Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sorting Out Our Scientific Shabazzes

Back at the very beginning of the year, you may've noticed Chopped Herring released a Shabazz the Disciple record called Lidushopahorraz: The Unreleased 90s EP. And you may've been a bit puzzled that a lot of the titles on it seemed pretty familiar. I didn't cop it right away, because I wanted to see if someone online would break down what was what here before I made a purchasing decision. And then I remembered that was my job.  :P

I didn't get it until I heard the title track, but the name of this EP, Lidushopahorraz, is an alternate spelling of "Little Shop of Horrors." And "Little Shop of Horrors" was the last song on his old EP with Supreme Kourt in 1998. What are the odds it's the same song? "I'm Breathing for You" also seems to match up with "Breathing for You" off that EP. "Organized Rime" and "Crime Saga" are familiar songs. Weren't they on that album The Vault? Or The Becoming Of the Disciple? Or The Book of Shabazz? Or The Passion Of the Hood Christ? Has Shabazz just been repackaging the same old songs over and over again for decades? Why is the room spinning? Are you my doctor? Help!

Okay, let's break this down track by track and try to approach things scientifically...

1. "Organized Rime" - This title is surely ringing a lot of bells, but you're probably thinking of his 1997 12" single, "Organized Rime (Part II)." Shabazz has a weird way of sequelizing [not an actual word, but it should be] his songs... His first single was "Death Be the Penalty," and his second one was "Crime Saga (Death Be the Penalty - The Sequel)." But there's also a "Crime Saga 2?" Shouldn't that be "Death Be the Penalty 3," then? It's confusing. So when he released "Organized Rime (Part II)" despite there never having been a "Part I," most of us just assumed it was another semi-sequel to "Crime Saga" or something. But it's not. "Organized Rime" is its own song, and it's being released for the first time here. Awesome, right? Well, kind of. If you got the 2006 CD/DVD combo The Passion Of the Hood Christ, this song was actually on there. So it's not actually unreleased or debuting on here... But this is its first time on vinyl.

2. "Lidushopahorraz" - Right, so like I said, it's really "Little Shop of Horrors" which is on the old Supreme Kourt EP., based on a line from Kool G Rap's "Ill Street Blues." Except the credits here say it's produced by C-12, not Supreme Kourt. How can that be? Because this is a remix. Or maybe this is the original version, and the Supreme Kourt version is the remix. Either way, it's the same vocals but set to a different instrumental. I'm not sure which version I prefer; this one is a little more conventional, but both tracks are dope. The biggest disappointment is that this is a shorter version, missing the second verse and skips from the first to the third. So overall, the original is definitely preferable. But this is at least a decent companion piece for people who already have the full version. And this version at least is completely unreleased.

3. "I'm Breathing For You" - Right, so "I'm Breathing For You" is obviously "Breathing For You." But once again, it's an alternate C-12 version. And this time it's got all the verses and I think it's doper than the one from the old EP. This was released already, however, on the 2008 CD The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz). And the old EP version is the one labeled "I'm Breathing for You" on The Becoming Of The Disciple: 94 B.C.- 00 A.B. So, another case of: not really unreleased, but at least making its vinyl debut.

4. "Crime Saga 2" - So, right. "Crime Saga 1," was "Death Penalty 2," his second single on Penalty Records. There was also a remix on that 12", but this isn't that. So is Part 2 really debuting here? Not really. It was on The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz), where it was titled "Crime Saga 2 (The Struggle Continues)." But again, vinyl debut at least.

5. "The Souls Journey A.D. (After Death)" - This one's entirely new to me. The label says it's another C-12 production, though it sounds different from his usual work - lyrically, it's an ill, spiritual imagery filled story along the lines of his early Gravediggaz verses. Lovin' this one, and again it seems to be quite old but completely unheard.

6. "Ya Exodus (Instrumental)" - Well, the full song, "Ya Exodust," was featured on The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz), but this is the instrumental version. Exclusive, but just an instrumental (with the full hook on it).

7. "I'm Breathing For You (Instrumental)" - Pretty self-explanatory. Obviously, this is the instrumental for the version of the song featured earlier on this record, not the old EP. And it's an exclusive instrumental.

So, has Shabazz just been repackaging the same old songs over and over again for decades? Well yeah, kind of. But he has a big back catalog, so there's not too much repeating going on throughout his releases. Usually each song just comes out 2-3 times.

This particular EP isn't nearly as unreleased as the title would leave you to believe. But does feature at least one seemingly completely unreleased song, which is pretty great, and am unreleased remix. Plus two instrumentals. And its all making its vinyl debut. So alright, if you're a vinyl head just looking for some ill 90s music, this is it for sure. But if you're a serious Shabazz fan expecting a full EP of songs you don't already own, be prepared for some disappointment. But at least you'll get "Souls Journey."

The sound quality is nice; "Souls Journey" definitely does not sound like some crusty old tape rip. And it's all given Chopped Herring's usual high quality treatment: sticker cover, limited to 350 copies, 75 on gold colored vinyl, 75 on silver (silver), and 200 on classic black. This is probably more for serious vinyl heads than people who already have all the CDs; they should be very happy with this, even if we have had the bulk of these songs before.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's Broaden Your Horizons Day!

Remember Cheese Steez? It was a mixCD of hip-hop from the Netherlands I reviewed a couple years ago by Chris the Wiz and DJ Fozx. It was a fun mix of stuff most of the world wouldn't have been familiar with, and a nice upbeat education. Well, they did a sequel in 2013, called Cheesesteez Vol. 2, and anyone who appreciated that one should be just as happy with this one. This one, which also goes in chronological order, encompasses a shorter period of time: 1988-1993, which gives the disc a more consistent tone.

This volume is also free of skits and has zero Dutch language songs (the last mix had 1), so there's even less reason for English listeners to feel left out. Admittedly, there was a song or two where I had to listen pretty closely before I realized they were rapping in English, because the cadence was so un-American. But yeah, it's 100% English friendly.

Another interesting aspect of this mix is that they've broadened the scope of music they've included from Dutch hip-hop released on vinyl to include rare cassette and demo tracks. So this time even the most plugged-in Dutch listeners won't have heard it all before. Speaking for myself, I'm sure I wouldn't have recognized anything they might've included unless it was "Holiday Rap." And no, this time Miker G and Urban Dance Squad aren't on hand, so they're pretty much all unknown acts (in the USA) this time around. But even having never heard of any of these guys, I'm sure you'll find a lot of familiar elements here, with the artists often rhyming over familiar beats, like D.C.O. using the same base sample as Partners In Kryme's "Undercover" (though they laid a little extra music on top of it), DJ Knowhow and Rudeboy Remmington freaking Kool G Rap's "Talk Like Sex" break, the Pleasure Posse rocking the classic "It Takes Two" loop, or Next of Kin spitting over the bassline to "Groove Is In the Heart."  Plus, as you may've noticed from that last sentence, some of the acts are recurring from the first Cheese Steez mix.

I'm not sure how many of the records spun here will actually inspire you to run out and track them down for your crates, but to hear as a part of a mix full of interesting songs you've probably never heard before, they're consistently compelling. There's less silly stuff this time around, like the last CD's song about pizza, although the Zombi Squad's ainti-Nazi song will probably sound over the top to audiences where neo-Nazis never achieved any traction or credibility. Maybe the strongest selling point is all the nice scratching on hand. Couple that with some high energy deliveries and hype tracks, it's a really dope mix even if rappers aren't quite up to your favorite MCs. Seriously, even if you're like, "ah, I don't give a crap about Dutch rap," I recommend giving it a listen - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Like the first volume, this CD is a limited edition. But you can still cop it, as they're selling brand new copies directly through its discogs listing. And if you have any interest in Dutch hip-hop at all, you should check out their site, as it's a pretty great database, including bios, photos and songs from the Netherlands' old school hip-hop scene.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Complete Return Of Omniscence, part 2

Okay, so we're back with our coverage of Omniscence's new material. After Sharp Objects in 2013, GRR released a second EP, 2014's The God Hour. It's structured pretty similar to the last EP in that there's an EP of new songs - this time bumped up to 6 - and then that's doubled to LP length with all new remixes. This time the production feels a little tougher, with more emphasis on the boom bap. It's a little more New York, with a slightly darker, more serious tone all around, although Omniscence is still kicking punchlines and clever, complex rhymes. And Debonair P's still on the production and scratch hooks.

So on the one hand, you've got "The Return (Of the Oneliner)," on this EP, but you've also got lyrics like, "while they pay for love, ours' genuine, And I see it each and every venue we in. Put your O's in the air and hold 'em there, then close your eyes as we hold a prayer for the soldiers. I ain't talkin' Uncle Sam; I'm talkin' bout the ones holdin' that contraband. I'm talkin' bout the ones workin' that graveyard, 'cause they couldn't make enough on their day jobs." It's close, but I expect heads will wind up preferring this to the previous EP.

