Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Other "High Rollers"

Ice-T's "High Rollers" was a triumph of style and mood in late 80s hip-hop. It was a trailblazer from it's street hustler lyrics set over a bad-ass blaxploitation loop (I think it was Larry Cohen's Hell Up In Harlem) to his ultra cool, naturalistic delivery. It wasn't the first time T had used that style, but it was the first to get heavy rotation on MTV and really break out of the California scene. It was one of pioneering records in gangster rap being smooth rather than shouty hardcore, which I'm sure heavily influenced everybody from Scarface to Dr. Dre. This, however, is not that record. This is a 1995 single by Father MC.

So let's place this in the Father MC timeline. This is very early in his independent, nomadic, post-Uptown years. He had just started putting the "MC" at the end of his name. "Hey, How Ya Doin'?" was the first single of his comeback, and I believe this was #2. It's hard to say exactly, because "Sexual Playground" came out concurrently on another label; and while all three were definitely 1995 records, it's hard to nail down the exact order. But until the president of Moja Entertainment comes here to tell us different, we'll assume this is his second single.

Now it says right there on the label, "From the title album 'This Is for the Players'," which is a curious grammatical structure. But it's interesting because if you'll remember, that was the album that was essentially released twice, with almost all the same songs on two different labels. But like "Hey, How Ya Doin'," "High Rollers" is only on the This Is for the Players version, which suggests it was recorded a little later than most of the rest of the songs.

Say what you want about Father MC, even on the later indie stuff, he had a great ear for old school samples. And I really like what he's done here. Tons of rap songs before him have sampled The Gap Band's "Outstanding," from Rob Base to Rich Nice to Shaq. It's got a really iconic, instantly recognizable groove, and many who use it go pretty whole hog, even singing the same chorus. But Father (and/ or his producer here, Fabian Ashe) uses the opening drums and some other elements, but not the signature guitar or more "musical" parts, and flips it into a slow, moody song that feels nothing like the other "Outstanding"s.

Lyrically, he keeps things pretty simple. So he won't impress anyone, but at least he doesn't say anything corny or dated. It just kinda floats there in the safe median. Unfortunately, the hook doesn't fare so well. It's kinda lame, with him repeating, "only players play this record; only G's got this joint.  All the high rollers know what I mean; you can be down if you're on point." It actually looks better written than it sounds. I mean, it's not terrible, but as clever as the sample flip was, the total of this song is not one that was ever going to last through the years or even get a lot of spins when it was new. Not a bad effort, but it didn't deserve to be a single.

Which is maybe why the 12" has an exclusive remix, Soni's Chronic Mix. It's clearly so named because it's heavily influenced by Dre's Chronic-era production. It's produced by Soni D (a play on the orange drink, Sunny Delight? And surely not the same Soni D who made "Soni D Is Fresh" back in 1987?), and... just doesn't work. I could see them thinking they'd ride that wave, hence making this the single (even the Radio Edit on here is a radio cut of this remix, not the album version); but it just comes off feeling like a cheap knock-off rather than a proper song. When the bassline comes in over the hook, it doesn't even match. It feels like somebody's playing two songs at the same time. I could see turning "High Rollers" into a g-funk track working, at least to some degree, but this attempt is a failure.

This 12" closes out with the title track, "This Is for the Players," which for the record, was on both versions of the album: Sexual Playground and This Is for the Players. It's very similar in tone to "High Rollers," with him bragging about his game in a low energy, smooth style over a slow, bass-heavy instrumental. It's got a much more effective, sung hook, though. Honestly, if the lyrics were just a little entertaining, I think this could've had the strength to even appeal to listeners outside of his core audience. But as it is, it's just another acceptable Father MC song for Father MC fans; but you could hear why he wasn't going to put himself back on top with anything from this period. It's not even one the lifelong fans probably revisit that often, but it's really not that bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment