Monday, March 30, 2015

Izniz Is Back With the Ill Behavior

So, having just gone through the elaborate history of Ghettolandz and The Madness, you might think that was the end of the story. But not quite. Producer Izniz has one more unreleased project getting resurrected: Ill Behavior. Ill Behavior is another group Izniz was a part of/ producer for, and unlike Ghettolandz and The Madness, they never had any records out. But with the interest in his work now generating from those other groups, he's putting Ill Behavior's lost demos out now, too, this time through Heavy Jewelz.

So Ill Behavior is a 3-man group with Izniz and two MCs: Homicide & Zoo Man Crash. Days Of Sin is a vinyl EP of demos recorded in 1994, which means it actually predates all those Ghettolandz and Madness records. This is the earliest and rawest material.

Heavy Jewelz points out how Wu-Tang inspired they are, and that's certainly hard to deny. But they don't sound like another Sunz of Man/ Killarmy spin-off group. They're just another very hardcore east coast indie hip-hop group. I don't see how they couldn't be inspired by 36 Chambers at that time, but they also lean a bit more to the Onyx side with their wild, grimy, sporadic shouting deliveries. But they're thankfully less cartoony than most of those Onyx knock-off types (nobody yells, "Captain Caaaaaaaveman!" although Zoo Man does come dangerously close to a "yabba dabba doo" at one point), and Izniz provides some really gritty but high quality production. Like, "Pushed Up," with banging drums and sparse horn samples and a subtle piano loop... If Onyx had production like that, they would've stayed popular through the late 90s.

Oh, except for the title cut "Days Of Sin." That totally sounds like a Wu spin-off group cut. Certainly the ODB-vocal sample in the background brings it home, but it totally sounds like a Wu-song anyway. The instrumental sounds like classic Wu, and I think they've even subtly shifted their delivery style to be a bit more Wu-like on this one. Oh, and "Assed Out" sounds like Homicide is channeling a little Meth. And that's not a criticism at all, they really capture everything that was great about vintage Wu without any of what bogs down modern Wu.

That includes brevity, which gives this EP a tighter feel. I mean, the three songs on side A combined are less than 10 minutes, and side B isn't much longer. They're in and out pretty fast, leaving you wanting more. If they could've cut Better Tomorrow down to this length, they might've had something there. Just sayin'.

So, like all Heavy Jewelz releases, this is a limited pressing, with 100 copies on white (white) vinyl, 100 on black, and 75 on a black and white split. It comes in a really awesome, black on black embossed cover, with raised letters. It looks very cool in person but unfortunately doesn't scan or photograph that well (look really closely at the picture above, though, and you can spot it). It also has something we rarely see even with these fancier limited runs, an inner sleeve with full, double0-sided artwork. Anybody who sees one of these in person is going to be impressed.

Still, if you're more of a CD/ cassette person, I have to point out that Cross Market has your back. They've released Days of Sin on both formats with an extra, seventh bonus track called "Who Wanna Do What," and it's another banger. Fortunately, Cross Market's prices are quite reasonable, so you could cop the vinyl EP and pick up a CD or cassette on the side just for the bonus track without feeling hard done by. Recommended if you like that raw, early 90's east coast street sound... and who doesn't?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Madness Over The Madness

It's time... no, it's past time that I talk about what's been going on with The Madness. The Madness is a group long known for releasing one rare and sought after "random rap" 12" in the 90s: "Sad Songs" on Royal Madness Records. It came in a sticker cover with one of the best logos for a hip-hop group ever. It's often been referred to as a NY 12", but the area code of the phone number on the label notes tells us they're actually from New Jersey. And thanks now to the internet, we actually know a whole lot more about them and their unreleased stuff has even been released on CD, vinyl and cassette in recent years. So let's dive in.

"Sad Songs" was Royal Madness's first 12", but not their only one. They also had a couple singles by a group called Ghettolandz, and if you read the label credits carefully, you noticed that they seemed to have a couple members in common. Well, the short version is that Ghettolandz is a 2-man group, consisting of the MC Naji and the producer/ DJ Izniz. Ghettolandz actually came out before The Madness, but on a different label: Ghettolandz Music. Then The Madness single came out, and then some more Ghettolandz joints, and that was it for their 90s releases.

So, essentially, Ghettolandz was the core, and The Madness was their extended posse. You know, like The UMCs and the Ill Demonic Clique, or a bajillion other examples. And the "Sad Songs" label wasn't too helpful telling us who all the other members were, but they did have a co-production credit for "Naji I God I Right," just like that with no breaks or punctuation. So it wasn't even clear, how those names broke down. Was "I God I Right" all one guy? Was Naji billing himself here as "Naji I?" There were a bunch of  possible combinations, but thanks to their reemergence on the internet, we now know line up is: Izniz, Naji, I God, Original Blackman, Shyheed, and I Right. Both songs here are produced by Izniz and written by Naji, I God and I Right.

To think, years ago I almost sold this record very cheap, and now it's a $250-300 record. I actually reviewed it for DWG years ago (with soundclips 'cause that's how those reviews went), and I think that may've been at least partially responsible for the revival of interest in their music. Sadly, DWG's reviews are no longer up, so I'll quote from it here:
This is exactly the kind of music you think of when you think rare, indie NY 12”s from the 90’s… rough, slow drums and a sparse piano loop; and hard, no frills rapping.  Think Shadez of Brooklyn meets Mobb Deep, minus the flash.  It’s got a simple but engaging hook, and each verse is another story of a young life gone wrong by a different member of Madness.  [Naji] starts things off:

“I was thirteen years old when I wanted Nintendo.
I asked my old earth and she said, ‘no.’
Her only excuse was you, ‘needed school clothes,
A roof over your head; you need to start settin’ goals.’
But I chose
To run the streets and skip school;
Shoot pool at the arcade, actin’ cool.”

This track only comes in a Radio Version and Instrumental, but it’s okay, since none of them seem to do any cursing here anyway.  The B-side, comes with a Radio Edit and LP Version (but no instrumental).

And that’s good ‘cause they curse a lot on the B-side, “Punishment.”  Where “Sad Songs” was a “concept song,” with a narrative and a message, “Punishment” is just each MC catching wreck.  The deep and thudding bassline stands out above all else, though there are a few atmospheric samples in the mix keeping things lively.
So, since that time, a lot has been going on with The Madness music. While they only released this one 12", apparently they had more in the vaults to release. Lost Records made a deal with them and released an EP called Undaneath The Sun, an EP which repressed the original 12" but also included three previously unreleased tracks recorded in the same time period, "Strictly Madness," "95 Was Live" and "So Many Suckas." They put it out on cassette and different colored vinyls... a really nice release.

Unfortunately, Lost Records got lost: not filling orders, not responding to customers, not responding to the artists... I've reviewed a couple of their releases, but unfortunately, they seem to be no more and there's a lot of bad business in their wake.

So, Izniz started his own label called The Cross Market and has released the material on vinyl, cassette and CD on his through their own bigcartel store. You can even get a special "Fuck You Ivan valuepack," which includes all three formats plus a hoodie.  ...Ivan is the guy who ran Lost Records.  And Izniz has taken things even further, also releasing more Ghettolandz material and a full length Madness LP called Rays Of the Sun.

Rays Of the Sun features all the songs on Undaneath the Sun, both the original "Sad Songs" cuts and the demo songs. Plus, it has six more vintage, unreleased Madness songs: "Imagine This," "Rain Storms," "Strictly Madness," "Remedy," "Intergalactic Tactics" and "Exposed To the Game." They released it on CD and cassette, both of which are still available as of this writing. They've also got some nice tees and hoodies with their logo, plus signed versions. The only downside? No Rays Of the Sun vinyl.

