Monday, November 30, 2015

Old School MC Serch Meets K Love

I did a video a couple years ago about MC Serch's first, pre-3rd Bass, single called "Melissa" from 1986. But he had a second one in '87 on Idlers Records. And on that one he teamed up with K Love of the famous old school group The Bad Boys! And this was another of his singles with his former DJ Tony D (not the producer/ rapper from Trenton with the same name).

Now the label makes it look like K Love is on the B-side, but actually she's the first song, "Hey Boy!" It's a fun little upbeat number which makes great use of the Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" bassline years before Big Daddy Kane got to it with "Smooth Operator" (though of course Waterbed Kev made the "All Night Long" rap version years earlier than both of 'em on Sugarhill Records). Serch sounds a bit like The Fresh Prince on here, with even a little touch of MC Ricky D, lightly bragging about how girls keep following him around calling out "hey, boy." He was clearly still finding himself as an MC here, but taken as just a fun, mid-80s record, it's good stuff.

K Love puts in a few short vocal appearances, mostly just name-dropping herself. But she mainly performs on this record as a human beat-box, and she sounds good. I believe this is her only other record, outside of her singles with the Bad Boys. Tony D also get a breakdown to show off his scratching, which adds another layer of interest to the proceedings. Serch mostly raps in the style of "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," but at the end he flexes more battle-style rhymes, which is his strongest moment.

The B-side, is in a way better and in a way worse. It's his "Rock Box"-style single with heavy metal guitar riffs, and yes he takes a pre-"Sons of 3rd Bass" shot at The Beastie Boys, which shows that his issues with them weren't entirely imposed by Def Jam Records. He goes pretty hard on here, though, and the track is pretty dope if you like these "Rock de la Stet," "King of Rock"-style rap songs.

But he also decides to really pitch the "look at me, I'm rapping and I'm white - can you believe it?" angle on this song. It starts out with a crowd calling out, "go, white boy! Go, white boy!" over and over... something Vanilla Ice would later copy verbatim. They repeat that for every chorus, along with Serch admonishing us, "don't call me whitey!" Then Tony D starts cutting up the "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" just in case they were being too subtle for you. You couldn't exactly drive around your neighborhood with this blaring outta your jeep without being embarrassed, but like the A-side, if you just take it as a fun old school record, it's actually fairly well crafted.

Part of that might be thanks some notable names in the credits. DJ Red Alert (who also gets a shout out in the lyrics to "Beware Of the Death" is on the mix, and Jalil from Whodini is a co-producer. Ecstasy also gets arrangement credit, alongside Todd Terry. So a lot of talent went into making this record, which makes it all the more surprising it's still as obscure as it is. But this is probably what got him signed to Def Jam, so I guess it paid off.

There's just the two songs, with instrumentals on the flip; and it just comes in a generic sleeve. Apparently there's a slightly different mix of "Beware Of the Death" on an acetate, released under the name Search. I'd be curious to hear that but I don't really need it. I'm happy enough with this single, just another cool little 12" from Idlers.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Celebrate Today With a Sick New Album

Hey, it's Thanksgiving. So okay, what's to be thankful for? How about a hot new album that just dropped? It's the return of Grand Invincible, with their third full-length album (or fourth if you count their EP, Winter 365*), Menace Mode. They put out a single not too long ago... well, actually, it's been over a year. But anyway, the songs on there aren't on this album; those are exclusive tracks to that cassingle and everything on this tape is brand new, too. Yeah, this one's on tape, too. Although of course there's a digital-only version for all you herbs and bustas out there, too.  ;)

This is a tight album. It's full-length, twelve cuts, though one or two are short little instrumental joints. There's no guest MCs on here, just a pair of guest DJs - Eddie Def and DJ Sniper - to add some extra scratching. Of course Eons does plenty of his own cutting as well. So there's a lot of hip-hop purism on hand, strong breaks. But then you've got Luke Sick bringing his grisly, raw blue-collar side to the equation, giving it a dark, moody feel. With one or two little adjustments, this could work as the soundtrack to the first season of True Detective.

