Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quick! One Last New Release for 2014!

(Happy New Year from my new roommates)
My first thought was: I'm not just going to add to the infinite pile of year end top ten lists with today's post. No way, not gonna do it. So what should I do? Pontificate about how much better/worse 2014 was than 2013? Summarize every post I made over the course of the year? Write a retrospective on "A Surf M.C. New Year?" [Note to self: that's actually a good one; save that idea for 2016!] No, what we need most right now is just a good, new release. And fortunately, one just arrived in the mail last week.

A new, limited (100 copies - mine is #67) cassette release from Megakut Records. It's a split/ double A-side release, two EPs roughly 15 minutes each. Dankslob on one side, and J-Eazy & Brycon on the other.

Who the hell is Dankslob? No, you're right not to recognize the name; but you should recognize the actual artists. Dankslob is Luke Sick's latest project. Pretty much every time he works with somebody new, he makes a new group name for it... Underbucket/ Grand Invincible, Brougham, Get the Hater, The Disturbers, Rime Force, Motel Crew, Yole Boys, Grand Killa Con... all these groups can be explained as "Luke Sick and ____." And this is the latest, and this time he's teamed up with G-Pek, the producer who made Z-Man's Don't Forget To Brag. Now that's a sweet match!

and it really works here. G-Pek really switches tones to work with Luke; he's got a real feel for tailoring his sound to match Luke's vibe. As dark and dank as their name and cover art imply, full of soundbites from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (plus a little Barfly.and a few assorted clips), and Luke sounding as worn and world weary as ever. So many rappers seemed to have peaked around their second or third albums, but Luke just keeps getting better as he gets older, aging into perfectly tragic Hemmingway-style raconteur:

"Pop shit,
And loogie spit on everyone.
We on the couch.
Tell the bitch to shut its fucking mouth.
We like to slouch,
Think about how it's turning out.
We take our time;
Greg Pek knew this shit had clout.
I wasn't caring
'Till the hash all runnin' out.
Now we out,
But my feet hurt; I got the gout.
Them Earls bounce;
Suckers front like they really down.
But they never was;
They just some pussy clowns.
I made enough to eat and sleep;
That's how I got down.
I ate ribs,
Tried to live at the titty bar.
Don't even trip,
Holmes, ounce in the jelly jar."

I was all set to be disappointed, then, when I flipped this tape over. I mean, that would be fine, since Dankslob was perfect and more than worth the purchase in and of itself. But I've never heard of J-Eazy, this was gonna be some new jack piggybacking on Luke Sick. I know Brycon, though. He's the other half of Grand Killa Con with Luke Sick, and that was a solid album. So gotta give it a fair shot, at least.

Well, it's pretty good, too! I prefer the A-side (here's hoping Dankslob isn't a one-off!), but Damaged Goods, as its titled, is a cool bonus B-side. It's got a whole different feel to it, at once scrappier and more indie, but also bouncier and more upbeat. Think of it this way: if Dankslob is vintage Wu-Tang; Damaged Goods is vintage Killarmy. And just like with those Wu spin-off groups, it certainly doesn't hurt that the original Wu always drops by for a profile-rising guest appearance. Yeah, Luke Sick drops in and adds a verse and hook fora song called "Shattered Up" near the end (there's no track-listing or anything with this tape; but both groups posted song titles on their bandcamps).

This tape is really, really good. I mean, these Gurp City cats are consistently good; but I would even put this above their average. And like all their tapes, they're so well priced ($8, which includes shipping), it's a wonder there's any still available after an hour. Obviously, most of you people are still sleeping; and you're only going to regret it once you eventually realize how much they've been killing it over the years. Cop it here or continue missing out into 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

For the Big Daddy Kane Completists...

It's been a long road, hasn't it, Kane fans? From the earliest singles on Prism to the final one on Mahogany Records, plus the lost catalog material finally unearthed by DWG and and Hot Chillin'. All the classic albums, all the soundtracks and killer guest appearances. You've amassed it all; it's finally time to close the book on collecting Big Daddy Kane records, at least until Primo finally kicks his butt back into the studio. Ah, but wait... do you have this?

