Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Albums By The Fearless Four's Peso

Yo folks, I've got a big update on my post from last summer about The Fearless Four's Great Peso.  Like, two new album's worth.  So yeah, so once again I was hooked up by Matt (cheers!); and you may remember that Peso had kind of quietly mounted an underground comeback in upstate New York under the initials TGP.  Well, now he's a little less under wraps, doing some shows in NY and Germany and he's got two new CDs (you might say mixtapes, but they're not mixed or blended at all; so they're pretty much full albums in my book) under the more recognizable name Peso 131. He's even got a full website now at peso131.com.

A lot of the pros and cons with the new CDs are the same as with the old ones.  It's really cool to hear Peso back on the mic, but the majority of the material are these kind of club songs I've never really been a fan of.  You know, air horns in the instrumental, titles like "She's a Hottie."  Maybe this is what's popping in his local scene, but personally I'd much rather hear some more traditional breakbeat and soul sample kinda stuff, or even something reminiscent of his really old school records.  But it is what it is, and there are still some cool moments are highlights.  Overall, I prefer This Is How I Roll, which is a little more hip-hop.  It's all original production by names I don't recognize, but who I assume are all part of his Plattsburgh Home Team crew, except the first track, "Still Peso," which us over the "Still D.R.E." instrumental.  That's definitely one of the best tracks, and remember that song I picked out from his crew's mixtape called "My Universe?"  Well, that's on here; and they've even made a video for it up on youtube now.

Then the next album, Fearless 4, I wasn't feeling as much overall.  But it does have the best song across both albums, a reunion of the group (the rest of the album, to be clear, is a Peso solo album) called "Club Slappa."  They all come off really nice on the mic, and while the instrumental starts out kinda generically club-ish like a lot of album; the beat changes up and they start mixing in beats like "Peter Piper," and then you're on board.  It's also got some live trumpet by DLB Jr., which might sound like a bad idea on paper, but actually kinda works.  If Peso reads this, more like this song, please!  Now, "Club Slappa" actually popped up online a couple years ago, and I believe a couple of these other songs may be older, too; which is probably why these albums are considered mixtapes.  But it's nice they've finally found a home.  There's not really a storefront or anything, but I'm pretty sure you can cop these CDs if you contact Peso through his site.

I also got to hear some other stuff from his Home Team gang (no, not that Home Team).  There's a Home Away From Home mixtape, which is actually a proper mix, full of solo songs and the big posse cut I wrote about last year's post.  It has two more Peso songs, but they're both on This Is How I Roll, so if you get that, you've already got 'em.  And they also sent me the solo debut of Phonix Orion, who had one of the best songs on the Summer Sampler from last year.  I wasn't too taken with his appearances on Home Away From Home, but hearing him on own project, I was definitely feeling him more.

It's a cassette EP called Cashmere Phoenix, and it's got more of a laid back, jazzy kind of vibe that's completely removed from Peso's stuff.  I suppose it's more in step with what contemporary hip-hop in general, which makes sense, but he's definitely taking chances with beats that blend into breathy choruses and stuff. Lyrically, I could've done without lines about "haters," etc - the worst influence of his generation. But production-wise especially, it's actually considerably more impressive than Peso's albums.  Although I don't think I'm suggesting they get Peso on this style of song necessarily.

But since "My Universe" is one of his best songs, and it's the one they've chosen to make the video for; I think Peso's already moving in the right direction.  So like last year, these CDs might be just for the serious fans and old school collectors who are excited to hear that Peso's back and what he's up to.  But pretty soon we might be looking at something I'd recommend for the more mainstream listener.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Omniscence's Elektra Emancipation From Dope Folks

So, previously we've looked at the restoration of Omniscence's unreleased Elektra album, his rare earlier material, and his new comeback stuff. But there's one more period left to explore, which we finally get to hear, thanks again to Dope Folks Records. The EP has the exceptionally self-explanatory title: Elektra Emancipation: No A&R and No R&B Niggas In the Studio. This is material recorded from 1996-1998, after his stint with Elektra Records, and was back on his own, recording independent music without label influence. But thankfully, he kept working with The Bizzie Boyz' DJ Fanatic, who produced every song here. It's crazy this was never released at the time; these songs on 12" would've sold like hotcakes on Sandbox and HipHopSite back then.