It starts out with an instrumental introduction called "Codenames Pt. II" ("Pt. I" was on Ask the Dust), but really takes off with "Jackson Pollock," taking its title from a grim reference in the Miami Vice movie (which they include at the end of the song just in case you've never seen it). Luke flips back and forth from traditional hip-hop bragging about his breaks to "scum storytella" mode, spitting bars like:

"I'm paranoid in the crib
Surveillance cams and a pile of coke
She hate me I bug her
But she's used to dudes tryin' to drug her

I smell a fake fuck then fool get checked quick
Then I snatch his bags out the Luxor
On the roof for the bird to swoop

They throw the rope ladder I grab the loot"

Another stand-out is "Yegg," the one they made their first video for. Two ill piano loops on top of each other, old school bas booms, and a phat scratched hook of "Come Clean" Jeru. "Dust Tour" has a killer horn sample that could make you buy the tape just for that. Really, the whole album is an impressive showcase of how to make an innovative, advanced album through very traditional and basic methods. Heads will love it.

So if you want it, you better move fast. Because it's another super limited tape from Megakut Records. The pricing is great ($10, and that's including the shipping), especially since this is a pretty high quality production. You know, sometimes these ultra-indie tapes are just labeled with a sharpie or something, but this is a good looking, printed black tape, flapped artwork, and it even comes with a very cool lyrics booklet, done in a punk 'zine style (a la Let's Side). And Luke Sick fans should also be keeping our eyes peeled for the next Grand Killa Con EP, which is coming out on vinyl soon from a label called Art of Rec. So, yeah, definitely some good stuff to be thankful for.

*Or fifth if you count Underbucket:P

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Girls With Attitude

If you're gonna put together a girl group in the late 80s to knock off N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), you can't come up with a much worse name than H.W.A. (Hoes With Attitude)B.W.P. (Bytchez Wit Problems) was a definite step in the right direction, and of course there actually was a group called Girls With Attitudes. But for my money, the best to do it were G.T.S. (Girls Talkin Shit). They only had one single, but it's pretty good.

It's called "Juice It," and it's actually not particularly explicit. It's a pretty upbeat dance song, with a lot of familiar 80s samples, like "Don't Stop the Rock" and "The Pee Wee Dance." The girls, G-Poo and Tikki-T, are actually pretty decent on the mic, and there's a lot of fresh scratching by guest DJ Mannie Fresh. Gregory D pops on for a short verse, too; and they produced it together, which is surely what accounts for it being such a well-made track. Despite their appearance, though, I don't think these girls are from New Orleans. The label has a California area code, and at one point they mention "rollin' in Compton." 

This dropped in 1988 on D&D Enterprises. One odd bit of curiosity about this record, too, is its sleeve. Yeah, it's a plain white hole-puncher, but inside, well... let me take a picture real quick.

Yeah, see it's a generic sleeve on the outside, but inside, it's a picture cover. It's not a G.T.S. thing, though. It's actually a little bit creepy in there. The picture cover is for a blues album by Skip James, on a New Jersey record label called Yazoo. Apparently, the makers of this sleeve took an old Skip James sleeve, turned it inside-out and punched the hole through it to make a regular sleeve out of. I'm not sure if they're all like this, but my copy was still brand new and shrink-wrapped, so this isn't some random used record where somebody created a makeshift sleeve at home. This is how it came out of D&D.

There's also a B-side to this single, called "Skin Tight." It, rather obviously, takes the bulk of its music from The Ohio Players' "Skin Tight," including using the signature chorus for their hook. It's a good groove, though, and they make it sound good over a well paced track and a little scratching (though nothing as notable as the A-side's). Lyrically, it's just about how they like to wear skin tight jeans and how they look good in them. Not exactly heavy or heady stuff, but some of it's fun: "cold strollin', switchin' my butt. Then all of the fellas yell, 'yo double up!' (Is that right?) Yeah, Poo, 'cause I got the big butt, make the paraplegic get up and jump. Or what about your girl? You'll have to dump her for this female with the cute little rumper. Yeah, you know I'm libel to make a preacher drop his bible; make a dead man raise up from his grave; back end's enough to make a gay man turn straight. Make a man with no teeth wanna take a bite. I'm in effect (In effect!), 'cause my jeans are... skin tight!"

