Monday, January 26, 2015

Sweet Tee's Bad Girl Posse

The Poizon Posse is a group that was just on the periphery of my radar back in '93. I'm sure I saw ads in The Source and their tape in the stores, but I always just passed over and ignored 'em because they looked corny and irrelevant. But as it turns out, they were actually corny and relevant! The Poizon Posse was an all girl rap group signed to Chemistry/Mercury Records for one album. Not quite so young that I'd call them a kiddie rap act like Kriss Kross or Another Bad Creation, but I guess they're pretty close. Maybe like da Youngstas, but by the time of their third or fourth album when they got taller.

So who cares, right? I didn't. But then I came across this 12" for 75 cents, And I thought for that price, I'll willingly get burned on a wack record just for the learning experience. I mean, hey, it's got a picture cover. I've made worse Hip-Hop buying decisions.

So "This Is It, Y'all" is their one single off of their one album, Stompin'.  And I guess there's no reason in trying to draw out any suspense because it's in the post's title, but it turns out this is actually Sweet Tee's band of proteges. She wrote, she produced, she mixed... I think it's safe to assume she managed them. She's even their stylist. I mean, she officially gets billed that way on the back cover credits, meaning Mercury probably cut her a check for that, too.  So I think Sweet Tee did alright on this project even if it didn't float commercially.

Now, Sweet Tee isn't an actual member of the group. The official line-up is: Ro Ro, Aishah*, Lisa Lisa (obviously not the Cult Jam one) and Keisha. But Tee does rap with them on this introductory track, to bring in her fans to this group. She also featured on another track or two on the full album, and the very first words on the A-side are Sweet Tee saying, "Sweet Tee;" so they're definitely not downplaying it. She's posing with the group on the picture cover. If they'd gone that one extra step and labeled the album: The Poizon Posse featuring Sweet Tee, I'm sure I would've bought it in '93, but there it is. I'm not regretful or anything; I'm not writing this post to tell you it's some kind of slept on masterpiece.

The production is at least nice and hardcore. It doesn't have any stand-out samples (though it's cool when "UFO" fades into it later in the song), so it's no must-have track, but it'll get your head nodding. Where they come up short is lyrically. The point of the song is just to introduce themselves, so there's no real concept for them to follow other than "make sure you get your name in the track as much as possible," which they do. But otherwise they have literally nothing to say, and they don't say anything in a clever or interesting way. Except Aisha's verse is kinda cool; but that comes towards the end - too little, too late.

And they all sound alike. Granted. the Wu-Tang Clan (who pretty much came out the same way in the same year, after all) occasionally took things to cartoonish extremes in establishing their individual personalities. So I'm happy to see other groups dial that down a few (thousand) notches. But these girls take it too far, where they're completely indistinguishable and you can't even tell that they've passed the mic except that they're calling themselves by a different name. Two of them also look a lot like Sweet Tee (and they have the same haircuts!), so I wonder if they're related.

On the other hand, at least none of them say anything stupid or embarrassing (hey, you can't say that for many of today's young rappers) and it's kinda cool to see Sweet Tee make the transition from "Let's Dance" to the early 90's hardcore vibe. Combine that with a decent track and it's a pretty respectable listen if your don't hold your standards too high.

After "This Is It, Y'all" comes "This Is Really It," a 12" exclusive not on the album. It's not really a whole other song with a similar title, but a remix. Lyrically it's all the same, and the instrumental has a lot of the same elements, but it's more broken down, has a funkier bassline and a few extra samples... even some understated live guitar. simply put: it's better, and I really don't understand why they didn't just discard "This Is It, Y'all" and make this the version for the album, video, etc. It's not that different, it's just a cooler, catchier variation of the same song.

Finally you get both instrumentals and the album's title track "Stompin'." That one's got some nice scratching on it, by someone named Boo the Barber (who's apparently still around). But once the distinctive "Misdemeanor" sample kicks in and you realize it's the same beat as The D.O.C.'s "Funky Enough," chopped the exact same way, it just makes you realize you're listening to a drastically inferior "Funky Enough." If you'd never heard "Funky Enough" before hearing this, you'd probably enjoy this more. It's at least highly energetic with near constant cutting behind all the verses, and this time the MCs are saying more than just their names on repeat. One of them tells the story of going to court after beating up another woman in a playground, and one of the others talks about how she owns a laundromat and is also a runner who could have gone to the Olympics, but she chose to "kick phat rhymes on beats" instead. I have to admit, I didn't expect them to suddenly get this interesting so late in the single.

This record is definitely of its time, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. But it's got some elements, at least, that work - maybe they're not quite as corny as my first impression. The Posse might've actually been a little stronger if they didn't have a major label behind them. But if you're interested in Hip-Hop history, this is a record you should at least check out once. I wonder what their story is... All I know is that Keisha also appeared on this record (not the infamous posse cut remix, but the regular one).

*And I guess they were well aware that people like me would be making the ABC connection, because when it's time to say her name, the other girls sing it in the background in the key and style of "Iesha."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When Sly and Robbie Met BDP

In 1989, we saw a new side of Boogie Down Productions when Krs-One teamed up with Sly and Robbie to collaborate on their twentieth or so album, Silent Assassin. I don't mean reggae-influenced instrumentation or ragamuffin vocal stylings Krs sometimes broke off into... he'd already been doing that before this album. No, what we saw were some of the other members of the crew we barely knew. Like, name some BDP members besides Krs: Scott La Rock of course, D-Nice, Ms. Melodie... Kenny Parker... Did you say Willie D or Shah of Brooklyn? I think it's safe to say the only people who might've are the people who had this album.

I know hip-hop; I don't know other genres of music. But even I knew Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare were big. They've won Grammies and shit. And they're known for innovating and pulling reggae forward into each new decade. And so it made since that they would take the dive into hip-hop in the 80s, bringing in Krs-One to produce their entire album and getting American rappers on every single song.

Anyway, just look at that great album cover. Sly and Robbie (and... is that Sidney Mills?) up front and Krs reaching up out of the smoke behind them. This is no token "let's get a guest rapper on a song" thing, this is a real blending of their styles. Krs produced every single song on here, and (unfortunately) Sly & Robbie have no other record like this.

The big single was "Dance Hall." I just remember Yo! MTV Raps playing this every single day without fail. You had BDP stomping through the streets of Jamaica in full 80's American rapper gear. They're not trying to show how reggae they can look or sound here (as, again, BDP had done a couple of times in the past). They're in full-on New York rap crew mode. Meanwhile Sly & Robbie are jamming a very hip-hop sounding instrumental with a fast, funky bassline, popping drums and killer horn stabs. And on the mic is Willie D doing actually fairly average party rhymes. Yeah, this isn't the kind of song where it's rewarding to sit and contemplate the lyrics; but he sounds great over a brilliant instrumental. And on the album the song runs almost twice as long, letting each of the instrumental elements break out for solos and come alive to show that they're not just programmed sound-bites.

The only programmed sound-bite, really, is the hook, where they've got the one line ("just dance, y'all, to this dance hall beat") on a sampler so they can keep repeating it, stuttering it and changing the pitch. The 80s kinda got enamored with the technology, as you do, and went overboard with that production technique; but I think the pendulum has swung too far since then to where nobody ever uses it anymore and I miss it. If you want to discuss the current rap generation and if this is a good or bad time for hip-hop, just check and see if they've got any records like "Dance Hall." Nope. They're missing out.

The rest of the LP isn't necessarily as strong as the single. It's up and down and we'll get into all those peaks and valleys in a minute. But one cool thing is that it isn't an album trying to be eleven or twelve "Dance Halls." The album is more varied and often darker, more street and serious. More like a BDP album.

So WIllie D has one other song on here... And no, I don't care what discogs connects; this is not the guy from the Geto Boys. This song, "Ride the Riddim" doesn't actually sound reggae at all. Willie's just kicking freestyle rhymes over a sparse drum track with a little DJ cutting in the background and some electric, guitar riffs. Sort of like a softer version of "Ya Slippin'." You'd never think it was from a Sly and Robbie record, but it's presumably Sly behind those funky drums.

