Sunday, August 30, 2015

The D.O.C., Even Without a Voice

So, if you missed it, The D.O.C. just - finally - got his voice back! Or, actually, he apparently got it back a year ago, while he was locked up, which we won't ask about. But, still, the moment we fans have been waiting with baited breath for literally decades has come... I remember when this heads kept talking about when he'd return.  And when we pretty much gave up.  But before he makes whatever kind of comeback he winds up making, I thought I'd take a look back at when he returned without even needing his voice, in 1996 on Giant Records. This is "Return Of da Livin' Dead."

One cool thing about this 12", definitely, is that it harkens back to his earlier singles, where his album was amazing, but his singles still replaced them with even hyper, sicker remixes. In one sense, the two songs on this single were the best parts of his second album. But on the other hand, they were a little derivative, playing it safe, and needed a little kick in the butt, which this 12" mostly provided.

Let's start with the B-side first, 'cause that's the track that probably sold a lot of these copies. Like its title implies, "From Ruthless 2 Death Row" was going to dish all the dirt and answer all the questions fans had about his career and the whole Dr. Dre story up to that point. The album version and first version of the single sample the very often used "For the Love of Her" by The Isley Brothers, which has only been used a thousand million times before and since. A lot of people in '96 associated it with 2Pac's (technically Thug Life's) "Bury Me a G," but I think he might've used it because Slick Rick had recently used it on his last single. D.O.C. is really channeling Rick's style here, and even quotes his lyrics from "Children's Story" in the third verse, so it's a deliberate reference. But the point is, it sounded good, but it was pretty played out by this point. In a vacuum, the original version sounds better, especially complimenting D.O.C.'s Slick Rick homages, but during a time when we were getting pretty sick of hearing the same g-funky riffs on record after record, the fact that this 12" is an exclusive remix was a real plus.

Everything on this post, the original versions and the remixes, are produced by Erotic D. He was probably a new name to most heads at the time, but he actually came from The D.O.C.'s original group, The Fela Fresh Crew, although he didn't really get on board there until the D.O.C. had already left. He's kept producing over the years, even doing tracks for the Insane Clown Posse of all people; but he's still primarily associated with The D.O.C.

Anyway, the remix is still pretty unoriginal, too, basically just adding some gangsta rap sound effects over "Eric B Is President." I don't know if Erotic D's thing has ever really been digging and discovering breaks, but he makes it sound good and at least it wasn't a tune we'd heard a dozen times that year this time. So this was probably more exciting in 1996, but it still sounds pretty dope today. So back then the remix was easily my favorite, but now in 2015, I probably like both versions equally - they're both old school beats we've heard tons of times before, and they both sound cool as soundbeds for these Slick Rick-style one man dialogue exchanges. The scratch breakdown at the end of both mixes is really fresh.

But as much as everyone (including myself; I'm not gonna front) was into hearing the drama at the time - getting excited over lyrics like, "Eazy-E said, 'yeah oh yeah,' so I took it. Forgot the paperwork; the money made me overlook it." - we want to hear our favorite MCs make masterpieces, not dish dirt. And that brings us to our A-side. "Return Of da Livin' Dead." It takes its title from the Dan O'Bannon classic film Return Of the Living Dead, but otherwise there's no connection. And I don't just mean because there's no zombies in the song (lol), but the film is a classic blend of dark and light tones, horror and humor while this song is just very straight forward. It's a remake of his classic, pre-vocal damage "Funky Enough."

This was a bad idea. The idea was to show that he could rock as hard post-accident as he could pre-, but it's nigh impossible to make a knock off that's as compelling or better than an original masterpiece. So while this song is good, there was no way it wasn't going to pale in comparison. I guess it got him a little extra free publicity/ attention that he wasn't just coming back, but remaking this classic; but I don't think it really netted him that much more than just his comeback in general did. And it certainly wasn't worth the cost of an unflattering comparison being your first new impression.

Which is why this 12" is so good for having another exclusive remix. And this time there isn't any old school instrumental at all. It's more g-funky, and there's no question that Dre's original "Funky Enough" beat is better than this new Erotic D beat. But this new track allows "Return Of da Livin' Dead" to be a new, original song and stand on its own legs instead of remake that should never have happened.

And The D.O.C. sounds pretty good on the mic. His voice is super ripped, of course, and anyone looking for him to sound anywhere near his first album are going to be disappointed. But he showed he could still make a solid record; he just sounded like somebody completely different. It was a little strange, and you wouldn't want a lot of MCs rapping like that, but as the only guy with that sound, he made his own little niche. He could still work a mic better than most of the weed carriers these guys surrounded themselves with.