Remember "Do My Love Onta You?" Not many people do. It's a song from Kane's last album, Veteranz Day in 1998, and not one of the best. That's already pretty obscure. But now, how about the "Do My love Onta You (Royal Gardens Remix)" only released in Germany? There's one missing from the history books.

Royal Garden is one of those production groups put together by a label to remix American imports. Like ZYX Records after ZYX Records closed up shop. From Lauryn Hill to Tom Jones, these guys made new versions of a lot of great artists' records without actually meeting any of them. And in 1998, where Veteranz Day was getting more love in almost every other country except ours, it was Kane's turn to receive the Royal G treatment.

Now originally, "Do My Love" wasn't actually so bad. Despite the title, it's not a token love song; it's Kane in full Count Mackula mode, with lots of punchlines and jokes. "Shinin' kinda like a half moon. Catch me tryin' to get it on inside the women's bathroom. (Nah, he wouldn't.) Yes, I would for the puddin'. Just come inside the toilet booth and everything is Cuba Goodin'." It's a little corny, but his flow is still great. The production is decent but unremarkable and he's got a pretty talented girl singing back-up vocals on the track. What possibly holds it back the most is the hook, "Now how do I do when I do my love onto you? Show me love when you want to." Repeated four times. It's just stilted and uncomfortable, and while the studio-produced keyboard riffs are enough to support the rhymes, they just can't keep the hook afloat.

The Gardens recognized this problem and fixed it by taking it the fuck out. Now all Kane does is a few ad-libs while the singer has the hook essentially to herself. So much better. And instrumentally, they take out the original keyboard line that has a bouncy piano feel and replace it with smoothed out lines. I'm not really sure which is preferable. It reminds me of the "Chicks Pack Heat" remix in that respect. What is clearly an improvement, however, is the new horn sample they add to the hook, replacing a very G-funk whistle sound laid into the original mix.

It feels less like a brand new remix than a corrected version, like the original was some unfinished demo mix that should never have made it to the retail album. It won't blow you away, but it will definitely make you like the song more.

The 12" is nicely equipped with both the new remix, the original, and the new instrumental. It's also a double A-side, paired with the great "Uncut, Pure" remix, which was easily the gem of Veteranz Day. The album version as alright, but the remix with its blaxploitation-style Rufus Thomas sample, is killer. Classic Kane fit for a greatest hits album. And clearly The Label knew it because they released it over and over again. It was given its own single, with the original on one side and the remix on the flip, then it was paired with "2 da Good Tymez." Then it was paired with "Hold It Down," and then it was paired with "Earth, Wind & Fire." And it's also been paired with this. So chances are you already have the "Uncut, Pure" remix, rendering it pretty unnecessary here; but at least its a great song.

The good news is this single isn't limited. Nor is it on collectors' radar. So you can easily find copies super cheap. The bad news is, it was only released in Europe, so if you're state-side, you'll never find a US seller listing this. So, a super low price matched with high overseas shipping kind of balances out to a slightly overpriced record. But if you're rounding out an otherwise complete collection, I do think it's worth going slightly out of your way to throw this into the mix. It's better than you'd think and actually improves the song you've already got and forgotten about, bringing it up to par with the rest of his catalog.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Odd Men Out, part 2: The First Phony Newcleus

So after "Dynamic (Total Control)," you might be wondering what happened to those Total Control guys, since they seemed to be the artists to actually watch on that record? Well, Frankie Dee broke off, leaving Dynamike and DJ Johnny Juice to... join Newcleus! Yeah, this is now after the foursome all left Newcleus, leaving only the label-owner with the rights to the group name, and the two little kids. It would be like if Disney lost all the rights to their Marvel superhero characters and just made Avengers 2 with Stellan Skarsgård's character, telling the press, "we're still in continuity!"

These guys didn't stay long, and most people think of Newcleus's second iteration of The Next Generation, featuring later members like Money Mike in the early 90s. But there was this brief period in between. As Cozmo put it in our interview, "there were two incarnations of the phony Newcleus." The first was definitely the better of the pair, and this is one of their records, "We're So Hyped!" on Super Power Records in 1988.

