Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sanford & Son, Part 2: Watchitsucka!

So my first instinct is to breeze over this first one because they never made a single of it, but it's too fun not to talk about. Nice 'N' Smooth were the next to loop up the Sanford & Son theme in 1991. The song's called "Step By Step" (for no discernible reason), the last song on their second LP, Ain't a Damn Thing Changed. And gosh, where to begin? How about the fact that Greg Nice takes his non-sequitur lyrical style to a whole new level of absurdity with this one:

"It's so ridiculous, like Cheech and Chong.
Here to make things right that was wrong.
He was wack, so he got gonged.
Samson, Delilah and King Kong.
...Drink your drink with a crazy straw.
I can go pop or I can get raw.
Remember the man with the manicure?
My sister had a baby; it was premature."

Just... what? Not a single one of those thoughts follows into the next, and none of them have a logical place in this song. It's almost like jazz scatting, except with real words rather than sounds. There's no other reason to bring up Samson and Delilah, let along follow them up with King Kong. The fact that you recognize the words just makes them sound better than meaningless syllables. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's how all teenagers hear pop music.

Then Smooth Bee of course, does his own, completely different thing, basically kicking a narrative rap about being cool at a club:

"Look around the atmosphere: over there,
A face like Venus, body like Cher.
Oh yeah, so I stepped to her.
Later on that night, I slept with her.
She forgot she had a man, so I wept with her."

Ha ha! And everything's made all that much crazier because they're rapping to sitcom harmonicas. It's Sanford & Son, but this self-produced track by the pair fades it out to bring in a smooth, totally unrelated bassline, only to bring the harmonicas back for the hook. Then they get The Black Flames to harmonize back-up vocals at the end. None of it fits together! It's like three different songs forced together. That's what keeps it from being one of their greatest hits and why it wasn't a single, but it also makes it crazier and all the more novel.

But there's one other 90's record that used Sanford & Son, and it did become a single. Da Fat Cat Clique were a nice little indie group from Philly, who made records with everybody from EST to DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Lux. And "Watchitsucka! (Rock Wit da Cat Clique)" comes right off their second album, Ode To the Cool Cat. Produced by Rugged'Ness, this one uses the loop for 100% of the song and doesn't mess it up with other elements or interpolate it with cheesy keyboards. It's just the funky, original soulful harmonicas sounding great. They do cut the loop shorter than you'd expect, so it takes some getting used to, but it sounds great.

The hook's just okay, with this girl mono-tonally asking, "you wanna rock with the Fat Cat crew?" And none of the verses are particularly interesting either. Over another beat, it would be pretty generic. But just them flowing over this track sounds so good, nothing else matters. Totally average lines sound dope just by the way they spit them as the beat cuts out. It's a short song, but it's so high energy, you can just listen to it on loop and never stop rocking with it.

The 12" has the Instrumental and A Cappella on the flip, which is cool. There's no date or other info on the label, but I can tell ya it's from 1998. Da Fat Cat Clique broke up after their next album, but A.B. Lover recently came back as one half of The Saints, a new Christian rap group, who released their debut album, Passion and Purpose, in 2014. They've even got Ital the Ruffian on there; but there's nothing half as funky as this Sanford & Son joint.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sanford & Son, Part 1: MC Shy D Is Back!

I still remember what a bugged moment it was as a kid hearing The Fresh Prince rock with his human beatbox Ready Rock C on "Rock the House" in 1987, and he suddenly says, "yo Ready C, man, play 'Sanford & Son'!" And he suddenly starts beatboxing one of the funkiest sitcom themes in history. Despite being the title track of their album, it wasn't a commercial single. It was a live track, and you can hear the crowd go nuts at that moment as well. But it was a little less novel if you were a familiar with MC Shy-D, who had already rocked Sanford & Son last year.

MC Shy D is usually lumped in with Miami bass, but he's actually an Atlanta cat originally born in the Bronx. In fact, he's Afrika Bambaataa's cousin. So he brought a raw east coast feel to his hip-hop, especially on his early records. He was a real raw beats, rhymes and cuts guy in the beginning. He also imported some of New York's cornier elements, though, like the Fresh Gordon-style method of bringing silly cartoon and television jingles into rap records. Actually, that may've been some of Bambaataa's influence, too, since he was known for mixing all kinds of crazy, diverse records into his sets. And so, anyway, Shy D's first record was 1985's "Rapp Will Never Die," known for incorporating the Pink Panther theme.

That record made a lot of noise for him, so you know he had to do something like that again for his second record. In 1986 on 4 Sight Records, Shy D recorded "Shy D Is Back," which plays the Sanford & Son theme on every hook. And this was his signature for a while. The intro to his debut full-length on Luke Records starts out, "yo cuz, come here man, tell me, I got one question for you, brother. Who is this kid Shy-D? I was listening to the radio, man, I heard this tune, it sounded like the Pink Panther! dom dom dom dom, Da-dom, da-dom! This kid was doing the wildest scratching, the wildest rapping; I'm like, yo, this is def. Then it came back, cuz, with dun-dun-dun-da-dun, dun-dun-dun-na-dun-na-dun! I'm like, yo kid, I'm thinking I'm watching TV or what? This is def, man, who is this kid Shy-D?" In the beginning, he was that guy.