So I was surprised when Deuce came around and he barely rapped on it at all, using it as more of a compilation than a genuine D.O.C. album (especially considering how it was titled and marketed like the one, true follow-up to No One Can Do It Better. I guess that's largely because the Giant album stumbled, and people chalked up what sales it did get to the Death Row drama. But I think he showed he had the potential to make good, if not as good, records with his damaged voice. If anything, the switch from Dre's production to Erotic D's has held him back more than anything from the accident. So hopefully whenever D.O.C. does whatever he's going to do next with his fresh, old voice, he'll get Dre behind at least a couple of tracks. With all of that, and rhymes and delivery just as good as he's already doing on this record, it'll be a lock.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chubb Rock & The G-Man

I hate to be cynical, but laying out the money to buy a guest verse from a better known rapper works. When I first saw G-Man's debut single in stores, I had no idea who he was. I didn't even realize he was a singer, not a rapper. But I saw "feat. Chubb Rock" written on the label, and I bought it, without even any idea of what it sounded like. It was a good time to have Rock, since it came out in 1996, when the buzz was just amping up for his fifth album, which was then going to be called Clear the Decks. So heads were aching to hear some Chubb Rock, and boom here was this in the store. Who was G-Man, who cares? Doesn't matter. And I doubt G-Man actually had to pay for this cameo, since they were labelmates on Select Records, and this was surely an early step in marketing Chubb Rock's return.

So yeah, I was a little disappointed to learn G-Man was a singer, and so this song was R&B with a guest verse rather than a full-out hip-hop song. But what the hell, I would've bought it anyway had I known. It's Chubb Rock. The song was called "Treat Me Right," and it's probably meant to reference Chubb Rock's biggest hit, "Treat 'Em Right," but they don't mention it at all in the actual content of the song. It starts out with the "Corsa Ave. Mix," a cool, moody hip-hop track produced by Chubb himself, and the vocals open with Chubb rapping. He comes pretty nice, definitely putting in the effort to be creative and original, though it veers dangerously close to corniness a couple of times. After his verse, things get kind of dull, with a long repetitive hook and neither G-Man nor the instrumental bothering to do anything to separate it from his verses. It's all alright, but G-Man doesn't have a powerful voice either, opting instead for kind of a hip, low-key delivery with a kind of nasally voice. As cool as the track is, it really drags, until Chubb Rock finally comes back for one more short verse at the end of the song. And as good as Rock sounds, it's not really his top shelf stuff lyrically. Still, if you were to edit out the sleepy middle of the song, this could be a pretty neat, very short Chubb Rock song with a sung hook.

Then there's a couple remixes, mostly also produced by Chubb and using the same basic beat. The Hip Piano Vocal version is almost identical, except it has an extra sample loop over the top of it that sounds more like a guitar than a piano. It was better without it. Then there's the G-Man Vocal mix, which is the same as the Corsa Ave. Mix minus Chubb Rock's vocals. And finally, besides a couple instrumentals, there's the Uptempo Vocal Mix, produced by somebody named James Dowe. Not bad, it is genuinely more uptempo which helps G-Man's performance, and features some extra instrumentation like a piano loop that actually sounds like a piano and multiple samples from "Treat 'Em Right." Chubb Rock also has a new verse on this one, where he very definitely does reference his own record. It's kinda cool, but still drags with G-Man's flat singing left to carry 90% of the song.

So, overall, it was just okay. Not mad at it, but mostly just happy for a little Chubb Rock fix, especially since his album was taking forever to come out. Release dates were announced and not met; there still wasn't even a single. Eventually, in 1997, I spotted G-Man's second single in stores and I thought, nah, I'm done with that guy. Unless you've got Chubb Rock on your record again, I don't even wanna know about it. Then I flipped it over, and oh, look who's on the B-side. Chubb Rock, and also guest verses by AG and some protege of Chubb's named Freeze A. Luv. Alright, fine; I bought it.

This single's called "Runnin' 2 U," and again, there are a couple versions. The main version just features AG, but is again produced by Chubb Rock. I kinda thought hey, maybe we'd already have Clear the Decks by now if he'd stop fooling around with these side projects. But whatever, let's hear what we've got. It's a little more traditional, in terms of R&B, with G-Man on more of a Jodeci tip. The beat has a lot of instrumental flourish, but it's backed by the beat for Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones pt II," which is quite cool. When we finally get to AG's part, hearing him over "Shook Ones" is dope; but his verse is too short, just there really to support G-Man, who admittedly sounds more engaging this second time around.