Once again, you've two versions of the vinyl, 150 on a clear gold and black mix, and 150 on a red and blue splatter. And they both come in the very cool, full color picture cover. The EPs have all 6 of the new songs, and remixes of four songs. Then there's an extra limited orange cassette with all six songs plus remixes for all six songs (the vinyl is missing the "Purge" and "Show and Prove" remixes). This time there's no instrumentals, though, on vinyl or tape.

And we have to take a quick pit stop here to look at another EP that GRR put out at the same time as The God Hour: Truck Jewels and Filters by K-Hill. K-Hill, you may remember, was the other North Carolina MC who did a guest appearance on Omniscence's Sharp Objects. It's also produced entirely by Debonair P, though it's got a distinct feel from Omni's stuff. Omniscence does a guest appearance, though, so fans will want to check this out for that. I mean, heads should check it out anyway, because it's good. But even if you're only here for the Omniscnece, then completists will need this.

It's a four-track EP; and like the other EPs we've been looking at, it also features an alternate remix version of every song. I feel like Debonair's cutting is given a stronger emphasis on this release, which is definitely a plus. And there's also a guest verse by Prince Po I should point out. K-Hill himself actually has sounds a little more old school than Omni, with that kind of "super lyrical" backpacker-style flow. But you know, not the super nerdy sci-fi type; definitely more down to Earth. That's probably for the better, although one song about quasars might've been nice. haha

The K-Hill EP also comes in a dope picture cover, as you can see, and is available on 150 copies of clear (clear) and black vinyl, and 150 randomly colored copies. I got a random one and it turned out to be pink with blue streaks. All four songs and all four remixes are on the vinyl. There's no cassette this time around, but there is a CD, which also has all eight tracks, plus hidden bonus track, which is a second, alternate remix of "Whenever I Write."
So those EPs came out right at the end of 2014 or so. Now, in 2015, there's a double CD compilation album, also called The God Hour, that has the same cover and title, but it's actually a little misleading and selling itself short. The CDs actually sum up the original God Hour EP and the Sharp Objects EP and even the original "Raw Factor 2.0" 7". It It lists 22 tracks, but there's actually 2 unlisted bonus tracks on each CD for a total of 24.

It basically breaks down to the original version of every song from each EP, including "Raw Factor 2.0" on disc 1, and then the corresponding remix to each song on disc 2. That might be a little confusing, since the original version of "Raw Factor 2.0" wasn't on the Sharp Objects EP, it had a new remix. But on here, it's the original from the 7" single. Then, on disc 2, the version they use is the remix from the 7" B-side. But don't worry, you get that jazzy third remix from the EP, too, as one of the uncredited bonus tracks on disc 1.

The other bonus track on disc 1 is the bonus remix of "Ease My Mind" that was only on the cassette and instrumental EP.  Back over to disc 2, and the two extra tracks are the bonus remixes of "Letter To the Better" and "Welcome," the other ones that were only on the Sharp Objects cassette and instrumental EP. So that means, this CD set gives you the full "Raw Factor 2.0," Sharp Objects and The God Hour packages (well, minus the instrumentals), with every song and every single remix that was featured on any version of those releases. Believe me, I'm sitting here with a pen and notebook paper, writing down every single uncredited bonus track, in case anything was missing or exclusive to a particular release. I've got 'em all on my desk and I can confirm, it's all 100% there.

So obviously, if you're a vinyl head, you'll still prefer the three EPs, and some of us old school collectors will want the cassettes. But if you're happy with CDs, this release is way more than just The God Hour pressed on CD, it's a complete archive of everything Deb and Omniscence have collaborated on for GRR Records. Oh, except that bit on the K-Hill EP; you'll still have to get that separately.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Complete Return Of Omniscence, part 1

So, I've pretty thoroughly covered all the great releases that've resurrected Omniscence's lost 90s material, both rare and unreleased. But apart from his initial "Raw Factor 2.0" single in 2012, I'd been kinda putting off getting into all the new stuff he's been doing in the last couple years. If you've been missing it, the resurgence of his music has basically propelled a full throttle comeback, which has been running right alongside the reissues this whole time. But with the arrival of his latest double CD collection, I think it's time to finally break it all down.

The first record - or cassette, which is what I went for - to follow up the "2.0" 7" was the Sharp Objects EP in 2013. It's essentially a five-song EP to start us off on the idea of new, modern Omniscence music. But Gentlemens Relief Records packs it so generously full of bonus tracks, remixes and instrumentals, it (depending on which version you get) winds up being longer than most LPs. And really, the first thing to address even before we get into specific songs or colors of vinyl, is just this: how is new Omniscence? Does it sound like his old stuff? Will fans of his classic material really want to hear this, or is it just gonna piss 'em off and disappoint people.