This was actually their third 12". Their first was "Huxtable Houseparty" in 1987, which I've already written about. I think that was Dynamike taking the primary microphone duties there, along supporting vocals by the famous Newcleus kids, who also turn up on the second 12", "She's Bad." But apart from a little talking by those computerized kids, "She's Bad" is mostly a Michael Jackson-y style R&B record. You'd never guess it was even meant to be a Newcleus record if it didn't have those kids on the intro. I mean, granted, with records like "Why," Newcleus - the real Newcleus - had already dabbled in non rappity rap stuff. But this is really totally removed. I also have no idea who that is doing the actual singing on the bulk of this record.

So by this third 12" - also their last on Super Power Records and the last of this iteration of Newcleus - Dynamike may've already been out of the picture. "We're So Hyped!" swings back to hip-hop, though. In fact, it's kind of their most traditionally, non-spacey/electro hip-hop record in their catalog. It's some funky old school samples over a beat with only some drawn out synth lines coming up towards the end that really signal "Newcleus" to the listener.

There's also no kids. I mean, I think the actual kids probably are on this. But 1) being older, they no longer sound like the youngsters on "I Wanna Be a B-Boy," and 2) they don't use the computer effects on their voices that make them sound distinctly like "Newcleus kids." So there's just some generic male voices doing back-ups and fill-ins. In fact, there's practically no rapping, which is why I think Dynamike might've taken off even before "She's Bad." There are little tiny rap bits early on in the record, almost more hooks and pieces than rap verses, and certainly nothing that would require a particularly adept MC. It's all just basically two or three guys saying things like, "come on, give it all you got" strung together.

But I'll tell you who's definitely still around: DJ Johnny Juice. He gets big credit for the writing and arranging of this song in the notes, and he even has a big scratching breakdown mid-song, while the guys make barking dog(!) sounds. I think you can basically consider this basically his record. And it's not bad. It's a fun, if silly, hook over a collection of solid samples. The only drawback is, without much proper rapping, the song can feel a bit sparse. It comes alive when during the scratching and the spacey keyboard parts, and the basic instrumental is certainly catchy enough. But it can feel like a long wait between the funky horn stabs during a lot of the song. It just feel s a little incomplete.

My copy I've got pictured here is actually a German pressing. The US release doesn't come in a picture cover, but otherwise they're pretty much the same. Both just have the vocal version on the A side and the instrumental on the flip, though this foreign press does play at 45 rather than 33. "We;re So Hyped!" was the end of Stage 2 Newcleus; I don't think Johnny Juice stuck around after this. It wouldn't be until the 90s that Newcleus would make more records with new members, and then jumble things up even further by including songs from all 3 Newcleus Stages onto the Next Generation album. Anyway, Stage 2 Newcleus certainly didn't hold a candle to the original line-up. But if you're a big fan of upbeat 80s hip-hop and can put aside the comparison, these aren't so bad. Heck, I bet if these same songs came out under the name of Total Control they'd have some fans after 'em.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Odd Men Out, part 1: Dynamic Breakers

So for the next two days, I thought I'd take a look at a pair of records by a couple of the more overlooked and forgotten releases in old school rap history. They also happen to share an interesting connection. Up first is a record by The Dynamic Breakers... without Total Control.

See, the Dynamic Breakers/ Dynamic Rockers were a break-dancing crew (I know, you never would've guessed) in the movement's heyday. They were one of the biggest and most well known right behind Rocksteady Crew and the New York City Breakers. So, they were great dancers, not rappers or musicians. But in the 80s, everybody was getting deals. Rocksteady had an album, graf writers like Futura 2000 and Fab 5 Freddy were getting money to make records. And so it followed that Sunnyview Records signed The Dynamic Breakers in 1984.

I once interviewed Cozmo D (of Newcleus, of course, who were Sunnyview's biggest hip-hop act), who did the music for that record; and he explained how it went down better than I could, "Now, they already tried to do a record, and they had these cats named Total Control who were rapping for them. Now they broke off with the managers, so Joe comes and gets us to produce a new track for the rap record. So we helped them write rhymes, and he gets Total Control to come in, too. So we do a whole new beat, called 'Dynamic' and Total Control are on there, but they didn’t get any credit… just the Dynamic Breakers. So the whole thing is Total Control rapping with Dynamic Breakers coming through with some weak raps here and there, because they were horrible. We had written rhymes for them, but they were really horrible so they had to get Total Control back in."