There are a couple of non-BDP members on hand as well. Queen Latifah does a nice little duet with Krs called "Woman for the Job" where she both raps and sings her own hook. Krs doesn't actually rap proper verses on it, but he does ad-libs and back-up vocals all over the joint. In fact, he does that all over this album. He's actually only properly featured as the lead MC on one song, "Party Together" (which, yes, is a rap/sing-songy track where they cover the tune of the original 60's song "Happy together" - or, as my generation knew it, the theme song to Golden Grahams cereal). Everything else is just him tagging p the album to make sure you know it's his project.

So, anyway, Queen Latifah is one, and Young MC is the other. Hey, it was 1989 and I guess they really wanted him, but they shouldn't have bothered. The instrumental to "Under Arrest" is surprisingly R&Bish, with Young rapping in full "Principal's Office" style. It's alright if you're in the mood for a pop rap tune; the hook's catchy and even though it's simple and superficial, there is a message to it. But it sure sounds out of place surrounded by the Boogie Down. And "Living a Lie" is even worse.

So, tallying it up so far, that's two Willie D songs, one Latifah, one Krs and two Young MCs. That leaves five more songs, or eight if you have the CD version with three additional bonus tracks, all of which are fronted by Shah of Brooklyn. Yeah, this obscure BDP guy who I don't think has ever rapped on any of the BDP albums or anything else, has the majority of this album all to himself. You could practically replace Sly & Robbie's names with Shah's and no one would blink.

And how is he? Pretty dope. He's obviously replicating a lot of Krs-One's flows and mannerisms, but that's not a bad thing at all. He sounds a little younger and his voice isn't as deep. He's like a Krs-One junior, or "Krs-Two" from "Poetry." He's pretty good, and he's rapping over BDP records with Sly & Robbie adding extra instrumentation. It's kind of hard to lose. Like I said, there are a few valleys. "Adventures Of a Bullet" is a great concept for a song (years before Organized Konfusion's "Stray Bullet"). The lyrics kill on paper. But the style of delivery they go for is like a weird, jazzy thing that just doesn't work. "Steppin'" is cool, but it sounds like he should've passed the mic to Kris who could've done it better. And "Letter To the President" is on some corny, sappy "We Are the World" sung bullshit.

"Man On a Mission," is a little poppier than your typical BDP album, like maybe they had younger audiences in mind. But it's still pretty fresh. It's a really good overall album, in fact. The CD version especially, because it actually features most of Shah's strongest tracks. "Come Again" is tight, with loads of funky scratching, too. It really has me wondering about Shah Barrett... who is he, where did he go? Why didn't he ever get a project, even a single 12" of his own after this huge, major label showcase? After listening to tracks like "No One Can Top This Boy," I just think yo, this guy could've made a good album. I would've bought it.

Well, regardless, this is still a pretty great lightning in a bottle-style moment for hip-hop. Yeah, there's one or two tracks that should've been dropped. But especially if you get the CD version which adds a lot more raw BDP flavor, it's great. I used to regret that Sly & Robbie didn't try another album like this, but I guess it doesn't matter as Krs-One didn't miss a step and kept putting out great music at a steady pace. But yeah, man. If you somehow missed this, don't sleep on the Silent Assassin.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Our First Father MC Of the New Year!

It's the second week of January, and I haven't posted about Father MC yet - what is wrong with me? It's time to correct that right now. And if you'll indulge me, I'd like to start by making something clear.

