Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Was The Rake Really Wack?

So I just read a kinda weird article and felt compelled to respond... Apparently AV Club has a running series where they get celebrities to trash pop songs they hate. I somehow landed on one where Steve Coogan was bashing "Lady In Red," and while pop music is really not my thing, it was fun. It's a strong and easy premise... a stand up comic will dish on a Katy Perry song, someone else does a light piece on how annoying "The 12 Days of Christmas" is, David Lynch rants about the "It's a Small World" song. You get the drift. But today they tackled one of their first hip-hop songs. And you'd think, okay, somebody's gonna make fun of Vanilla Ice or point out how bad the rapping was in "The Superbowl Shuffle." But instead they landed on The Rake's "Street Justice" as "the one song they hate most in the world."

Wait. What?

To be fair, this week's celebrity (a cartoonist named Ed Piskor) opened up by stating he doesn't really hate any song, so this was just as close as he got. And hey, everyone's entitled to their opinion and hate whatever they hate. This post is not a "listen, that guy is some kind of jerk for not liking X" retort. I'm not going in on the guy. He seems to know his shit, and I can certainly see why younger listeners would find "Street Justice"'s style super old school and corny. I mean, I did stop reading about a halfway through when he stopped talking about the subject of his article and went on promoting his comics (come on, Lynch didn't go, "but enough about that silly song, let's talk about some DVDs I have for sale!"). But no it's actually a fine, quick read I recommend (at least the first third of) because how often do you find substantive posts about hip-hop records from 1983 these days?

But I wanted to write this after reading that because it really sells this record short and there's just more to be said about it. I mean, he does specifically say the song didn't have any impact on the culture because he can't point to anyone trying to replicate The Rake, which is... a little bit crazy.

So, for those that don't know, The Rake is a one record act, and this is it. It came out on Profile Records in 1983, well after "The Message" and right on the heals of "It's Like That" (which also on Profile, of course). And the first thing you'll notice about it is that it's really dark. It's a narrative about rape and murder in a tone on that wouldn't really come around again until The Geto Boys. Or at least Ice-T. I mean, you want to talk about the replication of The Rake? There it is. Ice-T and all the earliest roots of gangsta rap - from the violent street life tales to the slow, cold style of delivery - owe quite a lot to this record. This is like "6 In the Mornin'" three years before "6 In the Mornin'."

And really, think 1983. Run DMC was just gaining a foothold in its move to push hip-hop out of the Sugarhill disco era. And what's The Rake talking about? He runs home after getting a phone call telling him that his wife was raped by three teens in the course of a brutal home invasion:

"I was not prepared for the things I saw,
When I opened up the apartment door.
The TV was in pieces; the furniture was scattered,
Mirrors were all busted up and window panes were shattered.
My kids were in the bedroom, they were beat up bad.
With tears in his eyes, my little boy said,
'We did all we could; we put up a fight;'
And I took him in my arms and told him he did right."

Yeah, this is some serious shit. It's followed by an entire verse about how his wife looked like a corpse as he watched the medics carry her out of their apartment. Nobody was writing shit like this back in 1983. Hell, you'd have a bard time finding songs written on this level in 1993.

And yeah, this song has a serious message, too, as the second part of the song invokes a "brother cop" pulling him aside at the scene of the crime and saying,

"'Brother, I'm sorry,' and he looks real sincere,
'Now dig what I'm saying; make sure you read me clear.
For all you can see is something that's terrible and cruel,
But it ain't no exception, it's more like the rule.
Go to the precinct and you know what they;ll say:
This happens here twenty-four hours a day.
No one was killed; ain't no big deal.
Some lady was raped, but her scars will heal.'"

Other classic message songs like Kurtis Blow's "8 Million Stories" or Toddy Tee's "Batterram" would never have a gut-punching line like that, even though it's obvious they're taking direct inspiration from this. Especially the west coast artists, who also borrowed the marriage of a smooth vocal vocalist with a funky-basslined electro track.

Now if you paid attention to the title of the song, you can guess how the song ends. Our narrator takes the law into his own hands and murders the three teens. I"ll acknowledge that the song leans on the heavy0handed side and it's not all as personally written as the parts I quoted. It's a great concept song, but The Rake would've really needed some additional aid from a real rhyme-smith like Spoonie Gee to file this 'masterpiece.' And the AV Club smartly compares the song's plot to a Charles Bronson movie, which does manage to suck some of the gravitas out of the proceedings when you think of it that way.