Omni hasn't greatly changed from his Raw Factor time, but these tracks do have more of a hardcore edge. Part of that's probably due to aforementioned lack of mainstream R&B cats. There are no sung hooks or anything here, just nice scratch choruses. But part of the edge is coming from Omni, too. I mean, he's not back on his "When I Make Parole" steez here - he's still kicking punchline filled freestyle rhymes - but he just sounds a little rougher and maybe even angry at times.  I like it.

This is another six song EP, plus an instrumental Intro by Fanatic. The only guest on here is KT on "We Could Get Used To This," and he actually sounds pretty great on here. Like, he might actually be outshining Om on his own record. They both come off, though, and it's got one the catchiest beats I've heard in a long time with a looped vocal sample. That and "Total Domination," where he just sounds great ripping it over a dark and ominous beat are the stand-out cuts, but everything here is solid. There's a track called "Glamorous Life," surprisingly doesn't sound like Shiela E or Cool C's "Glamourous Life"s, but it still bumps.

This isn't a brand new release; it actually came out in 2015.  But luckily it's still available, because I just copped it earlier this month along with that crazy, must-have Mykill Miers record. As per usual, this was limited to 300 copies, 50 of which were on orange wax, and the rest are standard black. No Omni fan will be disappointed. I hope Dope Folks isn't slowing down anytime soon, because I'm always excited to see what they're going to come up with next.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

West Coast Rap's Mysterious Dynasty

In 1992, Rhino Records released a pretty sweet series of compilation albums called West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty.  This was in an age when compilation albums were big, because suburban kids who missed out on all the rare 12"s could get whole bunches of them on single tapes or CDs.  But unfortunately, almost all of the old school rap comps featured the same handful of songs: "Rapper's Delight," "The Message," "White Lines," "The Breaks"... Sure, these are great classic songs that belong in any serious Hip-Hop head's collection, but how many times could they keep selling us just the same few songs released over and over again? And they usually weren't even the full-length versions, but short radio edits.  But by focusing on west coast history, and just some more obscure stuff in general, these albums were full of great, and still historically important songs that most of us didn't already have.  I mean, okay, some of you old school west coast DJs might be waving your hand like, "I had 'em all," but not a lot of cross-country kids had stuff like "Feel My Bass" by DJ Matrix or "Groovy Ghost Show pt. 1" by Casper.

So Vol. 1 and 2 came out together, then Vol. 3 came a few months later. To give you an idea, it featured artists like Rappers Rapp Group (and their many spin-off acts), LA Dream Team, early 2 Live Crew, Rodney O & Joe Cooley and Ice-T. In fact, there was a lot of Rappers Rapp because member DJ Flash was involved in producing these compilations.  Clearly some bias in the selection.  But that's fine with me, because Rappers Rapp were great and totally slept on, so they were mostly the highlights for these compilations to me... although, as an essentially "greatest hits" series of west coast classics, highlights abounded.  But anyway, then came the maybe the weakest, but also the most fascinating and important, final entry in the series, not called Vol. 4, but West Coast Rap: The Renegades. The title change was because this entry included newer material, so it was no longer the "first dynasty."  But what made this one so "fascinating and important?" It features a bunch of unreleased material!

But actually, the unreleased material started sneaking through the cracks back on Vol. 3.  I'm pretty sure two of the tracks had never been released; certainly one hadn't.  The liner notes even refer to it as "the odd man out," their bonus unreleased cut at the end of the comp. It's "Tainted Love" by X-Calibur (spelled on these albums as Excalibur) featuring King MC of the Rappers Rapp Group.  Yes, it's a rap version of the 80s pop song by Soft Cell.  Apparently it was originally recorded in 1982, but updated in 1990.  It's pretty fun - a rap version of "Tainted Love" really works, though the lyrics are a little corny, and the updated beats are a bit tacky.  Frankly, I wish they would've included the original 1982 version, but I'm happy to get this rather than the song remaining completely lost forever.

So that's the only song they list as unreleased, but as far as I can figure, DJ Flash's "Hittin' Hard" has never been released either.  The notes say it's from 1985, and it's sort of like "Scorpio," in that it's all slowly rapped vocoder rhymes over an electro-influenced beat, and he references other old school west coast records like "Egypt, Egypt."  I've looked, and I'm pretty sure this was never a B-side or anything on other records.  Either I'm getting senile, or this has never been released before either.  It's popped up on a couple subsequent compilations, which are essentially re-releases and variations of the First Dynasty series.  But I've never been able to find a DJ Flash or Future MC's record with "Hittin' Hard" on there.