So yeah, Total Control never got credited as the artists on that record, but the song was at least titled "Dynamic (Total Control)" on the original 12" label. And it's a hot record. The MCs Dynamike and Frankie Dee rock pretty well over a fresh track by Cozmo, and their DJ even gets in some nice little scratching. The Dynamic Breakers parts are really brief, like cameos. There's just one part near the end where each member goes, "I'm Deuce. (He's Deuce!) And I'm just too fresh. You can put me on the floor and put me to the test." And they repeat that with each of the Breakers putting their own name into that couplet. All the other rapping is by Total Control. And while the record never became a huge hit, it's definitely a well-regarded electro-hop record that has stood the test of time. You'll still hear old school heads bring it up and copies still pass back and forth amongst record collectors.

But you know what record people don't talk about? "Kim," the follow-up record The Dynamic Breakers did in '85, without Total Control. This was their second and last single, which they did all on their own. You know, except musically. It's credited as a "Newcleus production," and instrumentally it's pretty fresh. It's a little more rock-ish with some live guitars, but still funky electro. It sort of reminds me of a softer "The Mexican" by Jellybean, except with raps.

Yeah, the raps. If the guys from Total Control ever wanted a little vindication, to support claims that they're responsible for the strength of "Dynamic," this experiment without them definitely demonstrates how keenly their absence is felt.Their voices, stilted flows and super-simple rhyme schemes are amateur, just riding the line of being embarrassing. The rhymes are contrived, too, like, "what's this all about? I don't wanna shout. Who's the guy you're seeing, does he have clout?" Or, "only a fool would fall for that kind of trap. That's why I'm singing to you this rap." Admittedly, some of the guys are vocally stronger than others, but it's the catchy instrumental really saves them. And it helps that they went for a concept song rather than freestyles to show off their (lack of) skills.

Like the title suggests, it's about a girl named Kim (not to be confused with Biz Markie's thing) who they're sweating but who may not like them back. In other words, a Roxanne record, except this time she's named Kim. Except with no clever or amusing raps. This time the rhymes are entirely generic and the weight is carried by a Newcleus-y instrumental. But... that's not a terrible thing. It really does sound good, and the Roxanne concept certainly worked for a reason. I actually do rather like this record.

I do wonder how they came upon the name "Kim" for this record. Apart from being a single syllable name they can shout for the hook, it could be any girl's name. And The Dynamic Breakers already had a member named Kim. Kim-A-Kaze wasn't involved with either of the records, but she was a dancer with the crew who formed a smaller, spin-off group called the Dynamic Dolls, who had just appeared in Beat Street the year before. She also choreographed the famous break dance performance for Ronald Reagan. I don't think the song's actually meant to be about her (if so, there must be some fascinatingly tumultuous behind-the-scenes stories of her running around breaking all the guys' hearts), but there's a good chance they chose the name as a deliberate reference. I mean, you can't go around performing a song where you're constantly professing your love and desire for a girl named Kim and not make the connection that one of the people on stage with you is named Kim, right?

So yeah. After hearing this, it's not surprising that the Breakers' recording careers didn't continue. But, taken on its own, this single is actually quite enjoyable. And check back tomorrow for another interesting little off-shoot record that time forgot tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Duality of Z-Man

The Bay's Z-Man has dropped two new albums recently. One, The Opening Act, with producer Elon, is brand new. The other, California Brainwashed, isn't quite so new, it's actually dated 2013 on the artwork, but it's been hard enough to pin down that it's still pretty new to most of us. I was only able to get my hands on a copy this week, and you know me, I've been on the case. If I haven't been able to find it... unless you've been able to cop it from him at a show, I don't know how much hope you would've had.

Of course, we're talking CDs here, not vinyl; so maybe just downloading these off ITunes or wherever would be just as acceptable to you guys anyway. Personally, though, I held out for the CDs and I'm glad I did.  8)

So let's talk about 'em! First of all, it's important to say that both of these are raw, traditional Z-Man-style albums. They're what you think of when you think of Z-Man tapes. He's not paired up with a rock band or rhyming over electro club beats or chasing fads to sound like whatever any trendy Community fans are listening to this week. Z-man's been known to experiment pretty far out of the box, and I've enjoyed some of it (Motel Crew) more than others (One Block Radius); but this is Z perfectly in his lane, right where we want him, no more fucking around. Stylistically and instrumentally, these could almost blend into one giant, awesome double album. But there's something in the writing that keeps them fundamentally distinct.