But damn, I mean, just look at that cover! Newspaper headlines about rape and murder, plus a creepy Bible quote spayed over in red graffiti. It would be a long time before you saw a hip-hop cover as heavy as that from anybody on any label, period.

The Source magazine listed this as one of the biggest '25 Turning Points In Hip-Hop' in their 50th issue special. They didn't really break-down why (with 24 other songs to squeeze onto a 2-page spread with a big photo, each song wound up with about one sentence apiece), but hopefully this post helps make it clear at least why I think it's so pivotal.

One final point. The AV Club article makes a big deal about how this song was co-written by two white guys. The label actually credits three, who also all produced, so I'm not sure which one they're leaving out. But okay, anyway. First, I'm a little suspicious of those credits, since it was often the case where the rappers who wrote the actual raps wouldn't get writing credit alongside whoever the producers (and again, that would be themselves in this case) wanted to credit, back in the 80s... As if, for example, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were actually responsible for The Fat Boys' rhymes on their remake of "Baby I';m a Rich Man." Unfortunately, it wasn't the exception but more like the rule to screw these young, black artists out of their publishing back then. And as it happens, The Rake was actually a fairly well established song writer himself, having a hand in a number of credible Soul records in the 70s and earlier 80s, under his real name Keith Rose. So it seems unlikely he would've had no creative input himself.

And it's also worth noting that those "[three] white guys" have got several Grammy, Academy and Tony Awards between them. So I think it might be a little unfair to write them off so dismissively. That fact might have something to do with why The Rake never had a follow-up record, though, as some- or every-body involved might've seen the endeavor as a sort of one-off experiment. And that's kind of a shame, because okay, it's dated and some of the lines sound corny now. Enough so that the AV Club just dedicated a whole article to mocking it as wack. But honestly, more smooth, dark proto-gangsta NY rap records like this would've been pretty cool to have back in the 80s.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Formerly Krushin' Gangstaz

Some time ago, I talked about the Krushin' MCs, a.k.a. the KMC Kru's, rare, indie 12" debut "The Way We Krush." Today I thought I'd flip it and look at their sorta rare, indie final 12", "Bob Ya Head." "The Way We Krush" dropped in 1986, after which they signed to Macola for an album and then Curb Records for the bulk of their career. But for their final album, and this 12" single, they came back one more time after separating from Curb on their own label, KMC Records.

For this final album, the line-up has changed considerably. For their brief time on Macola, they had a member named Stevie D.; but for the majority of their career, and certainly for their biggest, most widely distributed records, the Kru consisted of primarily two members (Sir Klank seemed to stick around in the background, perhaps as a dancer): Wonder T and The Butcher. But along with the split with Curb, the Kru lost their excellent DJ, The Butcher, and presumably as a consequence, their sound changed dramatically on their final album. It became all syrupy and west coast gangsta-y, very much inspired by the trends of the times. And a new member was brought in, Cat Man, who hit every single one of those gangsta notes as an MC. The album was called A.K.A. I.G., meaning also known as intelligent gangstas; and it's by and large their worst album.

Fortunately, they selected one of only two songs (the other being "Young and the Rhymeless") I'd really consider good and up to par with their previous albums as the one and only single. It's called "Bob Ya Head," isn't trying to be gangsta at all, and doesn't even feature Cat Man. If it just had some nice scratches by The Butcher, I'd assume it was a carry-over from their past times. But KMC have always been big on showing off their versatility and displaying their mastery of a wide variety of styles, so I trust this was just them showing they could still do something more purely hip-hop.

This is a really fun, cool track which makes great use of "UFO" and a super catchy bassline.
It hasn't aged the greatest, though. Sarge is kicking a very early-90s sounding punchline style that will just sound super corny to today's listeners. But older heads who lived through the 90s should be able to listen to past the corniness of lines like "Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, but when she heard the sound, she had to get up off it" just by virtue of being used to that crap. And if you can, it's a really tough but high energy track, and T's voice sounds as deep and smooth as ever. The production is just credited to IG, which I guess means the I.G.s - meaning T and/or Cat - made the beat themselves.

The nice thing about this 12" is that it also has an exclusive remix by Mark Wilson, who's been producing for KMC since day 1. It's labeled as the Club Mix; but it doesn't sound particularly club-oriented. It keeps a lot of elements from the original version, including the "UFO" screeches, but swaps out the bassline for a new lighter but equally funky one. It doesn't fit the track quite as well; it sounds like he had this great sample and wanted to use it somewhere, even if it wasn't the most natural fit here. Sorta like Pete Rock's "Shut 'Em Down" remix. It's a great loop, but sounds weird under that PE acapella. But for an alternative version to bob ya head to when you've played the original version out, it's pretty nice.