And the answer to that question is pretty much exactly what you want it to be. It sounds like he never went away. This isn't some low-fi recording of him trying in vain to imitate Bobby Shmurda or some other popular teenage rapper over awful, computery tracks emailed to him by some random myspace producer.  He sounds like himself, he's got production to match, and yet he's not completely stuck in the 90s either. He's got rhymes for now. And sure, this is somewhat throwback rap. He's definitely trying (and succeeding!) to recapture the magic of the singles that made him famous in 1995. So this EP would sound out of place in a Youtube Playlist of Fetty Wap and 2 Chainz videos. He's embracing the style he mastered - which I think is what we want all artists making a comeback to do, rather than chasing fads.

A big, big chunk of the credit has to go to his new producer, Debonair P, who conveniently runs his label, GRR. In the past, I raved about how much I loved his production style for his group Low Budget. Well, this shit sounds nothing like that stuff; but it's great in another way. It's way more mellow, smoothed out and subtle... and very much in keeping with the kind of music Fanatic and them were making for Omni back in the day. I've heard that remix EP Deb released long before he started working with Omniscence, though, so I know he didn't just pull this sound of the air when that collaboration started; it was always in his wheelhouse. It's just with, with Omni, he's finally found a home for it. 'Cause this style fits Omniscence more than it did those other songs he was remixing. Deb P is also nice enough on the turntables to provide a lot of very Premier-like scratch hooks.

So this EP features four brand new songs, plus a new remix of "Raw Factor 2.0." And just to clarify, I mean a NEW remix, because the "2.0" single had a remix on the B-side. But that remix isn't the one on here either; it's a third, exclusive remix. This one's much jazzier, especially thanks to the big, summery horn sample that opens the track up. I feel like it takes it further in the direction the first remix was going in a cooler, more laid back alternative to the original.

"Welcome," as you might expect, is an introduction to Omniscence. HE tells the story of his life, lays down where he's coming from, and eases us into lyrical style by keeping it subtly rather than showy: "my world off the rocker but I keep it within. Fuck a spoon, I'ma show ya how to eat with a pen." "Ease My Mind" feels like a sex song he wrote in the 90s and just never recorded 'till now. It's basically built on the same loop as Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over," which is sure to make it a fan pleaser. "Letter To the Better" is the kind of old school reminiscing track we've heard many times by now, and it's got an R&B girl on the chorus which is a little on the nose, but Omni manages to keep it authentic and respectable. "Church and State," from it's title, sounds like it's going to be the preachy message song of the record, but it's actually his hardest, most skill-flexing song. It features a guest verse by a fellow NC native K-Hill who sounds pretty good and holds his own alongside Omni, which isn't easy.

So, in a way that's the whole EP... But then you've got the remixes. Every single song on here is featured a second time, with an entirely new instrumental. There's actually two remixes here for "Welcome," "Letter To the Better" and "Ease My Mind." For the most part, I tend to prefer the original versions; but the remixes are all distinct enough that you can basically listen to the whole EP like it's twelve different songs. And I do prefer the remix to "Ease My Mind," both because it has a funkier, bouncier track, and because it replaces the sung chorus with a new scratch hook with a sick Big Daddy Kane vocal sample. Another cool thing which keeps the remixes fresh is that "Church and State" replaces its second verse, K-Hill's, with a new one by a new guest MC named Paul Bunyun. That's a terrible name, but his verse is alright. He sounds like one of those guys you hear on a Detroit posse cut when they have a million MCs on it.

Sharp Objects came out in a couple different versions. There were two vinyl EPs, 150 pressed on purple translucent wax and 150 pressed on blue swirl, both of which came in picture covers. The only downside is that two of the bonus remixes - the second "Welcome" and "Letter To the Better" remixes aren't on them. They're only included on the very limited cassette version, which has the same cover art and is made of gold plastic. What's more, all twelve of those songs fit on one side of the cassette, so all of the instrumental versions are included on the B-side. But if you think it sucks that vinyl lovers had to miss out on the instrumentals, a separate instrumental record. Limited to 150 copies, it also featured the two bonus remixes from the cassette. So yes, if you copped both vinyl EPs, you could have everything, just like with the cassette.

...And jeez, I didn't expect my coverage of just the first EP to run so long. I wound up having more to say than I anticipated. Well, I'm just going to have to break this up into two posts. So come back tomorrow (or, latest, the next day) for Part 2, because there's a lot more of Omniscence's return to get to.