No vinyl until Chopped Herring jumped in. They've put out a six-song vinyl EP called Intergalactic Tactics 1995-1996, which features five of the songs from Rays Of the Sun, specifically: "Intergalactic Tactics, "Rain Storms," "Remedy," "Imagine This" and "95 Was Live." So that's one of the demo cuts from Undaneath the Sun and four of the exclusives from Rays. And, making it more exciting, the sixth song is another vintage Madness song that hasn't been featured on any of those past releases, "Won't Be Around This Year," based on the Craig Mack line.

It's worth pointing out, too, that Chopped Herring has also put out two vinyl EPs of the Ghettolandz material, called  Ghetto Conspiracy Vol. 1 & 2, to go alongside the Cross Market CD and cassette release of the Ghettolandz album, The Concrete Jungle '95.

So it's been a long, twisted journey, but The Madness's music is finally properly released, and available in every format you could ask for. Who could have predicted all of this would jump up after I reviewed that one, little random rap single those years ago?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cold Chillin' Terminators, part 2 - Toasting With MC Shan

So yesterday we looked at a couple Terminators from the very beginning of Cold Chillin'. Now today let's look at a Terminata from the last days, 1994. Not counting represses and those Traffic reissues, Cold Chillin' stopped putting out music in 1996, ending with singles by their last few hanger-onners, Big Scoob and Shanté. But 1994 was kind of the last year they had a broad roster, signed new artists and still generally seemed interesting in putting out a variety of artists like a legit label. All their big Juice Crew artists had moved on, but '94 was still the year of The Genius, King Sun and Madame Starr. Essentially, it was the last year they were trying new things. And that included the first and last single by Terminata, "Get Bizi."

So most people probably have no idea who he is by this point, however Terminata wasn't a complete nobody, and in fact had worked with Cold Chillin' before. You might remember a short lived subsidiary Cold Chillin' started in 1992 (and ended in 1993) called Livin' Large Records. And one of the artists they signed to that imprint was YZ, making his post-Tuff City comeback. He'd changed his style drastically, but it was actually a really hot album. Instead of the smooth, calm flow over the more melodic Tony D production, he came back rough and ragga over some really phat, hardcore instrumentals. And the first big single off that comeback album was the song about his comeback, 1992's "The Return Of the Holy One." And if you look at the credits on that 12", the Fonta Leaf Splif Mix says it's featuring Terminator. In fact, he can be heard on the Original Flavor/ album version, too. And yep, that Terminator is the "Get Bizi" Terminata.

So, if you remember "The Return Of the Holy One," you might be saying to yourself: I thought YZ was the only guy rapping on that track. And you'd be right, and he's also the guy saying, "it's the return of the holy one, return of the holy one" over and over on the hook. But the guy doing the rugged ragga chatting in the background? That's Terminata.

And so yes, "Get Bizi" is more of a reggae record than a rappity-rap one. But it's definitely meant to fit into that mid-90s hip-hop/reggae blend that was going on. He even got an American rapper, and Juice Crew All Star, to produce and write the music for him: MC Shan. Shan had also put a couple singles out on that Livin' Large imprint - good ones, too - and was surely feeling confident making a reggae record after he turned "Informer" into one of the highest charting reggae hits since Bob Marley in 1992.

But "Get Bizi" was never going to be a big hit, and not just because Terminata wasn't as white as Snow. It's basically just really simple and repetitive. It's got a funky, old school reggae bassline and Terminata's voice sounds great once the the NY hip-hop drums kick in. But musically it's very understated and when you try to get into it, there's actually very little to the song. He has some short verses, but the hook is like 75% of the songs, where he just keeps saying "_____ get bizi 'pon the flex." It doesn't help that his verses are mixed pretty low, but I really think this was meant more as to be just a quick something for DJs rather than a song to blow up. Like a modern day "Shake It To the 61st," where they expect a DJ to just sample the line that applies to them, so like a New York DJ would cut up "New York posse get busy," and a west coast DJ could cut up "LA posse get busy," or just let the rest of the unassuming song play as filler. That probably explains why the only other version on this 12" is the Acappella.