This 12" also includes both instrumentals, and since KMC ended for good after this, it's good to get this one last record from them. With Cat Man benched, it's like T's last goodbye to us all. It's dated and a bit corny... hell, they've always been a bit corny. So any Krushin' fan who's able to get past that should enjoy this record immensely. It's a lot less disappointing than the album as a whole turned out to be.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Only Deadly Venom You'll Ever Need

Putting together an official, all-girl version of the Wu-Tang Clan sounds like a cheap, lame cash-in idea. And it is. I'm surprised they didn't follow this up with an Wu Jr group full of pre-teenagers... though did get Shyhiem, which was blatant enough.  But, still, the idea could work. Especially if you do it in the 90s (an all-female Wu of the 2010s? ugh), helm them with a solid Wu-alliterated producer (Storm might not be the crowd pleaser that RZA would've been; but he proves himself here) and some established, credible MCs. And for a brief moment, it did work.

Most of you reading this are probably familiar with said MCs, but let me go over the Deadly Venoms line-up real quick. You had Champ MC, who was one of the many artists caught out there in Elektra''s East/ West hip-hop purge of the mid 90s, where a ton of artists had their albums shelved. You had Finesse, formerly of Finesse and Synquis, an Uptown duo who put out a bunch of records in the 80s When the Venoms shrunk down to just three members, Finesse is the one who took off. She's the old schooler of the crew, the Fru Kwan to their Gravediggaz. You had new jack J-Boo, who I liked less once I found out her name was an acronym for Justified Beauty Over Others. And you had N-Tyce, who had a couple singles out on Wild Pitch. I was never into her stuff, though "Black To the Point" was kinda nice. Just would've been nicer with a different MC.  Anyway, she was already sorta Wu-affiliated and working with Storm, which is how the Venoms project first came about.

Oh, and you briefly had LinQue. She was in the group very briefly, but never appeared on any of their records. It's too bad, because she probably would've been the strongest; but it just never happened. I have a DV demo tape, and she's not on there either.  Some people mistakenly thought she was on their first single, which is what I'm covering today; but she's actually only in the video. Her voice isn't on the record. And her cutting out also kinda messed up the group's name, because they were meant to be known as the Five Deadly Venoms, taking their name from the famous kung-fu movie, just like the Wu took theirs from one. Each of them even had a Venom alias, where J-Boo was Viper,  Champ was Scorpion, N-Tyce was Poison and Finesse was Chameleon. But so they wound up coming out as just the Deadly Venoms. Or, as we see on their original debut 12", just Venom.

So the Venoms have had a rough time of it. They recorded their debut album for Arista, and then they dumped them without releasing it. Then they recorded a second album in the 2000s for Dreamworks, who also dumped them and shelved that album. By the time they released their third, debut and to date latest album, they were down to three members. And let's face it, a lot of what we did get wasn't too exciting anyway. Soft, commercial kinda stuff with boring collaborations (including three with Kurupt!), and above all, not terribly Wu-like.

But this debut 12" was very Wu-like. It's got a great sound and is really on point with everything you'd have wanted out of a female Wu group in 1997. It's "Bomb Threat" b/w "Boulevard" (Arista would later release "Bomb Threat" on vinyl again, as the B-side to "One More To Go;" but it started here). And an interesting thing to note is that if you compare my copy, pictured, it looks different to all the other pictures you see online, including discogs. My copy is missing the standard Echo logo, UPC, etc. Perhaps mine is an earlier, more limited run? I'm not sure. The track-listing is the same on both versions, anyway, and even sports the same catalog number.

Anyway, this 12" nicely captures the feeling of the original "Protect Ya Neck" 12". Partially, I'm sure, because it actually has "Protect Ya Neck" written on it; but it's really the whole single. There's just a raw, street vibe to the whole thing, and unlike most of the Venoms' stuff, the production here feels like classic, street Wu music, with the MCs just spitting as hard as they can on it. You think of this, the original Sunz of Man 12"... it's just a shame the Wu couldn't keep the crossover elements out of their later work, because their earliest 12"s are always killers.