I don't like, or pretend to like, Father MC ironically. I know we have our fun on this blog; but do you really think I'd have all these Father MC records in my collection if I didn't actually want to hear them? The guy has definitely made some questionable decisions in his music career, and some of his records definitely aren't as strong as others... and I admittedly do find pleasure in tracing many obscure, indie releases of his later output above and beyond the amount I'd enjoy most of them musically on their own. There are a few indie 12"s I would certainly have skipped if the whole process of diving in and collecting wasn't appealing to me. As pleased as I was when I finally found a copy, I don't think I'd recommend "We Got Doe" to anybody, ever. But he would have never gotten on my list in the first place if I didn't sincerely like some of his music, and if you go back to his best records, I don't think you can deny he's both a talented guy: both a capable rapper and with a good ear for music to make some quite enjoyable records.
This particular single really surprised me back in the day. Father MC had just worn out his welcome at Uptown Records in 1994. And usually when rappers were dropped, that was the last you ever heard of them... Especially when you lived in suburban New Jersey and not necessarily hip to independently pressed 12" singles you might come across in the cities. I spotted this 1995 Moja Entertainment cassingle in the malls of central Jersey and snapped it up unheard.
It was also nice to see that Father had added the MC back to his name. Following in the footsteps of Hammer after he'd already been branded a sell-out pop star by removing the most hip-hop part of your name didn't seem like a good look back in the 90s. Nowadays, no one would care. But seeing the MC back suggested maybe he was returning to his hip-hop roots a little.
That doesn't actually come across in this song at all. But what does come across, which was just as if not more welcome, is the gentle, even romantic tone of the song. Father had gone from a guy who rapped about love and directing a lot of his songs to the ladies in the audience, to a pimp character whose last couple singles were about his beeper and 69ing. I wouldn't presume to know which, if either of the two, was closer to the real Tim Brown in his heart of hearts; but it felt a lot at the time like he was changing who he was to follow the clichés, and therefore the dollars, of the industry.
"Hey... How Ya Doin'" is "meant for the brothers who have a special someone in their life who likes to hear when they say, 'hey, how ya doin'?" That's sweet. It's like the nicest song Father had ever done, and it's also a catchy, appealing concept for a popular song. Sure, he wasn't exactly going to win over Necro fans with this material, but it's what a lot of Father's fans were waiting to here.
Unfortunately, the production (by two guys named Fabian Ashe and Mark "I.Q." Adlam) is low budget; so it was never going to really pop even if Moja had the power to compete with the majors. It's a decent, piano-y R&B-style track, with a little bit of that G-funky slide whistle effect. It's got another female singer, credited only as Jodi, belting her heart out on the hook; but she's actually kinda low in the mix because there's a simpler, male part of the chorus which is a lot catchier. But the whole thing sounds pretty generic and is really lacking a strong sample to kick it properly into gear.
This single wound up leading to the album This Is 4 the Players later that year. It's got Radio and Club mixes which are practically indistinguishable, as well as Dub, Instrumental and Acapella Mixes. This was a nice little surprise for Father MC fans - Father brought the goods this time around. But his team didn't have the production power to turn it into a hit, so your average listener will probably just find it kinda boring. I was just happy to see Father back in stores... unironically.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A New Release for a New Year

After dropping his debut full-length LP earlier this year, Whirlwind D is back with a brand new single. ...Not from the album, but two new cuts. Still on B-Line Recordings, D has a nice, little 7" single, pressed on white (white) vinyl in a cool picture cover and limited to 250 copies. And there is no mp3 download or streaming alternative this time - it's vinyl or nothin', kids.

The A-side is "Time Waits for No Man," produced by Phil Wilks, the guy who did the "Star" refix on his last album, and features some especially nice cutting Specifik. D always has the best scratching on his records; I love it. The track's a great blend of funky percussion, a cool, headnodder bassline and a fresh 80s-style stuttering guitar riff. And the cuts. They mostly come in for the hook, switching between a few, fun time-related vocal samples; but they really blend into the instrumental nicely. They're an integral part of the track, not just a DJ getting busy over a beat. And lyrically, the song's got an appealing - if a little self-helpy - message with a nice, off-bar rhyme scheme: "Time to/ Make a plan, look around and scan/ Your peers, woman to man, every single damn/ Detail. Never fail to cover your trail/ In search of life's treasures and the holy grail." And it's hard not to notice, again, falling nicely into the "grown man rap" niche.

Comparatively, the B-side, "One, Two," is more of a casual, back-and-forth freestyle song with Rola (of the Numskullz), who also produces. Once again, Specifik provides cuts, this time saved for the end. It's fun, with a funky, slow beat and breezy punchlines (although I'm not sure what it means to "glow like Eddie Deezen?"). But the A-side's the one you're going to latch onto; this one's more like filler. Enjoyable, high quality filler, but still filler.

You can't argue with the price; just £6 direct from B-Line. You can hear sound clips here and judge for yourself. The presentation's great; and it's hard to deny he's got a good sound.