"This ain't no mixtape!" is how California Brainwashed starts out, and that's pretty much its sole theme.It's a full, proper album; but it's just Z being Z. The full bravado on dolo with essentially no guests. On the anthemic "Entertainer," he answers hip-hop's age old question, "how can I move the crowd? Maybe by pullin' out an uzi that wasn't allowed!" There are a couple credited DJs on certain songs, but apart from an interesting scribble-scratch motif Quest lets loose with on "Courtesy of C.A.L.I.," there's not a lot of attention-getting scratching going on here either. The focus is solely on Z-Man talkin' his shit. Being from Cali, being more specifically from the Bay (as the track kicks in he shouts, "sounds like E-40 and the Click should be on this one, huh? But they not... couldn't afford 'em."), smoking weed and more, being hassled by the cops, playing girls and hanging with his boys. All over perfectly underground west coast beats.

The Opening Act, on the other hand, is full of introspection, honesty and self-doubt. As opposed to loudly declaring "this ain't no mixtape," Opening starts out with Z saying, "there's no one in my family who's doin' this except for I. Deep down inside they want me to quit, so I don't look like a... idiot, full grown adult with a kid's dream. No results but I've been doing this since I was fifteen!" Well, it starts that way after the opening skit. This album is full of skits, because it's also a bit of a concept album, following a little narrative of Z going on tour with a big shot, cornball named Short Neck. Z-Man is the titular opening act, and throughout the album he's suffering this indignation. On "Wack Flyers," he laments, "my music's right; at least I think so, but can't seem to catch a break. My voice is annoying; I made a mistake! God damn it, I'm in the wrong racket; I should be rich, instead of criticizing advertisements - who did this shit? Look at these graphics, this is backwards, this don't represent us!" And now, instead of playing girls, he asks himself challenging questions about maintaining an adult relationship while her career out-sails his own on "She's the DJ I'm the Rapper."

Now, this second album's specifically billed as Z-Man and Elon. And the result is that the production is a little more varied, the influences are broader. "American Newjack" has a strong "Chicks Pack Heat" feel to it, which is absolutely a good thing, and "Innercity Dreams" has some spacey keyboard riffs that definitely come out of left field. This album also features some guest MCs, including Luke Sick, Trunk Drank and Opio and Pep Love, which is interesting if you recall that Z-Man was briefly brought into the Hieroglyphics crew, but then briefly parted ways. That was ten years ago, and I believe this is their first reunion; but, no, they don't address it in the song.

Anyway, it would be going too far to say that California Brainwashed is all attitude and The Opening Act is all emo reflection. Both albums give you a full dose of Z. He has a song on the second album called "Bottle At Your Baby" where he raps, "you gonna give me loot when I ask. And no you cannot owe me; you do not know me; you owe me, you're honorin' my part, you're fuckin' phoney as fuck, I'll fuckin' throw this bottle that you gave me at your business partner and your lady holdin' your baby. We rollin' to the ATM so we can pull out gravy for me and my rellies." Shit, both albums have him transforming into The Gingerbread Man. I mean, that's a gimmick that intellectually you'd think should have been played out ten years ago. But just like Humpty Hump, he's just good enough at the cartoon-voiced character you keep you wanting to hear it again every time he drops a new album. But whatever your stance on it, it's definitely not him being meek and artsy.

So you should absolutely cop both CDs, you won't be disappointed by either. But how can you? Well, The Opening Act can be ordered easily enough through accesshiphop (and for under $10, too). But for California Brainwashed, I think the only thing you can do is contact Gurp City directly... and maybe they'll send you a paypal invoice or something? I don't know, but whatever little hoops you have to jump through, it'll be worth it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Glitch Tape Surprise

I thought I could give my tape player a rest after Demo Week, but apparently not quite yet. This is a brand new release from a group that's a brand new discovery to me. They're called Glitch Mouth, and this is ostensibly their first release. You can find older releases from them online, but they're now calling those demos and this their first official release.