These girls were actually pretty adept on the mic and had a good sound. It's too bad they didn't follow this 12" up. I expect this was meant to be their radio single and given their name, might've been building to something a little less commercial. Like, this would've been their "Something 2 Dance 2." But I would've been fine with more jams like "Juice It," too; especially if Gregory D and Mannie Fresh kept them under their wing. But oh well, as it is, it's a pretty neat little one-off project.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Return Of Johnny the Fox

Last year, I wrote about the debut solo single of Tricky Tee, formerly of the disco-era Just Two, on Sleeping Bag Records. It was a more traditionally hip-hop effort on Tee's part, but also had the very distinct feel of its producer, Mantronik. That was 1985, and this is his 1986 follow-up. Still on Sleeping Bag Records, this time they've upgraded him to a full color picture (and sticker) cover.

And this time he's no longer partnered up with Mantronik. Instead, both the A- and B-side here are produced by Sam Sever. You probably know him best for doing some classic 3rd Bass songs, and later forming Downtown Science with Bosco Money. This is before all of that, and Sever brings more of a pure, New York sound to his production here. You probably wouldn't recognize it as Sever's work, but it's really strong stuff.

Ironically, the drums are the weakest part of "Leave It To the Drums." It's a fresh drum pattern, and it combines perfectly with the other elements to make a great rap song. But the drums themselves sound very piddling and soft. A more modern producer would've probably laid heavier hits on top of these drums, but as it is, it's interesting, but probably best to focus on all the other elements of the song. Especially since the other elements are all great. Tee's not doing anything particularly mind-bending lyrically, but he's got a great flow that perfectly matches the track; he actually reminds me of T-La Rock on here. And the instrumental is largely made up of a collection of traditional jazzy samples being dropped in one by one. I'm sure it was all laid down in the studio, but it feels like there's an old school DJ constantly swapping between records behind the MC.

The B-side isn't quite as good, but it comes in at a respectable second place. It's very big on hand claps and bells. The drums sound more natural here and Tee comes nice and hard again. There's a promising "Good To Go Mix" on here, but it turns out to just be the instrumental. Both songs have full/ Club, Radio and Instrumental versions.

It's just another strong single from Tee that felt like he was building up to a Sleeping Bag album... but for whatever reason that never happened. So you've gotta get these singles, because that's all there is, which is a shame, because I'm sure it would've been a highly regarded album to this day had it existed.

But while this is his second and last solo single, I wanted to bring something I found online to your attention.  This is why the internet is awesome. There's a great, unreleased comeback single by Tricky Tee that lives in full online. It's from 1991 according tot he uploader. It's kind of fuzzy, so I'm guessing this was taped off the radio. It's called "Who's In Town," and it's hot, produced by Shadow. If you told me you had an unreleased '91 comeback single by Tee, I'd have some fairly tempered expectations, but this is really as dope as you could want it. Check it out here. It's really a shame there's no wax of it, but it shows Tricky Tee still had more fire in him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Godfather Of Soul Meets The Godfather of Hip-Hop

I've already talked about James Brown's dalliance with rap music in the late 80s, courtesy of Full Force; but that wasn't his first hip-hop project. In 1984, he released the collaborative single "Unity" with Afrika Bambaataa. there was a music video for it and everything, but I don't think it broke out of the smaller markets too much. And to make things a little more complicated, the original 12" has six different versions of "Unity:"

Unity Part 1: The Third Coming
Unity Part 2: Because It's Coming
Unity Part 3: Nuclear Wild Style
Unity Part 4: Can You See It
Unity Part 5: The Light
Unity Part 6: World III

I've never seen anyone attempt to break down all the parts and how they're different. And they are, it's not just a fancy way to label "Radio Edit," "Instrumental," etc. Well, not mostly. There's some very distinct, different music and lyrics at play here. So I guess, once again, it falls to me. Heh

"Part 1: The Third Coming" is the one they had the video for, the one Rapmasters included in their series of cassettes; and the one most of you are probably familiar with.