Like the last single, there's another mix, called Original Sauce, which is the same as the main vocal version but minus the guest rapper, and there's an instrumental. There's also a remix, simply called the Street Mix, which replaces the "Shook Ones" for the "DWYCK" beat. AG's verse is back on it, so it's kinda cool. Still basically an unexciting R&B song for the most part, though.

But finally there's the Secret Recipe Remix. This features all three of the MCs over a new instrumental with faux horns and some phat snare. AG switches his verse for harder hip-hop subject matter, and G-Man is relegated to the hook. Unfortunately, he doesn't change what he's singing, and his "Runnin' 2 U" chorus doesn't really fit this song. But still, it's a pretty tight song that's really a hip-hop track this time, with some good MCs, and Chubb Rock takes a pretty random shot at DJ Clue. I'd like it better without the hook, but it's still a dope track that's worth having overall if you're a fan of Chubb or AG.

And eventually, later that year, Rock's album, now titled The Mind, limped out to stores, with all of its marketing and promotion finished a year prior. Most people I talked to who had been fans of Chubb Rock and were waiting for the album didn't even know it had dropped. I had to bring in my copy to work one day to prove to one of the guys at The Source that it actually existed and I had it.

Ultimately, it wasn't his best but still pretty good and enough to keep me happy as a fan. I remember him giving an interview early on that he was going back to high energy dance tracks and hard vocals (like his biggest hits "Ya Bad Chubbs" and "Treat 'Em Right") for his new album, and ultimately there was really only one song like that on The Mind, which makes me think Select Records' vaults are full of Chubb Rock songs from 1995-1996 that we never got to hear. Oh well. I'm not mad at what we did get; it was dope, just too bad it wound up being his final album.

And guess who sang a hook on that album? Of course, G-Man, on a song called "The Man." It's good but very R&Bish, and not just because of the hook. The instrumental by Elliot Ness is pure late night BET R&B. Chubb Rock's voice and flow sounds great on it, but he's clearly not on the same page as G-Man. He's rapping about adulthood and serious social issues ("I heard black men, I mean boys, saying they beat their queens. That type rush can't paint the scene, dissipates the dream of black kings"), but G-Man's singing about romance ("whenever you need good lovin', you gotta understand, it takes a man, a man, to keep you satisfied"). Though I guess they're both on the general theme of men and women coming together and what-not. It's more a mismatch of tone than concept.

Our G-Man.
And that seems to be the end of G-Man's story. Chubb Rock came back with another single post-Select Records, and eventually did stuff online and for the Wet Hot American Summer soundtrack. But I haven't heard G-Man on any more of his stuff. discogs links another guy named G-Man*, a member of a South Central crew The Mobsters, to this G-Man's page like they're the same person, but they're not. The 1997 single "What Kinda Nigga Is U?" is by the one from The Mobsters, not our guy. But if Chubb Rock ever comes back for a sixth album, and I still hope he will, I wouldn't be mad at another hook by G-Man. He could sound good if utilized properly.

*In fact, there are over fifty artists named G-Man listed on discogs(!).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Ultimate 100X Posse Collection

Ah, the limited game. Super expensive records that go out of print before pre-orders have a chance to turn into regular orders. Of course, it's hard for people to complain when they wouldn't even pay $5 for a brand new 12" anyway. But man, there's been some great stuff released through this model. You know what was awesome? Freestyle Records' epic 100X Posse package in 2009.

At $125, it was priced to hurt, but the contents were pretty awesome. The main element is a double LP called Whom Shall I Fear? It's a weighty collection of their unreleased material from their early period of 1993-1995. Yeah, 100X has stuff dating back even before then; but this was right about the time they were the full-sized crew and recording in earnest, and its the time of their debut collective 12", "Beyond the Door" (1994). It's right after the Greg Osby stint, when they went back to their rawest, hardest material, free of having to water down their style for Blue Note. It's when they even drifted into horrorcore, most notably with the song called "Horrorcore."

But they dipped into horrorcore the way the Geto Boys did. They didn't really go out to jump into horror movie style lyrics on wax so much as just take the hardcore, violent imagery of street and gangster rap to such an extreme that it crossed the line. "Floozies, I butt-fuck 'em with the uzis. I'm showin' no pity, bitches, I'm cuttin' off ya fuckin' titties." That's what this LP sounds like, combined with LE Square's rugged and stripped down sound. Like I mentioned in an older 100X post, I liked their the blend of the more commercial-style production on their "Thug Bowl" single merged with 100X's street styles; but I wouldn't want most of their records to sound like that. I'd want 'em to sound like this. It's basically what you want if you're in the market for seriously hardcore rap. It's also from the early 90s, though, and back when these guys were still pretty young, so it does get dip into the corny and even childish if you pay strict attention to all the lyrics (i.e. that example I just cited). And there are the trite, pop culture references and punchlines that all early 90s rap is laden with ("disassemble niggas like Johnny 5"). But with those caveats, really, if you're a 90s head, this is exactly what you're fiending for.