The B-side is another banger. "Boulevard" uses the same loop Army of the Pharaohs would hook up a year later for their classic 12" cut "War Ensemble" Yes, Venom had it first; and it sounds as good here as it does there, though the hook isn't as compelling. But, still, some of the verses here to feel a bit weak. The way they're laid out, with the MCs passing the mic mid verse sounds dope, and their voices sound great over some sick, understated production. But lyrically... well, you get the feeling that maybe Deadly Venoms should've been a really good one-off project that began and ended with this single; because it works well enough here but they don't really feel like they could carry multiple albums and a long, varied career. After all, "hey, let's make an all-girl version of our hit group!" is still a terrible, tacky idea. But this 12" by itself proved doubters wrong. Everything afterwards, not so much.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Who Were the Gifted 4?

When I was a kid, living in Central Jersey, I didn't have access to all classic, old school records that started our genre. Everything from Run DMC and Whodini forward, sure; but all that disco era stuff was tough to get your hands on. Especially when all the stores had ditched vinyl in favor of cassettes and CDs. And of course, there was no internet. So people like me relied on compilation albums to get all the golden era classics from "The Breaks" to "Rappin' and Rockin' the House." And amongst all the founding fathers, legends and important records of the early days, there was sometimes a group in there, amidst all the others, who I didn't really know and didn't seem to have a history like everybody else: The Gifted 4.

Their name kinda blends in with all the Funky 4s, Treacherous Threes, Disco Fours... They sound like one of the bunch. But if you know your Hip-Hop history, you know who all those other groups are. The Gifted 4? Their song "Sounds of the Mic" was really fresh; but it seemed to exist in a vacuum. Who were the members? Where did they come from? Who knew? It's like they just popped into existence to round out these compilations.

But I really liked "Sounds Of the Mic," so when I got older I had to hunt 'em down on vinyl. And it was easy because they're not that rare; they had two 12" singles on Jive Records. It turns out "Sounds" was actually their second release.

Their debut single was called "Temper (Gotta Keep Cool)" in 1984. It's got a different feel to it than "Sounds"' (which we'll come to). It's got a a harder edge (for 1984), and feels more like a Furious 5 song along the lines of "Survival." They rap the hook in unison ("don't you make me lose my temper; if you do, you shall remember!") but they don't harmonize, and each MC tells a story about how they lost their temper and then faced the consequences ("and be a cellblock fool"). It's a serious song and the MCs are serious and tough on it. Even the instrumental is less disco-y and rougher, though it does have kind of a boppy electro riff during the hook.

There's a couple versions on the 12", including an Extended Version, Single Edit and a Dub Mix. And it's also got a B-side track, "The Arrival." It's more of a fun, typical B-Boy track, starting with them calling out their zodiac signs. They even name themselves: Jay, Guy, Chris and Mike T. So now we know who the members are.  :)  Overall, it's not as strong as the A-side, but the beats and MCing are still solid, and it's a good contrast to "Temper," giving you a more well-rounded experience. There's a fun Shakespeare-inspired segment where they they call out "Hark! Who goes there?" before each MC raps, and the DJ even throws in some scratches.

Then we come to "Sounds Of the Mic," which also dropped on Jive, in 1985. It's got a couple versions, including a Di'Mon Dub Mix, Beat Mix and Acapella Version. But it's basically just the one song. It's a heck of a lot of fun, though. This time the hook has them singing the chorus in an old school harmonizing style, "it's the sound of the mic, (here's how!) we rock you all night!  It's the sound of the miiii-iiic!"  Everything about it just sounds really good: the singing, the super catchy bassline, funky keyboard riffs, and the MCs, one of whom is putting on more of a radio DJ voice for this one. Credit probably primarily goes to the producer, but while the content boils down to nothing more than "get up and dance," it's just one of those records where all the elements come together and gel perfectly. There's even a surprisingly cool electric guitar breakdown, and it ends with them rapping acapella as the instrumental cuts out except for the hand claps.

Both their singles are produced by Dimon Brown, who doesn't seem to have any other credits; so I guess he was just down with - or possibly one of the actual - Gifted 4. He does also have a writing credit, but then so do four other people. So the Four might just be the MCs, and he's the DJ/ producer? That's just a guess though.

It's a shame these guys up and disappeared after this, because they were making better records than a lot of their more famous peers. I don't know if they were a studio group (like the Timex Social Club or Snap!, where the label assembled them) or not; but it doesn't matter 'cause they were dope. Having such an old school name as the Gifted 4, and a style to match, however, was probably a death knell in 1985 when Run DMC changed the whole game. I'd love to find out some or all of them stayed in the game under new names; but as it is, I have to recommend everybody at least track down the two singles we did get from the group. They definitely lived up to the "Gifted" of their name, whoever they were.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pre- and Post-Lastrawze

So I haven't covered them on here before, but Lastrawze is a 90s group that Dope Folks has been putting out... They were a Miami group that didn't sound so Miami-ish because their producer, Sim-E was from Brooklyn. Lastrawze had a hot "random rap" 12" and full-length cassette in 1995. So, in 2012, Dope Folks picked it up and released that album, Instrawmental, for the first time on vinyl. They put it over two EPs. And now that that's done, the label has been working with them again, including them in their on-going Killed By Def series (you may remember I wrote about Vol. 1 here).