However, that's just the tip of the iceberg, because now we come to Renegades.  Although, the entirety of the Renegades album isn't unreleased: a good chunk of it is just more compilation of west coast hit records like "Your Chance To Rock" by Rodney O & Joe Cooley and "Naughty Boy" by Uncle Jamm's Army. Those are "first dynasty" era, but they also include newer material like Madrok's "Skin Tight" from 1992 featuring The Ohio Players. That was on his album and it was his big single.  But then they also have another Madrok song, that was never on his album or ever released before at all called "I.E.'s In the House," about Inland Empire, which is okay but a little too reliant on "Atomic Dog" for my tastes.  In 1993, though, it wound up being featured on the soundtrack to a Lou Diamond Phillips action movie called Extreme Justice.

And Captain Rapp makes a comeback here with "Bad Times - Part 2 (The Continuance)."  "Bad Times" was on Vol. 1 and is a pretty historically important, early west coast message rap.  It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis before they blew up.  And yes, the original "Bad Times" 12" from 1983 had a "Part 2" on it, but don't let that confuse ya.  That was basically just a shortened instrumental version of the original song.  This "Part 2" is a newly recorded song with all new lyrics.  Even the girl who sang the original hook, Kimberly Ball, returns to sing essentially the same words the same way.  They probably could've saved some money and just sampled the original hook, but hey, it's cool to have her back. Anyway, the instrumental is essentially the same as the original, just a little sped up and modernized, but Rapp has all new raps referencing Rodney King, etc.  His verse about Jeffrey Dahmer gets morbidly detailed, verging on horrorcore:

"I hit the script that rips and grips the paradox, a fiend with a scheme like a scene from Hitchcock.  A serial killer who unleashed the apocalypse! A gory story to depict his crypt: a tiny apartment, six graves with no tombstones, and held a cellar who's full of guts and bones.  A psychopath whose tests[?] get hideous, undaunting and flaunting, he was sick and insidious.   He charmed, disarmed and turned and tricked 'em.  His kills brought ills to sixteen victims.  Strangle, dismember, and eat the body parts.  Drink the blood that flowed the human heart.  Families mourn after questions, why?  Remains in a barrel were left to acidify.  He's locked in prison, but streets aren't calmer.  Somewhere out there lurks another Jeffrey Dahmer!"

Ummm, wow.  Okay.  Overall, it's pretty cool, but so close to the original that it's hard to get very excited for it.  Kimberly also has "I Can't Stand It" later on the album, which is essentially the same song but with just her singing extra verses to replace Captain Rapp's contribution.

Perhaps the strangest inclusions are two new songs by a completely unknown artist named Kid Solo.  Not only had he never done anything before this, he never has since.  I guess this was a protege DJ Flash was managing perhaps, because he has production credit on one of the songs; and again, Flash's fingerprints are on every aspect of these albums.  So maybe he was just showcasing his new act.  One of the songs is a rap version of "That's the Way I Like It" and neither of them are very good.  He's a very poppy dance rapper, sounding inspired by acts like B.G. Prince of Rap and C&C Music Factory, and doesn't seem worthy of inclusion here.

Or, no.  Actually I think the strangest inclusion is "Hold Back the Tears" by a duo called P.A.N.I.C. Like Kid Solo, this is their only song anywhere, and it's a dedication to Magic Johnson.  DJ Flash's name isn't even on this one, so I'm extra puzzled why this was here.  It's not great, with some corny rhymes ("you don't have to be a Tinkerbell to get a virus from Hell") and a really awkward hook.  I guess this album was an excuse for Rhino Records to throw in whatever west-coast related stuff they had on hand?

Anyway, it's not all material by nobodies.  Egyptian Lover made a new megamix of some of his earlier hit records for this album, called "Egypt's Revenge."  He later wound up including it on his album Pyramix, but it debuted here.  And remember when I said I wished they'd included the 1982 version of X-Calibur's "Tainted Love" on Vol. 3?  Well, I think they heard me and decided to spite me by doing the opposite: they recorded and included a newer Dance Re-Mix, which downplays the rap vocals.  Also, DJ Flash made a new track specifically for this compilation called "The First Dynasty- Mega-Mix," which like its name implies, is a mega-mix of a bunch of the hits from the previous three albums.  But interestingly, it has new verses by 2 Bigg MC, Hammer's former hype-man who put out his own record in 1990.