The B-side, "Sex" is a little more of a full, lush song. It's got very New York hip-hop drums with another old school reggae-style bassline, though this time it's less prominent, played under some screechy horn samples and stuff more reminiscent of the YZ stuff. But it's still bouncier and more reggaeish than that album. If you're a fan of hip-hop styled reggae from this era, I'd say "Sex" holds up pretty well alongside the stuff that was actually getting the airplay in 1994. Again, it would never be another "Informer," but if it hadn't been buried as the B-side to a completely obscure, un-promoted 12", I think it would've gotten some spins.

I mean, personally, I would've liked it a lot better if it had a verse or two from YZ or Shan, but I'm admittedly a total hip-hop guy who listens to rap pretty exclusively. Still, though, I think this record would've lasted, at least in knowledgeable hip-hop circles, if it had a credible rapper or several alongside Terminata. I mean, lyrically, he's not saying anything anyway, just "champgagne-ah, that's what I sip." So there's definitely room to cut some of his stuff and get some names on there. But oh well.

Like The Terminators' record, Terminata's "Get Bizi" is more of an interesting detail in Cold Chillin's history than a great, must have record. But his story doesn't end here. Terminata still performs under then name of Terminator Six, and before I end this post, I think it would be interesting to take a quick look at his press bio (which can be found here, here and here), since it has a few interesting claims, including:

"Terminator Six is the first Reggae entertainer to sing a duet with a Rapper." and "the first to connect Reggae Artists and Rappers together." Well, that doesn't seem right; but let's see... Shabba Ranks' duet with Krs-One was 1992, the same year YZ and Terminator came out. So maybe Terminata was first. Super Cat with Heavy D was '92, Likkle Wicked and 2 Live Crew was '93. He did seem to be at the forefront of the trend. I mean, certainly hip-hop and reggae had blended earlier, if you think of guys like Daddy Freddy, or Shinehead being produced by Jam Master Jay. Or guys like Special Ed doing little reggae songs on their albums. But a reggae artist with a rapper? Well, Sly & Robbie's BDP album dropped in 1989, but I guess you could say they only did the music... Oh, Third World did "Forbidden Love" with Daddy-O in 1989. That's one, and it was a big single even. So yeah, no. I knew that couldn't stand up to scrutiny. Oh and wait, that Shabba Ranks/ Krs single came out in 1992, but it was already on the album which dropped in 1991.

"Terminator became the newest member of the Juice Crew which consisted of Big Daddy Kane, Biz Marke, Kool G Rap, Mc Shan." Well, he did sign to Cold Chillin', but so did plenty of non-Juice Crew artists, like Kid Capri and Too Bad To Be True. Who decides who isn't an official Juice Crew member? Marley Marl? I could see Shan telling him "you're official Juice Crew now," though.

"The Return of the Holy One by Terminator & YZ was released & Terminator was only 9 years old." Wow. So that guy in the video was only nine years old? Or somebody else was lip-syncing to his voice? He sure doesn't sound like a kid on that song...

"Terminator wrote Shabba Ranks first Grammy album for Epic records" and "Terminator Six is the Ghostwriter for Shabba Ranks first Grammy Album (Epic), Terminator Six is also responsible for connecting Shabba Ranks and KRS1 Boogie Down Productions." When he was eight?! Shabba's first Grammy was for as Raw As Ever, which dropped in 1991, a year before "The Return Of the Holy One," which we just read dropped when he was nine. So, yeah. I don't think so.