One thing you'll notice, though, is that two of their most famous members - Poison Ladd and Beats In General - aren't on the album. That's because, though they're often listed as members of the group, and they were unquestionably affiliated (Are Em even produced a couple tracks on Another 1 4 U 2 NV), I don't think they were ever really members proper. They aren't on this album at all and they're not on any of the other 100X 12"s that came out over the years. They do feature, however, on the other record in this package: Early X.

Early X is the crown jewel of this collection if you ask me. Like its title implies, it goes back even earlier than Whom Shall I Fear? to 1991, before 100X was fully formed. It features two tracks apiece by three groups that would pave the way to forming 100X, including Poison Ladd and Beats In General, Are Em (solo) and Bad Newz' earlier group Call Us Whatchu Want. This is more hype, classic late 80's sounding Another 1 4 U 2 NV-style material; I love it. Poison Ladd & BIG have a particularly politically incorrect jam called "Slanty Eyed Devil," which strongly echoes Ice Cube's "Black Korea" that came out the same year, with Poison adopting a very B-Real like affectation. Mind you, I'm not really pointing that out as a highlight. Calling the song "politically incorrect" was me being gentle. Despite its genuine message about rejecting outsiders who bring liquor and garbage into local communities (taken directly from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, which is sampled in the song's opening), it's still overtly racist. And lord knows one B-Real is enough. But damn if the production doesn't make it sound hot regardless.

But the surprising break-out stars are C.U.W.W., whose two songs are fantastic. Hype production with big samples, like the best records DWG have released.  And they sound perfect over it, in the vein of a faster UBC. I could honestly just put their two cuts on repeat all day.

And that's all the wax in that package: the double LP in a picture cover and the single EP in a sticker cover. But there was one more thing: a mix-CD simply called Rare & Unreleased 1992-1996, mixed by DJ Nickybutters. He does a fine job and I'm not knocking his mixing skills, but I sure wish this was a proper compilation without all the material blended together, because there's some great songs on here that are still unavailable in their complete form. It brings in some of their rare 12" material, like three tracks from their "Beyond the Door" 12" and eight tracks from Whom Shall I Fear?, the latter of which is stupidly redundant. But there's still a bunch of strong stuff you can't hear anywhere else, full songs and freestyle "Commercials." The Roots even make a couple of appearances.

For years, this was still available on Freestyle Records' website, but in the last couple years it unfortunately went offline. But you can still buy this set from them directly through discogs, at the reduced price of $100 even. Practically free, right? Ha ha It is a pretty great set, though.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Pair Of Wu-Tang Promos

You know a group's captured the popular imagination when even their snippet tapes sell for good money on the collectors' market. Of course, it helps immensely when they have ill exclusives or really cool art design. And to that end, I've dug two classic Wu-Tang cassettes from out of my box.

First up is the legendary "silver tape." That name's a little misleading, since the tape itself isn't actually silver, like the purple tape was genuinely made of purple plastic. I guess this name's more short-hand, referring to the shiny silver case it comes in, with nothing but the Wu logo on the front and back, no indication of what songs or what's on it. And that's true of the cassette itself, too, which is all solid black with just a silver "W" on it. It definitely makes you feel like you've got your hands on some super secret, mysterious Wu contraband; and this is from back in 1997, before there had been any lesser, lower tier material from the Clan, so anything you saw had to be amazing.

Unfortunately, the content doesn't quite live up to all of that. It's basically a Wu-Tang Forever promo, with snippets from their then yet to be released second album. But it's not just a collection of clips of songs you've already got in full on the album now, that actually makes up a small fraction of the tape. The majority consists of interview snippets with each of the various members talking about their history. They talk about how they came up with the title 36 Chambers, why they kept their faces covered on their earliest covers, how they slip serious content into their songs, etc. ODB starts out by saying, "give me a kiss" and talks about his drinking and adding "Ossirus" to his name. I wouldn't say it's something you should bust your kneecaps out running to track down, but its a pretty cool collectors item for the serious fans.

Then the other one dates back even farther. It's Raekwon the Chef's Latest and Greatest Hits from 1995, where he's boldly putting out a "greatest hits" even before his first album. It's essentially an expanded version of his "Criminology" single, I guess, as it has both the A- and B-sides to that, plus his previous, debut single "Heaven and Hell." It's also got some of his most famous moments from 36 Chambers, including "C.R.E.A.M." and the remix of "Can It Be All So Simple," which actually wound up being on Cuban Linx. And finally it's got his classic Mobb Deep appearance, "Eye For an Eye." And why am I getting excited and bothering to list out all of these snippets song by song? Because they're actually not snippets, but the full songs. So this was a pretty nice little pick-up back in the day.