Of course, the secret is that Shy D and DJ Man were killing it on the (self produced) beats, rhymes and cuts, and those jingles were just like icing on a cake. You could strip away the Pink Panther instrumentation and still have a hot record. In fact, some would probably argue that it'd be better without it. But that goes less for "Shy D Is Back," because while the Pink Panther tune is a novelty, Sanford & Son's is a genuine funky riff. Did you know Quincy Jones made it? Yeah, there's a reason it endures.

But of course, those in the know (or who just looked closely at the label scan above) know that "Shy Is Back" is actually the B-side to his 1986 12". The A-side is "DJ Man Cuts It Up" (there was a "DJ Man Cuts It Up Again" on their Got To Be Tough album). And it is a testament to the fact that they didn't need any novelty tunes on their records, because it's a hot track based just on Shy D's rhymes, tough drums and especially DJ Man's cuts. Well, actually, there is a brief period where Shy D says, "give them a taste of our first song," and the Pink Panther plays once on this one, too. But it barely even registers under DJ Man going nuts with the turntables. You know, his cuts sound pretty advanced for 1986. Admittedly, there is a syrupy bassline that kicks in on the scratch hooks for this song, but it's not an interpolation of any TV themes or anything. And there's also a cool little mini-track called "XX-Rap." It's just 44 seconds of Shy-D kicking a hard, curse-laden (though barely X-rated compared to the kind of lyrics we'd start hearing a few years later after groups like 2 Live Crew and The Geto Boys) rhyme over some unadorned human beat-boxing.

But let's face it, no matter how dope those were and how they proved Shy-D didn't need gimmicks, the B-side is the one that got all the radio play and attention. Because they rocked the Sanford & Son theme! And they didn't even sample it, they interpolate it, with this chintzy fake harmonica as played on a keyboard. It doesn't sound half as good as the original sitcom; but on the other hand, the sitcom doesn't have Shy-D going hard and DJ Man cutting loose. That's the real strength of the record. So come for the cheesy tune, stay for the skills. And of course, after living with that record for a year, it wasn't quite as much of a mind blower to hear it on a Jazzy Jeff record. But of course, Shy D and Man didn't play it under water.  ;)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Z-Man's Show Up Finally Shows Up

Ah yeah, six years later and Z-Man's Show Up Shut Up and Rap has finally arrived at my front door. Yeah, Show Up was originally an mp3-only album Z put out through Machette Vox's bandcamp page. But now in 2016, it's been resurrected and pressed up as an actual physical release. CDs can be copped from accesshiphop and probably other places.

At eight tracks, this is either a long EP or a short LP; but either way, it's classic Z. This is the album with "Cupcakin'," the song he had a video for. It's an ill look at adult relationships through the unique perspective of Z-Man, "I'm tryin' to raise hell; you tryin' to raise kids." It's like "Passin' Me By Ten Years Later," with all the frustration and thwarted dreams that implies. It's also got a really ethereal vocal sample contrasted over killer 80s drums; it sounds sick. DJ Eddie Def adds some subtle but slick cuts, too. If Z-Man was on a major, it would've been one of those few hip-hop songs that was huge but still artistically credible.

Most of the rest of the EP is hot, too. Produced by DNAE Beats and Boac, it's a wild mix of old school and trendy contemporary elements, that gives the album a real timeless feel. Eddie Def and his turntable show up on a couple more tracks, too. One or two songs, like the posse cut "Gurp Logo," about their t-shirts, falls a little short. But the MCs are strong enough that you won't actually skip over anything.

But it's the songs where Z-Man really goes in lyrically that are naturally the highlights. "Yell Ho!" is essentially the title track despite technically disqualifying, with Z getting introspective about his career:

"I should be on the road,
But I'm writing you a verse,
Just to let you know it was exciting at first.
Now I'm sittin' here fuckin' dying of thirst
Of my own spit; I need to hear, yellin',
'Show up, shut up and rap.'
They're fuckin' paying me to do it!
Shh, focus on that."

Eddie Def cuts up a couple other songs as well, and Bored Stiff show up on "I Gotta Go." And Boac takes the mic for a verse on "Progress," which is thematically along the same lines as "Yell Ho!" But Z-Man doesn't need help; he always the best part of his albums, and this is him unfiltered and pure hip-hop (as opposed to some of those rock/ dance kinda projects he's done, like One Block Radius or Motel Crew).
And I never blogged about it at the time, but if you missed it, be sure to cop his 2015 album Flea Circus with producer Tahaj the One. It might be an even better disc over all, and it's a crazy concept album, too, where they really follow through on the "flea circus" idea. It's a trip. Not a lot of guests on that one, though White Mic shows up on one song, along with some guy named Shag Nasty. But Tahaj takes the mic a few times and proves himself a capable MC as well. Plus, again, Z doesn't need guests, he stays interesting enough on his own.

And if that's still not enough for you, I have good news. The back of Show Up promises a new album called 6 Pack of Dynamite "coming soon." Sounds like 2016 is gonna be a good year for Z-Man fans.