"Terminator Six is the creator of the Hip Hop Reggae Fusion," and "Terminator Six is responsible for connecting Notorious B.I.G.(Biggie Smalls) with Super Cat and enforcing the launch of P.Diddy (Puff Daddy) Bad Boy Entertainment." Oh man, I'm done. I don't even know what "enforcing the launch" means, but I think we can safely say some embellishing has been done here. I'd be interested to find out the exact 100% truth of all that. You know, I bet he meant 19 instead of 9; so it may not be a total pack of insane lies. haha

Anyway, I bet most of you guys didn't even know the Terminator from YZ's song had his own record. And he was on Cold Chillin'! Pretty interesting, huh?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cold Chillin' Terminators, part 1 - Dissing Run DMC

"We're walking tall and we're called The Terminators" is a memorable line from Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's classic "It's a Demo" in part because of G Rap's ill delivery, but also partially because, as far as anybody knew, they weren't called The Terminators. I mean, you could probably take it as simply a general reference to being so bad ass that people consider them to be like Schwarzenegger's robotic hitman character from the 1984 film. And the fact that the line could be taken that way is probably by G Rap left the line in there, sort of like a subliminal diss, but not a diss. Because the line is actually a reference to something more. It's about DJ Polo's first group, The Terminators.

The Terminators had one record, "Forever Dis" in 1986 on Snowflake Records. My copy here is a 2004 repress. You can tell 'em apart 'cause on the original label the big "Snowflake" is written in blue, not white. Anyway, Snowflake Records was a division of Prism, which of course carried all the early Juice Crew records and changed its name to Cold Chillin' Records a couple years later.

The group was really just a duo, like Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, except the MC was Polo's old partner, Frost. I got to ask G Rap how Polo made the switch and why he cited their name on "It's a Demo" in my 2011 interview, "Polo and Frost started together first. They were the team first, before I even got in the picture with Polo. Once I got in the picture, to my understanding, Frost was having differences with Polo. Because Polo wanted to do promotional stuff that Frost didn’t necessarily want to do… things they weren’t getting paid for. So when me and Polo linked up, I was for anything to accomplish my dream. Whether it was something we gotta do for promotion, get ourselves out there or get paid, it didn’t matter to me. I was gonna do it because I was hungry and I wanted it that bad, because I knew what I was capable of doing poetically. When I mention Terminators, it was out of respect for the name Polo had before I even got into the picture. If you notice, I didn’t really use that name anymore other than just using it as a punch line or a metaphor. But I did not affiliate myself and Polo as the Terminators after that. The first time I did it was just out of respect, like, this is your thing you got going before I even got into the picture, I’ma wave that flag."

So how is the actual record? I mean, you could probably predict that Frost isn't the amazing innovator that G Rap turned out to me - almost nobody could be expected to play on that level. But how does it compare to most other '86 rap records, and who are they dissing on "Forever Dis?"

Well, you already know from the title of this blog that they went after Run DMC. Nothing subliminal here, it's a very straight forward attack. It's not clear what their beef with them comes from - quite possibly they just went at them to make a name for themselves - but it's perfectly evident Frost doesn't like 'em:

"You may think I'm cruel, but that's okay;
I've got a job to do, so let me earn my pay.
Run DMC, somebody really don't like
The way you MCs be yellin' on the mic.
Both of you are crazy, you've flown the coup.
Wearin' all this sayin' that you're souped.
Now that I say it, it wasn't real groovy

When I saw your face when I went to the movies!
You think you've got something to prove?

The name of the movie was Krush Groove."

The entire song from first to last is very specifically going at Run DMC.  But you might've gotten the feeling, reading the above sample, that the rhymes are a little stilted. They are, and Frost's deliberate, plodding delivery doesn't help. The beat is okay, it's pretty hard and stripped down, but it's a bad match for Frost's style, and Polo doesn't really do much. There isn't really any actual scratching, they've just got "Pee Wee's Dance" vocal sample, "get busy" on a sampler and play it at different pitches. You know, like "(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin'" and all those 80s songs.

Overall, the song's okay. The beat's too simple, but at least it's hard. It's really just the fact that they're dissing Run DMC that anybody would go back and revisit it.

There is a B-side, though, which is a little more lively. Simply titled "Polo," this one actually features some scratching. It's a little rudimentary, but of course it's from '86. They also stutter a sample like on the last song, this time just Frost saying "Polo." It's a similar, hardcore big drum machine beat with horn stabs, and Frost raps about how great his DJ is. Well, except for the last verse, where he digresses to tell us how stylish his girlfriend is, "she'll put you in a trance, make you do a stupid dance. Make you act like a fool, make you wanna go to school seven days a week, ooh the girl is so sweet." The song concludes with somebody doing a cheesy Mexican accent playing the part of Jose, a promoter looking for the great DJ Polo.