Killed By Def Vol. 3. like the others, is split into two distinct sides. Side A is Sim-E's older group, School Dayze. These are the guys he was down with when he was younger, and until now, all of their material has gone unreleased. We have three tracks from them here, all recorded back in 1992. So, you're probably wondering: is this material worth a damn, or just some embarrassing high school talent show stuff?

I'll tell ya, I might actually like this better than Lastrawze. Honestly, the production and MCing are pretty consistent between both groups' projects. But the School Dayze stuff, probably just by virtue of its belonging to a slightly earlier era, is more hype. A little faster, higher energy. Lastrawze is really dope, but for me, this has the edge.

And if the comparison is lost on you because you haven't heard any of the Lastrawze stuff, well... super jazzy production with lots of great, shifting samples. And the MCing, on the School Dayze stuff especially, is on sort of a Leaders Of the New School tip, but without the over-the-top craziness of Charlie Brown or Busta. It's Leaders but more refined and coordinated. I'm not sure one is necessarily better than the others. I know the bigger personalities lend themselves to more media coverage and thus bigger fan-bases... But as I've mentioned a few times before, I tend to prefer the more steady and refined to the attention-chasing and zany.

So, that's the A side: pre-Lastrawze. The B-side, then, is post-Lastrawze, with brand new tracks produced by Sim-E and featuring established Brooklyn artists Roc Marciano and Smif 'N' Wessun, as well as a track with the more underground west coast outfit Strong Arm Steady. For me, this EP is all about the School Dayze side, and the new stuff is just a decent little bonus of some stuff I wouldn't buy otherwise. But I have a feeling some heads are going to feel more strongly about the new material, especially since Mr. Marciano has been the flavor of the month for a while in the hip-hop vinyl scene.

Sim has updated his production style a lot for his new stuff. Like, yeah, there's a bit of a tempo difference between School Dayze and Lastrawze; but if you didn't know, you wouldn't guess that this new stuff was by the same producer. It's still very good, and especially fitting for the artists; but also drier and less compelling. It's just more background-y and easy to not pay attention to. Roc's song (with an uncredited cameo by Rock of Heltah Skeltah) is the strongest MC-wise, and Strong Arm Steady's has the best, and most atmospheric production. The Smif 'N' Wessun song is decent, but kind of spoiled by an annoying hook.

So yes, I do recommend Killed By Def 3, primarily for side A (and Lastrawze's records, if you missed 'em).  Serious Roc collectors will need this too, because Sim has produced a solid entry into his catalog. And it's cool to see how Sim's evolved into a more Large Professor-y style in the 2010s; but for me it's all about those lost, vintage goods.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bloody Cheerful

You only have to look at the cover to know that "Bloodshed Hua Hoo" by Crustified Dibbs is an oddity. Crustified Dibbs, of course, is the name RA the Rugged Man used when he was briefly signed to Jive in the early 90s (though interestingly, they wrote it up like Crustified was a group and RA was a member... but RA was the only guy).  And although RA leaked a white label of his song with Biggie and low quality dubs of the shelved album, Night Of the Bloody Apes, have circulated widely, this is actually the only record of his they put out.

1994 was the year the brief horrorcore bubble burst, and this single was right on the borderline. You could tell Jive was behind this... Picture cover with a wide release, they made a music video for it, hooked him up with one of the hottest producers of the time, and they even created a promotional comic book set in Suffolk County High School. In fact, the comic book and the music video follow almost the same "plot." Starting out in his special ed class (which was also a skit on the album called "RA Classroom"), RA turns into a monster right out of the 1969 Mexican horror film Night Of the Bloody Apes (which the album takes its title from) and murders just about everyone, leading to a sort of gruesome uprising of his fellow special ed students.And in both the video and comic, the only dialogue is at the very beginning, after which he only raps the lyrics to "Bloodshed Hua Hoo."