The music should be very familiar. Like how I said in my last James Brown video that he was being oddly cannibalistic by sampling himself, he does that here, too. Except strictly speaking, the band is replaying the same riffs, not sampling them. And when I say band, I'm actually talking basically about The Sugarhill Band. Even though this is on Tommy Boy, it's Sugarhill's house band: Skip, Doug and Keith. And they're sort of making a medley of classic James Brown music over hip-hop drums and synths, with some extra live horns. It's all great stuff, but it's not like we're getting fresh new James Brown grooves here. We're getting James ad-libbing over his old music while Afrika throws in the occasional short rap verse.

Yeah, that's the biggest shortcoming of this record. Bambaataa's rapped before and since, but there's a reason he was basically known as the DJ and had The Soulsonic Force and other rappers be his MCs. It's really a shame he didn't get any of the Force to kick proper rap verses on here - or, hot damn, could you imagine if they brought in Melle Mel? This project would be perfect for him. But instead Bambaataa handles all the MCing here, so the raps are very basic. They're fine; there's nothing wrong with them. He doesn't say anything stupid or sound terrible, and it's a worthwhile message. But I think that's what held this the top rank of hip-hop classics. If "Unity" had a "child is born with no state of mind" level verse on here, it would be on every old school rap compilation ever. And the famous hook, "Peace! Love! Unity! And having fun" says it all. The rest of the vocals don't really impart anything more.

Pay attention to James's acapella ad-libbing on the introduction to "Part 2: Because It's Coming" and you'll hear where Steady B got his hook for "Believe Me Das Bad" from. The Beastie Boys' "Shake Your Rump" also comes from here. This is a highly sampled record, actually.

Instrumentally, "Part 2" doesn't stray too far from "Part 1," with most of the same riffs recurring in the same pattern. But lyrically, it's totally different. Now Bambaataa's rapping against nuclear war and his fears of an imminent World War 3. This one's also got a bit of James actually singing, as he and Bambaataa go back and forth singing "all throughout the land." And some other outside vocalists even get in on it as well.

"Part 3: Nuclear Wild Style," like its title suggests, is more World War 3 future world problems. This one's got more of a punk feel to it. In fact, it has more of a Time Zone feel to it, specifically. James is barely on this one. He has his acapella instrumental, and about halfway through they start bringing some of his instrumental themes back in. But I have a feeling James wasn't even in the studio for the recording of this one; we never hear his voice apart from the intro. It's got a great bassline and some funky, more modern playing on it, which is cool. But it feels like Bambaataa's getting a little carried away at this point.

"Part 4: Can You See It" brings it back to the original. James is back, the original non-nuclear lyrics are back, the original horns and music are back. So what's different about it, what makes this one special? Well, every version up to now was about three and a half minutes long. This one's nine. It's basically a a giant extended mix of "Part 1." And it has stuff from "Part 2," too, like a shorter version of the "all throughout the land" bit. "Part 1" is the version with the most life beyond this 12"; but if you ask me, this is the preferable definitive version.

"Part 5: The Light" makes you want to see what they're doing in the studio while they're recording their adlibs, because James proclaims whatever Bambaataa's doing is going to wipe out the moonwalk. This one has some - but minimal - vocals and a lot more emphasis on the horns. That's really it. The production's a little more modern (for its time), and it's a funky little production pretty much created to give the horns their time to shine. Fun, but definitely the kind of thing that could only exist on a 12" B-side.

And finally "Part 6: World III" is an acapella. Always cool to get an acapella, especially for all the young producers out there looking to make their mark with remixes; but it's disappointing that they label it as a whole sixth "Part," because it makes you expect one more full version of the song, rather than just an element floating by itself. It's not even a complete acapella, really; it's just some parts strung together. All the isolated James Brown screeches have surely made a great DJ tool for a lot of heads over the years, though; and The Jungle Brothers used a crazy Bambaataa laugh as a distinct piece of their "Sounds of the Safari" instrumental.

Overall, it's a pretty fun record, albeit more for instrumental enjoyment than lyrically. It's also important just by virtue of what it is, historically: James Brown coming together with Afrika Bambaataa to make a record together, showing musical and generational unity as much as all the other types of unity they talk about in the song. Today, if Drake switched places with Justin Beiber, I'm not sure anyone would even notice. But in 1984, this kind of thing was a big deal.