Neither song is that great, but they're listenable enough. Both instrumentals are also included on the vinyl, though I doubt many heads would be picking up the wax for those. Their historic value is certainly the most compelling aspect of these songs, and in that regard, they certainly satisfy a lot of curiosity.  Come back tomorrow for another nearly forgotten Cold Chillin' Terminator.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Watch My Moves... 1999?

So last year, I wrote a pretty extensive post about Dooley-O's classic "Watch My Moves," which debuted on radio in 1990 but didn't make it to wax until Stones Throw rescued it in 2002. With his DJ/co-producer Chris Lowe, he introduced the world to the Skull Snaps break from "It's a New Day," which they later retooled for Stezo's "To the Max." And I also talked about how a duo named CKO and Sta-La-Fro made a knock off of it, with the help of the late Paul C! It's a pretty compelling saga... which seems to have one more important vinyl installment yet to come, but more on that later in the year.

In the meantime, I'd like to talk about another obscure little chapter in the story that I didn't mention. See, before Stones Throw helped kick start Dooley-O's comeback in the 2000s with that "Watch My Moves" 12", Chris Lowe had already started mounting a little comeback of his own. In the late 90s, he started releasing indie 12" singles on Bronx Science Recordings. His second 12" was a collaboration with Large Professor and his third featured Sadat X and Dinco D. But his first was a bit of a quieter release, since it didn't have any big name guest stars on it. It was just a little song called "The Non Stop." Oh, and there was a B-side called "Watch My Moves."

I guess I'll cover "The Non Stop" real quick first, though of course it's the B-side that raised the big red question mark. Well, it's got a big, chunky bass line with a slow vibe over hard boom bap drums. And yes, Chris raps on this. He wrote and produced it; it's a total solo effort. And he's not bad, pretty equivalent to, say, Diamond D in terms of producers who rap. He's got a pretty tough voice and a simple flow. The rhymes are pretty basic braggadocio stuff about how he's going to "produce a track and make a killin'." It's a pretty nice little cut with a cool, throwback hook to the golden era, "we gonna rock... to the non-stop." There's even a line in the first verse where he says, "don't watch me, watch my moves."

Yeah, so that just really makes you flip this over already. And, well, "Watch My Moves" absolutely does not feature the same original instrumental loop, but the actual, underlying drums sound like the same Skull Snaps' ones, just slowed down a bit. It's another hard but slow funk track, on some EPMD type shit, with a neat horn riff on the hook. And it's Chris Lowe rapping again, not Dooley, although he does mention him, saying, "you ain't got nothin' comin' against Dooley-O and Chris Lowe." But the hook, yes, is "don't watch me, watch my moves." In fact... all the lyrics are from "Watch My Moves 1990." It's a total, word-for-word cover. Well, almost total. Instead of starting off verse 2 with, "yes, another KGB production," he says, "yes, another Chris Lowe production." And he's got a slower, less dexterous flow than Dooley, which along with the totally different samples gives this song a totally different feel. I wouldn't be surprised if some heads heard this and never made the connection to the original, if they hadn't heard it in almost a decade. It really does feel like the EPMD remake of "Watch My Moves."It's pretty cool, but not on the same level as the original.

It basically just has me wondering why he made this new version, instead of just spitting some new verses and making it an entirely new, different song. I mean, in 1999 the song hadn't been released by Stones Throw yet, so I'm sure he and Dooley both thought of the original as a totally lost, unreleased song. So maybe the idea was just to recycle a good hook and set of rhymes? Maybe it's meant to be an in-joke for the few CT heads who would recognize it. The label just says it's written and produced by Lowe, although Dooley High Music ASCAP is listed, while it's not on the A-side.

