Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Crazy Wisdom Remedy

So, the Jungle Brothers were signed to Warner Brothers. Their first album was in 1988, their second was in 1989, and their third ...wasn't until 1993. Why'd it take so long? Well, the Brothers had actually finished their album, called Crazy Wisdom Masters, and were prepared to release it in 1992. They wanted to shake things up and do something different, and instead of working with any of the big0-time producers you might expect, they worked with rock guys David Williams (of The Vomit Pigs) and Bill Laswell, plus an up and coming rapper/producer named Torture, who became better known shortly after as Sensational. The album was so wild and unorthodox that, when Warner Brothers heard it they said hell no, we can't release that! So they made the JB's re-record the entire album, and that became The J. Beez Wit the Remedy, which was kind of a flop and their last album for Warners. Even personally, I'd recommend picking up the single "40 Below Trooper" but leave the rest for the enthusiasts.

Well, because Sensational rapped on the one well-regarded single, he generated enough of a buzz to get signed to the indie label WordSound, where he released a whole line of budget albums, and even a couple singles on Matador. And in 1999, he and WordSound dropped a little 10" vinyl EP by a group called the Crazy Wisdom Masters on their subsidiary, Black Hoodz. Hey, you might say, isn't that the name of the Jungle Brothers unreleased album? Why, yes! In fact, this was a four-(or five-, depending how you choose to count it; but I'll explain that in a bit) song EP of lost tracks from the shelved Crazy Wisdom Masters album.

Two (or three) of these songs we've heard before, on J. Beez Wit the Remedy, but in a different form. And the other two songs are totally unheard tracks. And why this two/three four/five song count? Well, on the Warner Brothers album, you had two songs in a row, called "JB's Comin' Through" (which was a short minute and a half) and "Spittin' Wicked Randomness;" while, on the Black Hoodz EP, both those songs are combined into one longer song, just called "Spittin' Wicked Randomness." So you decide how many songs that is.

By the way, I've seen this EP referred to as The Payback EP just about everywhere online (and even, as you can see in my pic, on the price tag of my copy). But that title isn't anywhere on the label or the artwork, so I'm not really sure where that comes from.

The big question, after waiting six years to finally hear the Crazy Wisdom Masters, is how is this stuff? It's basically... very busy. Like tons of samples on top of each other. And they sometimes do that thing where the vocals are filtered to the point where they sound like they were recorded over a telephone line. Sensational once explained that he went by the name Torture because people always said listening to his music, with its broken and frenetic break-beats and disparate sounds was like torture. So as you can imagine, then, the style isn't necessarily a good thing.

"Battle Show" has a live feel, with fast drums and a ton of percussive sounds and squeaks. Sensational takes the mic again, and if they're not exactly kicking battle rhymes, they're at least tough freestyle verses. "Ra Ra Kid," which sounds like it should be titled "Ra Ra Caper" based on the chorus, starts off sounding a little more down to earth, but as the song goes on, it features more and more sounds coming and out of the track until it eventually culminates in a complete overload.

One issue I had, is with the instrumental sounding sort of "advanced," even if we're letting busy standing in for avant garde, the JB's lyrics feel especially pedestrian. Sensational, who's not an especially amazing lyricist himself, sounds more at home over these tracks than the JBs themselves, who feel like they're getting left behind. It both helps and hurts them that the tracks are so loud and the mics questionably mixed, that it's hard to follow their raps. 

"Spittin Wicked Randomness" and "Hedz At Kompany Z" - or "For the Headz At Company Z" as it was called originally - actually... sound a lot like they did on the Warner Brothers release. In fact, if you think about it, the whole chaotic vibe of The Payback EP is already what the Remedy album was kind of known for. If you didn't like the Remedy album, you probably dismissed it as being "weird" and "noisy." So it's not so much that the JB's went in a completely new direction for their remake; they just smoothed it out a bit. And here on these two tracks, they don't even sound un-smoothed out, they sound like the same damn songs.

And that's weird because, fun fact: the entire shelved Crazy Wisdom Masters album was eventually leaked online. So I've heard the rest of it. And not all the songs that have been carried over sound the same like these two. For example, "Troopin' On the Down Low" sounds remarkably different than "40 Below Trooper." It's actually worse, but at least it's totally different and would sound like you'd gotten something new with this EP. I honestly can't even tell you the difference between the "Kompany Z"s besides the titles. It sounds like all the same samples brought in and used the same ways to me.

So do I recommend this EP? It's alright. You're basically getting two early 90's Jungle Brothers and Sensational songs which are pretty good. It's certainly cool that these songs got released, considering how badly some fans (especially Bill Laswell fans, apparently) have wanted to hear it. Overall, comparing the full leaked album to the official release, I do think it was mostly superior. "40 Below Trooper" improved for J Beez, but overall Crazy Wisdom works better. It's got more energy and gets a stronger grip on your attention. I still don't know that it would've gone over that well commercially, or even stand up to their first two albums; but it would probably be better regarded than the compromise we got, and it would probably enjoy a sort of Paul's Boutique reputation among production nerds who really like that rock stuff.

To bring it back to the EP itself, it comes in a plastic bag with generic label art and a sticker cover. The label never mentions that the CWMs are the JBs, even in their official press release, which makes me think they were trying to slip this out under the label's radar. I'm lukewarm on the music - it's good but not amazing - but I'm very pleased about the release in that this got released at all. And while I'm not a fan of toy records, a 10" at least trumps a 7"; so overall this is a pretty neat pick-up, especially for those heads with an eye for our genre's history.

Update 1/8/14: I forgot I wanted to tag the story with this interesting linkCWM producer David Williams made a kickstarter a couple years ago (which didn't get funded) where he was going to reunite with the Jungle Brothers to record three(!) new albums. One was going to be "a more 'commercial,' Native Tongues-style Jungle Brothers album, a more 'out,' Crazy Wisdom Masters/Jay Beez Wit' Da Remedy-style advanced hiphop record, and......a 120+bpm club banger album that starts with the hiphouse style of 'I'll House You' and updates and advances it to the current state of the art and beyond." So the spirit of the Crazy Wisdom Masters endures, even if it doesn't get a lot of money behind it.

1 comment:

  1. Just FY1, David Williams had nothing to do with the Vomit Pigs, other than showing up at their gigs to steal dope.