Finally, they've got two unreleased songs by King MC, one serious: "Ghetto Drama", and one silly: "Double-O Seven," which is another rap song using a James Bond theme.  And unlike, say, "I'm Large," he also raps about being James Bond in the lyrics.  King MC moved to Europe after his stint with The Future MC's, and he put out some records with dance and club artists over there.  These are from that period, but a little more traditionally hip-hop.   Not his best work, but good enough that his fans will be happy to get them.

So, I wouldn't recommend Renegades to casual listeners.  I would recommend the Rap Dynasty albums, especially if you missed a lot of these records the first time around.  But most people can stop after Vol. 3.  But for serious fans and diggers interested in the history, Renegades is kind of a slept on treasure trove of exclusive odds and ends.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Halloween the Prequel

Finally, a record I am really super amped for: an exciting unearthing from Dope Folks! (Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sugga and Spice and JJ Fad Ain't Nice

Alright, we just covered an NWA diss, now how about a JJ Fad diss? Today's record is the second 12" single by Sugga and Spice from 1988 on Dream Team Records. Check out that bad-ass cover. Even the dog has shades and a phat gold LA Dream Team chain on! I think that's Rudy Pardee way out in the background there; and look in the upper right-hand corner: they've even got a special anti-JJ Fad logo. How can you be an old school Hip-Hop fan and not want to hear this record?

So, like I said, this is Sugga and Spice's second record (of two). There first was "Yes We Can," also on Dream Team Records in 1988. Both Sugar and Spice are MCs, and they're basically the LA Dream Team's girl group version of themselves. Sugar even has the same funky accent as Rudy. It was also featured on Joe Cooley's Hollywood Live compilation mix, and it basically has them updating the same "Yes We Can Can" Pointer Sisters song The Treacherous Three did back in 1982, with the same chorus and loop. And lyrically, it mostly sounds like generic bragging about how they can win a battle, but it ends with the line "hama lama assumin' I'ma that," which is clearly a "Supersonic" reference.

And just as an interesting aside, flip the record over to the back cover and Rudy starts out the shout outs with, "WHO I DON'T WANT TO THANK: Sweet "C" a real fake producer who thinks he had it going on. So quit it. You ain't with it. Your[sic] a real fake producer so don't forget it. You know who you are."

But anyway, bringing it back to JJ Fad. That's the only song on the first 12", but the second record has three songs. One is a "Yes We Can" remix by Snake Puppy, which is a little more interesting, just because even though it mostly still uses the same groove and hook, they take it a little farther from the Pointer Sisters record. And another song is "Boys Just Wanna Get Skeezed," which sounds like it's going to be a Cyndi Lauper answer record, but thankfully it's not and doesn't use her song at all. It's actually a pretty cool beat, and the concept of the song is just what the title tells you.

But the third song, innocuously called "That's Funky" is a straight-up, 100% diss song. Now, why are they going after JJ Fad? Just because they had a hit record and Sugga and Spice were newcomers looking to make a name for themselves? That's probably part of it for sure, but naw. The beef is that JJ Fad started out on Dream Team Records. "Supersonic" was first released on that label. Then JJ Fad split up and reformed on Ruthless Records, where they re-recorded "Supersonic" with the new line-up, and that became a smash it. So the Dream Team were a bit salty, and they had their new girl group go at 'em.

It's a pretty dope track, too. It uses the same core sample KMD used on their first album, but those guys smoothed it out more. This is more hype and hardcore, with funky horns and some nice scratches. Lyrically, on the song, the main thing Sugga and Spice diss them for is using ghost writers ("trying to diss with some lyrics that Dr. Dre wrote"), but there's lots of personal disses ("one's too short, too fat, too tall," "you Sassy C with the patched up head"). And they take a lot of specific shots at "Supersonic:

"Who ya think you're foolin'? I know better than that. 'Supersonic' sounds like the 'Planet Rock' track! In fact, I know ya stole it, and you wanna play big time? Bitin' and recitin' them walla walla wack rhymes."

It's pretty cool, mostly because it's a decent record even before taking the JJ Fad dissing into account. It's easily their best song. I can't say I'm too torn up over Sugga and Spice never getting an album out, but I'd recommend this single for "That's Funky." Some of the lines are a little corny, like all the baby references they make about Baby D; but overall it's a hot, little song.