage, has a dope bassline and classic 45 King horns, and a great sampled hook. Then add the fact that it's a serious song with something to say on top of all that.

"Swiftness (Instrumental)" - A short but dope instrumental. Not sure why it's on here as opposed to one of the King's infinite breakbeat albums. Lakim has never released a song called "Swiftness" before, but alright. Kind of disappointing that this eats into our count of 3 PU's, though.

"Love Spell" - What the fuck? This is just "Need Some Lovin'!" This was one of his biggest singles, and yes... from the second album. Pretty much the least "rare" song in his entire recording career, and certainly not "PU." What kind of bullshit is this? They got the title "Love Spell" from the Fatback vocal sample that plays during the hook, which at least suggests this happened due to complete incompetence... as opposed to outright, unadulterated dishonesty.

Fuck you, Tuff City. This isn't exactly the first time we've seen a cheap cash-in from them, but that "Love Spell" shit is the worst. I didn't cover this years ago because I didn't want to support this. But at the same time... "Africa" is pretty essential for any Lakim fan. Please, somebody comment and tell me that it's really just a mis-titling of something that is legitimately available somewhere else so I can just write this LP off entirely. But I'm pretty confident that it's not. I have all those scattered Lakim songs I was saying would've made far superior compilation fodder, and "Africa" ain't one of them. So you're basically just buying the whole LP to add one song to your vinyl collection.  But, damn it, it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Frankenstein Unbound

In the 90s, Frankenstein came out of Nowhere, Canada to win the hearts of the underground. He was that guy who get rave reviews in Rap Sheet, Vinyl Exchange and the emo Anticon forums all in the same month. He crossed all these borders and then kind of quietly faded away; and you could just tell as a fan that he'd never really unleashed the full fury of his catalog on us. He just hit us off with a few little tastes of what he was capable of, and then left us wondering.

But thankfully Ill Adrenaline Records have unburied his lost creations and are bringing them back to life. This right here is The Ill Laboratory EP, by Frankenstein and AZ, together known as Delphi Oracle. No, not Nas's famous compatriot from Queens, and not the AZ from Mobstyle either. This is the AZ that, well, pretty much only appeared on Frankenstein's earliest singles. See, because Frankenstein rose up so unexpectedly on the scene, most heads missed out on the first 12" or two, and most people weren't fully up to speed until "Frankenstein's Pain" or "the Pain Remixxx," and just sort of hearing that there had been past bangers like "Peace and Quiet." Consequently, many may still not be aware that his first release was actually as part of the duo Delphi Oracle, where AZ was his partner both on the mic and in production credit.

So this EP - which, at 9 full-length tracks, they could've gotten away with labeling an LP - collects all of the Delphi Oracle material... both tracks off the debut 12", the remix that was the B-side to Frankenstein's first solo 12", and most excitingly, six never before heard unreleased tracks from '93-'94. And it's interesting to note that while they Frankenstein and AZ constantly share the mic and writing credits, only Frankenstein has production credit here, even for the previously released songs. So I guess Frankenstein was always the sole producer, and he was just generous in sharing the credit originally as Delphi Oracle? That's what we're left to assume, and anyway it makes sense as Frankenstein went on to produce on his own making instrumentals similar in style (albeit with a usually darker tone) and quality to what we hear here.

Anyway, the thing to know here is that the unreleased material sounds great. Not only is the sound quality top notch (a thing to check for in the case of unearthed demos like these), but the music is every bit as good as the ones we all know. Like I said, the tone is a bit lighter than his later stuff, but otherwise the production sound and the vocal stylings are right alongside their best work. It's a bit more light-hearted, and Frankenstein trading verses back and forth with AZ only enhances that more fun aspect, compared to Frankenstein's later stuff. Admittedly, lyrically it's not much to write home about; but they're all about just making their verses sound good and fun to listen to, and that they pull off without a hitch. There's even a song ("Sympozium") with a sampled hook as catchy and engaging as "Peace and Quiet."

This is a great release at a great price, and if you copped one of the first 100 copies, you got it pressed on opaque violet vinyl. And it's just the beginning. Ill Adrenaline has also released a CD called The Science of Sound, which compiles all of the material from Frankenstein's various 12" singles over the years, including two of the unreleased tracks from this EP. Handy if you don't already have his past singles, but otherwise Ill Laboratories is the one to pick up between the two. But even that's not all, Ill Adrenaline has also announced plans to release Agony To Ecstasy, Frankenstein's shelved album from the mid 90s. So 2014's shaping up to be a banner year for Frankenstein fans; but even if you only pick up one of his this year, this should probably be it.