But it's interesting that, if you listen to the lyrics, there's actually very little horrorcore about them. It's basically just a lot of cliched hip-hop non-sequiturs strung together in a rambling Ol' Dirty Bastard-inspired flow, "wit da new-eh, style for your crew-eh, and I could just make it get to ya baby, blauuhh (Yo kick that real shit!) Now what was it? Got disgusted, now bust it, ya microphone is rusted, I buh-buh-buh-ba-bum rushed it."  It's also pretty juvenile ("check the floors with the jabber jaws. 'I got a man.' Shut ya mouth and drop your drawers!"). The "Hua Hoo" part of the title is basically just their attempt to spell out his incoherent ODB-like sputtering. He's even prone to briefly breaking out into disjointed song like ODB did, singing the old spiritual "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen" and Positive K's "I Got a Man." Apart from the key word "bloodshed," which he almost refers to as a new dance rather than anything to be scared of. It's actually quite an upbeat number, and there's nothing really horrorcore about this song at all. In fact, you could say that about a lot of the songs on his shelved album ("Every Record Label Sucks Dick" hardly expresses feelings of the dark and supernatural).  A few of his songs do, like "Toolbox Murderer" (also named after an older horror film) or "Bloody Axe," but even then, he drifts pretty far off of it to make cheesy punchlines about "ya moms" and Beverly Hills 90210.

And instrumentally, "Bloodshed" doesn't have a horrorcore feel at all, either. Believe it or not, it's a Trackmasterz joint, with classically 90s New York drums and bass hits, sparse jazz notes and that Lynn Collins/ Rob Base "Yeah!" vocal sample. It sounds like something Lord Finesse should be rocking over, not a shaggy, muttering delinquent character. In fact, a lot of purists would probably feel annoyed that Dibbs ruined a dope instrumental if they'd ever bothered to listen to the song that closely in the first place.

But if you're not that uptight about it, this is a fun, screwball single. Disappointingly, the 12" only features the Clean Version, though. And since the album never came out, that makes the proper LP Version prepare rare, outside of those hissy 8th generation albums dubs. That's why I've also hung onto my cassingle version, which is missing the Clean Version (as if anybody cared), but has the curse-filled uncut original in proper sound quality. On the other hand, the 12" has the Instrumental and Acapella over the tape.

Whichever version you get, though, also features two remixes. The first is the Sunny Balls Mix, which keeps a lot of the original version's production, but puts in a new, deep bassline and a vocal sample singing softly int he background of the entire mix. The original's better overall, but if you're in the mood for a smooth jeep boomer, this one has its place.

Then on the flip, there's "Bloodshed Level 2 (Nigga Niles Crusty Remix)." You'd expect from the way they've titled it that this is a whole new song, or at least a lyrical remix. But no, it's just a second remix of the same vocal song, though it is further removed from the Trackmasterz beat, with a distorted, slightly more appropriate "bloodshed" vibe. Unfortunately, the remixes are only available in clean edits on both the 12" and cassingle. They're both produced by Marc Niles, who joined Jive with RA and stuck around to produce some of the label's other stuff (including Shaq!) during their stay, and continues to work RA sporadically to this day.

But as you can see in Phill Most Chill's Rap Sheet comic above, Crustified was fully adopted into the horrorcore subgenre by the hip-hop culture regardless of the lyrical content of his only released song. And overall, that was probably really good for his career, but it also meant Jive pushed him out the door as soon as word got out that kids didn't think rapping about ghouls 'n' ghosts was as cool as rapping about street gangs. But hopefully everybody at this blog has gotten past following the high school cool/ uncool paradigm, so you just have to decide if you're in the mood for a serious, credible hip-hop 12"... or something silly and gonzo like this.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The House Party Bully

So, I mentioned in yesterday's post, that Full Force reprised their characters as the bullies in the first two House Party movies on their latest record. But what I didn't mention is that this isn't actually the first time they did that. Way back in 1990, on UTFO's fifth album, Bag It and Bone It, Bowlegged Lou joins EMD, The Educated Rapper on "If You Don't Wanna Get Pregnant..." But he doesn't join him as himself. Instead he raps in character as Pee Wee, easily the most memorable of the bullies thanks to his unreal, cartoonish voice.

Bag It and Bone It was a weird album for UTFO. Doctor Ice had left the group to pursue his solo career, so EMD takes the front seat here. And, while there are some clean and even positive messagey songs; the bulk of it is dirty to the point of almost mean spiritedness. It's like they decided hip-hop was no longer going to support an old school group like UTFO anymore, so the answer was to become the east coast 2 Live Crew. A group that basically never cursed even in the late 80s. and just talked about sex through winky innuendos suddenly produced an album that could rival Willie D's, with lines like "I'm greedy, I want ALL the punanny; I don't give a damn if it's sister or mommy." Bushwick Bill rapped about killing a girl and having "sex with her corpse before I left her," but I'm not sure The Geto Boys were even prepared to cross the incest line. And back in 1990, this type of stuff was still shocking. Especially since nobody saw it coming from the guys who released "Bad Luck Barry" and "Fairytale Lover."