But the best part, and the reason why you might continue to care about this in 2015, is that it also has an exclusive freestyle. It's pretty substantial, almost the length of a full song, and has him spitting over Channel Live's dark "Mad Izm" instrumental, constantly being rubbed and scratched by an uncredited DJ. And he gets pretty sick, though that's largely because he slips pretty quickly into his verse from "Guillotine." Of course, this came out before Cuban Linx, so it was brand new here, and either way he sounds great over Krs's killer beat.

So yeah, just a couple things to keep an eye out for next time you're shopping for the Wu fan who has everything. I think I'd rather get one of these than one of these Wu-Tang Clan American flag watches, anyway.  :/

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back To the 6th Floor

Hey, the new Roots Forward record landed on my door today. It's been a little while since we heard from them; I think their last record was that Schoolly D repress a couple years ago. But they're back, and this new single's pretty cool. This time they're bringing us 6th Floor, one of those rugged mid 90s Wu-Tang affiliate groups from before anyone from that camp started doing corny stuff. They just dropped one single back in 1995 on the indie Brooklyn label Kick Live Records. It's one of those records that's hard to find and goes for a lot when you do find it, 'cause you know, Wu collectors are dogged, especially when the material's really dope.

So, the single's called "Project Logic," and Roots Forward's new 7" is a repress of that old Kick Live A-side. It's a great, subtle track with a perfect bassline and drum combo. Two MCs pass the mic back and forth for a little extra energy, but they sound pretty similar, so it's hard to always tell which one is rapping at any given moment. Although maybe part of that is just that we haven't had the chance to get to know them like we did other Wu groups who continued putting out albums until we were all intimately familiar with their styles and idiosyncrasies. At any rate, these dudes are pretty nice. It's all just your basic freestyle rhymes about their own flows, but I don't think we'd really want a crew like this getting too spacey or conceptual anyway. And they've got consistently smart, multiple rhymes that are a pleasure to listen to, putting them ahead of several other Wu affiliates. It is from '95, so there are some cheesy punchlines like "smoother than Ex-Lax," that we wouldn't suffer nowadays, but they at least kind of add to the nostalgic throw back vibe of this release.

The track's produced by Wu fam Supreme... I'm honestly not sure if he was actually a member of 6th Floor or just did this record for them. But either way, if he's behind it, you know it's sick. You remember that early EP by Shabazz the Disciple and Supreme Kourt? He's that guy; and he also did some of the earliest and best Sunz of Man material (alongside everything 4th Disciple produced). It's atmospheric, dark and minimalistic, with just a little quiet cutting of Grand Daddy IU's "Pick Up the Pace" for a hook. It's one of those joints I feel pretty confident any hip-hop head will like.

Now, the original 12" on Kick It Live had two songs. "Project Logic," the one featured here, is the stronger of the two; but both were good. This 7" only has the one song. It's the best one, but still... hardcore enthusiasts are going to still want to track down the original for both tracks. But that's not to say that this 7" is of no value to the serious collector who's already got the original 12". Why?

Well, the old 12" had the main versions and Radio Edits (which, pffft, goodbye. Nobody cares about radio edits except radio DJs. Won't be missing them). But the B-side to this 7" is the previously unreleased Instrumental version. That's not available anywhere else. Granted, instrumentals probably only really appeal to a select segment of the audience, too. But for them, this should be a real treat. And for the rest of us, hey, it's at least a little cool to have it as an exclusive.

And this is a pretty nice looking project, too. It's just a 7" and yeah we all prefer 12"s; but it's pressed on a really cool looking blue vinyl and has a stickered outer cover. Like most of their records, this one's limited to 300 copies. Oh, and lest I forget one of the most important aspects, the sound quality's excellent. I don't have the original 12" to compare it to, but it's definitely much better than what's been floating around online all this time. These have been remastered from the original recordings; you can tell they didn't just rip the old 12" or anything.

So I really recommend this one for anyone who doesn't want to spend months hunting down the OG and then paying triple digits for it. Don't get me wrong, I've been that guy and I will be again. Ha ha But for most of us, the chance to own a hot, slept on 90s Wu-banger on wax for less than $10 US (finally, an exchange rate we benefit from!) is a deal worth doin'. You can cop it direct from Roots Forward here. It's good to see 'em back.