At any rate, it's an interesting, fairly obscure but not at all rare 12". The instrumentals for both songs are also included, and it led to a many more releases by Chris, including two full-length albums. A curious and funky footnote.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

How To Write the Concise Guide To Rap

The Concise Guide To Hip-Hop Music is the latest book by Paul Edwards, the How To Rap guy. I missed How To Rap 2, but I'm glad to see him broaden himself up topically this time around. Even the original How To Rap didn't seem like a particularly useful tool for aspiring artists to learn how to rap; but it worked fine as an enjoyable collection of hip-hop anecdotes by a nice variety of hip-hop artists. And this book is the same as the other books in the sense of its form and style... the book is a collection of individual paragraphs transcribed from interviews with tons of hip-hop artists. And that's still a very entertaining way to structure a hip-hop book.

But now it's no longer constrained by having to act like a tutorial. Being simply a "guide" to "hip-hop music," pretty much anything any of these artists has to say on the genre fits in perfectly. The book is divided into three general categories: Hip-Hop 101, Influencers (where artists talk about each other), and Hip-Hop History. All those subjects are nice and vague, so anything interesting anyone had to say could be worked in. And those categories are broken up into lots of shorter sub-categories, like Diversity, Lack of Innovation and Experimentation or Debunking Hip-Hop Myths (although a bunch of the book's "myths" and "facts" seem to be just very subjective opinion). Some of these are as short as a single page. But that's fine, because I don't think we want to read long diatribes on subjects like these, we just want to visit them for as long as our favorite artists have something interesting to say about them and then move on; and that's what we're given.

And by favorite artists, I'm not even going to try to list everybody quoted in this book. It's a lot. Old school, new school, east coast, west, indie, major. I'll just list some at random to give you an idea: Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, Domino, Brother J, Tech N9ne, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Prince Paul, Kool G Rap, Rah Digga, MC Serch, Bill Adler, Charlie Ahearn, Mannie Fresh, CJ Moore, Doug E Fresh, Coke La Rock... It's a really impressive and seemingly endless line-up. But it's not all the artists' words. Edwards gets in here to introduce every topic, and generally be the glue between rappers' thoughts to turn the book into a more cohesive read. It's handy and well-written if you don't know much about the topic and very easy to skip if you do.

Some of the artists quotes are very short and only loosely fit the category they're in. For example, there's two and a half pages dedicated to Drum Machines. Q-Tip's full contribution under this heading is as follows, "[On the song "Excursions,"] I put a reverse [Roland TR-] 808 behind it, right before the beat actually kicks in." That's it; that's the whole thing, in and out. The section starts with a couple introductory paragraphs explaining what drum machines are by Edwards, and then quotes by Kurtis Mantronik, Schoolly D, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, and then that Q-Tip quote. As any kind of overview or or text on drum machines, I guess you could say it fails; but I think that's just because, like How To Rap, this book still isn't quite what it pretends to be. As just an interesting collection of thoughts and tidbits about drum machines by some great hip-hop artists, it works perfectly fine. That's this book in a nutshell.

This Guide delivers on being concise, too. It's noticeably shorter and even a little bit smaller than How To Rap. Especially when you consider the last 49 pages are "Notes" and the index [How To Rap was like 35% index, too, as I recall], and that every page is full of headings, subtitles, and line breaks between every artist's quote. It's a very breezy read. And even so, it's hard to resist skipping around, finding your favorite artists or the most interesting sounding topics rather than reading from start to finish. But that's fine; I'm sure the author knew that's how most of us would approach the book, and it works perfectly. The press info for this guide calls it "the first book of its kind," which I think is pretty misleading. Apart from the title switcharoo, it's really the third book of its very specific kind. But that's cool, because the first left us wanting more, and this book delivers exactly what we wanted - even if it's not exactly what it claims to deliver - and in a slightly freer and more rewarding manner. An entertaining book for anybody interested in hip-hop music, not just aspiring rappers. Sign me up for #4.