So, anyway, UTFO was missing Doc Ice, but they were still an official Force Organization. The Force still has co-writing and production credit for the bulk of the album. And, yes, Bowlegged Lou takes the mic to record a proper duet with EMD on this one song. As Pee Wee.

On the album, the song is preceeded by a long-ish skit where EMD says, "I wanna do this with that character you was playin' in that movie." That's followed by EMD and Pee Wee calling in a "bitch" and talk her into sucking their dicks. Because that's the unwritten second half of the song title... "If you don't wanna get pregnant, suck the dick." It ends with sound effects, like that Biggie skit, except with the added bonus of Pee Wee getting off in his crazy high-pitched voice.

Then the song starts and the production consists of an actually really funky loop with tight, jazzy horns. The raps (and yes, Pee Wee has full rap verses; he's not just here as a background character) are angry and x-rated (really, just call up that crazy Pee Wee voice in your head aa you read the following lines, "you mean to say my dick's hard for nothin'? Well, spread your butt cheeks 'cause I'm fuckin' somethin'!"), but the music is surprisingly upbeat and cheerful. There's an amusing breakdown where the girl voice sings "I'm sucking it baby" to the tune of LL's "Jingling Baby."

Surprisingly, they released this as a single. I mean, instrumentally I could see it warranting it a single, but there's no way this song could play on any radio or TV station. Amazingly, there is a Clean Version on here, but it's useless. There's not a five second span of this song that isn't curse-filled and x-rated.

The b-side is the album track "Hoein' for the Dough." In contrast to the A-side, this is a slow, calm song, with EMD's flow sounding downright Southern. It's got a really funky bassline, though, and some nice, underplayed scratches by Mixmaster Ice. Lyrically, well, the title tells the whole story; but EMD does manage to breathe some extra life into it with colorful details and an extra smooth delivery.

And this 12" has an exclusive, too: a Slammin' Remix of "If You Don't Wanna Get Pregnant..." It completely replaces the original instrumental elements with a hype and very 80's track. Interestingly, they cut out the part of the girl singing "I'm sucking it, baby" but replace it with Ice scratching in LL's line, "go 'head, baby." You'd never get the reference if you weren't intimately familiar with the album version, but there it is. It's a pretty dope mix, though the original has the advantage of sounding more original, whereas this sounds like multiple songs we've heard before. But it's all kind of wasted, anyway, since x-rated Pee Wee basically turns the whole thing into a novelty track.

As such, even though there's clearly a lot of talent evident, it's hard to actually recommend this single to anyone beyond a quick, "can you believe this exists?" listen. I guess that's why it's one of the most common bargain bin fillers in the genre ...not to mention the end of UTFO's recording career. But curiosity seekers ought to know that this dark side to the House Party soundtrack is out there in the world. And I wonder how close Jive Records was to asking Lou if they could just sign Pee Wee to a solo deal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

UTFO, Roxanne Shanté & Full Force - Roxanne, Roxanne (The New Chapter)

If you're under thirty, just go ahead and skip this post.

Now, for everybody still here - holy shit!

Where to start? Well, okay, Full Force is back with a new album. Not excited yet? Neither was I at first. I mean, I remember buying their first comeback album, Sugar On Top, and just thinking "bleh." I didn't even bother to pick up their second comeback LP in 2001, Still Standing, which featured mostly live recordings of their old hits. Who needs echoey, inferior renditions of records I already have? The ship had sailed on these guys, and I'm not even sure how big I was on their past albums. They were at best uneven. And this is a hip-hop blog, not an R&B fansite.

Well, it's still a couple months off, but on August 26, Full Force's With Love From Our Friends, which is finally their first comeback album to capture everything that was so great about these guys in the first place. And it's not just a new album, it's a reunion album with basically everybody they've ever worked with ever. I mean, granted, a couple of the superstars they've produced, like Justin Timberlake aren't here. And Lisa Lisa is conspicuously absent. But it's seriously an overwhelming list. Here's just some of them, the ones I'm not going to delve deeper into further below: Faith Evans, motherfuckin' Shiela E, Raphael Saadiq, Shanice (remember her?), Tisha Campbell-Martin, Tevin Campbell, Naturi Naughton, Silk, Troop (now that's takin' it back!), Next, 112, Allure, Regina Belle, Howard Hewett and Raymond Luke Jr. (star of that Broadway show Motown: The Musical). That's just the ones I'm not gonna talk about.