Glitch Mouth is essentially a two-man group, consisting of producer Kid Presentable from Brooklyn and Murmur, an MC from Connecticut. There's also a third person down, the questionably named Sister Snowbunny, but she's only on a couple of songs (literally two), singing hooks and back-up. Don't get me wrong, she's got a great voice and actually sounds quite good when they pull her into the mix. But think of it this way: nobody ever listened to 36 Chambers and thought, the only way this album could possibly be better is if Mary J. Blige would pop in to sing a chorus every two and a half minutes! You know, the occasional sung hook can be a powerful thing, but too much dilutes the hip-hop. And these guys find just the right balance.

So what are Glitch Mouth like? Don't let their weirdo cover art here, or even the group's press photos online, mislead you. It's east coast hip-hop. Vocally, the one guy kinda sounds like Cadence with a really nice rhyme flow, but the Raw Produce comparisons definitely end there. Instrumentally they're pretty forward thinking, with a lot of varied samples and sounds woven together, and none of that jazzy vibe. It's more down the Prince Paul road, without much by way of recognizable samples, except for a recurring theme of soundbites from the old Richard Matheson film Last Man On Earth. And lyrically, they're actually pretty old school and straight forward. Not like Sugar Hill Gang old school, but like... Showbiz & AG? Yeah. If you imagine someone like that produced by Prince Paul, you're at least in the sonic ballpark.

Of course, that's some big names I'm comparing them to: Prince Paul, Wu-Tang, DITC, Mary J... I'm sure if they ever read this they'd think, wow, I'll take that! Well, look. I'm not putting these guys on those guys' level. .But I am saying these guys are good. And stylistically, they echo those greats... You know like MC Rell as compared to Rakim.

I think I can break it down better for y'all by going off on self-indulgent tangent. Maybe I'm cynical, but the impression I get reading most music reviews these days is that the writer listens to something once or several times, and then makes a decree not so much based on his or her own genuine reaction to the music, but more based on what he thinks people should feel about it. So, for example, they might watch a rapper's youtube video and say, "these guys are kind of breaking the mold, or at least mildly leaning against the envelope, and they have a good message - FIVE STARS!" But, then, for their own personal listening enjoyment, they'll never go back and listen to that song again. Like, when I say I love "Ain't No Half Steppin'," I mean I have played that song a million bajillion times over the years, I drive around playing it and rapping the lyrics along with it. And while I don't love every song I give props to on this blog to the same degree I love a real classic like "Ain't No Half Steppin'," I do want to say that if I say I like something on here, I like it more than in that hypothetical, disposable way that seems to be prevalent. That's why you don't see me getting hyped about a new kid every other week and then forgetting about them like so many other blogs... I'm talking about the shit I'm really listening to.

So, that was a long way to go to say this. I'd never heard of Glitch Mouth until I was hit off with this tape. But now I'm telling you this is good to the point where I will definitely be playing this tape more after I hit "Publish" on today's post. And I'm going to be googling around and checking out their older releases, too.

Only one song falls short for me: "Understanding." It's got an interesting enough sound - one of the base samples is a piano riff that reminds me of the Valentina theme song (which I like 'cause I'm a weirdo), and Snowbunny sounds great when they fade her up out of the background. But lyrically, it's a relationship song by somebody who doesn't sound mature enough to be writing relationship songs; so you get lines like, "I never could believe she'd be the one to do me greasy; I couldn't see the writing on the wall... in graffiti, sayin', 'leave, G.' You see, to me, she's even more dreamy than a genie." And seeing that written out, you might think that's not so bad for a silly, pop-rap kind of song like "Party Line" or something, but he's delivering it all in a tragic melancholy "Never Seen a Man Cry Until I Seen a Man Die" tone. But that song's the only weak link.

And yes, I do keep referring to this as a cassette tape. Naturally, it's available in the generic, digital way from all the usual sources. But there's also this limited edition cassette release, which not only features all the songs as the online version, but also has all the instrumentals exclusively on the B-side plus two more bonus instrumental songs. And it's only five bucks, so I seriously recommend heading over to their bandcamp and copping it before it becomes just another mp3-only release; I think you'll be surprised. I'm genuinely glad to have my copy.