I said this is a hip-hop blog, not an RB fansite. So rest assured I wouldn't be covering this if there weren't also rappers on hand as well. And I'ma get to that, but for everybody who group up with The Full Force Family, let me finish geeking on the other stuff first. The roster is overwhelming, but what really stands out is that the production, instrumentation and arrangements are really strong here. This isn't a washed up group cashing in on their name and industry connections. This is a really impressive album.

It's also all over the map. Their press sheet says this album "reflects the group's broad range of sounds and styles." That's always been how Full Force rolls, but seeing as how this song features the entire planet, it's even more wildly all over the place. Ce Ce Peniston and Freedom Williams (our first rapper) come back to make a club hit. Of course Cheryl Pepsi Riley is back, and she has a great classically R&B song with Meli'Sa Morgan and Vivica A. Fox, who actually provides a killer intro. And there's a great duet with The Force MD's. With Love is often religious - this album even features a childrens' choir - but they manage to make it all sound great.

Okay, now get this. Remember how Doctor Ice ended his album with a crazy half skit/ half song with a cameo by Blair Underwood, as his character from LA Law? They even brought HIM back on here! He's on this posse cut where a bunch of guys, including Malcolm Jamal Warner, Omari Hardwick and Big Daddy Kane do spoken word poems about Heaven over a choral song by the Force and Najee. Actually, Kane's appearance is the most disappointing on this album, since the spoken word stuff is corny ("her persona would make Malcolm Jamal want her") and un-engaging on the most skippable song. The production still makes it very listenable, but Kane is just wasted here.

And okay, I'm almost done; but I've just got to talk about the craziest song on here, "Dance Dance, Throw Ur Hands Up In the Air Air" by The Force and Samantha Fox. Yup, they brought everybody back! And they're on full-on autotune mode; she sounds like Ke$ha; and unless you absolutely hate these kinds of songs (a lot of people do; couldn't blame ya) it actually works. This song really continues The Full Force tradition also of the crazy, silly B-sides, because The Force revive their characters from the House Party movies. You know the bullies with the crazy voices? Well, they're back in full "I smell.... PUSSY!" mode. And if that's still not enough for you, there's a bonus verse by Flavor Flav, yes also rapping in autotune. And man, he totally should've been on "Blah Blah Bla;" forget those wack 3Oh3 guys.

Look, this album was designed for a very particular audience whose minds are gonna be blown. But anybody else who checks for it will at least find very well made, eccentric album. And yeah, I haven't even gotten to the final, most important track yet.

If I didn't feel the need to fangasm over this project, I could've just skipped to writing baout this one song, because this is the one readers of hip-hop blogs should care about: "Roxanne, Roxanne (The New Chapter)." Of course, you know Full Force had to bring UTFO, the UnTouchable Force Organization back, and this is a whole new song all about that same old girl, with Force singing a new hook and the guys kicking all new verses. There have been a couple UTFO albums without the full line-up, so I guess I should specificy that yes, all four are back, Mixmaster Ice even has some nice scratching moments. The instrumental is a really cool blend of that original 1984 feel with all new, modern elements; and yes they hold true to the original by changing the instrumental for each verse. Bow Legged Lou's son is on here, and yeah, that feels like some forced nepotism, but he sounds fine on here for his short part, so it's alright. I remember tweeting to a fun, 2014 "Roxanne, Roxanne" update by some random internet rapper which was pretty fun; but this is a real deal follow-up by the original guys and actually given a physical release. Oh, and did I mention that Roxanne Shanté is on here, too? And she sounds great kicking it in total '84 mode, still setting it off on the EMD:

"Let me tell you the story I think that they forgot;
It was downtown Brooklyn,
It was really, really hot.
The day-a it was sunny,
He told me he had money;
He was broke and a joke
And he thought that it was funny.
He said he was a rapper,
I told him 'I should slap ya,
Start running sown the block
And them boys gonna cap ya.'
He went running down the block
But he didn't get far.
They caught him and they did 'im
Like it was WorldStar."

Thirty years later, they're all parents now; and they're finally having it out on a Roxanne record together. Whether you care about the rest of the album or not is one thing - just how many of your developmental years were soundtracked by all these people - but all you old school heads gotta at least check out for this new "Roxanne, Roxanne." It's good times.