Saturday, October 21, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 5: Painting Puddles

 (Early Atoms Family Appearances Week concludes with what I think is the earliest Atoms Family appearance of all, with the Deep Puddle Dynamics crew.  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 4: Old Bridge, Mad Race

If Day 3 was a little too obvious, let Day 4 be nice and obscure.  Old Trolls New Bridge is the first release on Johnny 23 Records, an indie Hip-Hop label that's still active seventeen years later.  It's a compilation CD of their family of artists, including guys like LoDeck and Jak Progresso.  This is a pretty lo-fi sounding CD.  The equipment they used just sounds cheap, so the mixing is tinny and abrasive, and the vocals tend to sound like they were recorded over a payphone.  In a way, that kind of adds to the charm of this super indie collection of furious battle raps and scrappy young artists, but at the same time, none of these could ever be anybody's favorite songs.  It's just too raw, closer to a collection of freestyles than polished music.  It's a fun little experience, though, especially now, all these years later, to see which ones moved on to greater things and how they found their footing.  And while The Atoms Family were never really a part of Johnny 23, a couple of 'em do appear here as guests.

"Mommi's Relay Race" is the highlight of the album; the big posse right at the end.  So let's break down the line-up by the order the appear on the track.  First is Bas PMC, who've I've never heard of outside of this album, although he does appear on one other song.  Jak Progresso is second, and he's been putting out albums on Johnny 23 for years, on a demented horrorcore tip.  RC, who you may remember me mentioning have a catchy song on the DJ e.s.e. and TES album from Day 1.  In fact, that same song is also on this album.  I don't blame them, it's a great sample, and they probably wanted to get it heard as much as possible.  But it is redundant.  Anyway, next up is Breez Evahflowin, who was making a name for himself with 12"s on Wreck Records, Detonator, Bronx Science and even Tuff City.  I'm sure most of you reading this know who he is.  Then there's Big Deep, the other guy who did that song with RC, but is better known today as being one half of the 2 Hungry Brothers.  Then there's a guy named Paramount, who I don't really know, but I gather he's one of The Tapeworms, another crew on this album.  Anyway, he seems to pop up on a number of Johnny 23 releases, so he's definitely down with their clique.  And finally, right at the end, are three Atoms Fam members: Vast Aire, Alaska and Da Cryptic One.

Unfortunately, this song has the same sketchy mastering as the rest of the album, so it's a little rough.  You almost don't recognize Vast's distinctive voice, which does take away from the proceedings.  Still, it's a fun time.  The beat is pretty simple; it's one def loop that basically just repeats for the entire six minutes; but that's perfect for a posse cut with barely any hook, where the attention belongs on the ever-changing line-up of MCs each trying to come off the tightest.  There's an undeniable appeal to posse cuts, where every MC gets on the mic and tries to show and prove as best they can for a short time before passing the mic down the line, and that isn't lost here.

But an undeniable weakness of the era, corny punchlines have been weighing down every release during Atoms Family Week, and Old Trolls New Bridge has it the worst of all.  Right off the bat, we've got Bas PMC rushing to squeeze in all the syllables of "your style's dried up like a jheri curl. Fuckin' with me is like Israelites havin' sex with a white girl."  Jak Progresso has punchlines, too, but manages to flip 'em into something dark and creative enough to hold up in Current Year, "Mr. Hatchet, wanna fight Satan.  Face it, tell me to fly a kite? I'm usin' your skin to make it. Right now? I wanna stick you with a spear, lift you up and watch your body slide down. Fuck bringin' my high down. It's strange how sometimes my mouth isn't moving and I'm still talkin'. I don't attract girls; I stalk 'em."

Breez sounds great like always, coming off like a veteran here with a more refined flow.  Interestingly, this song is divided into groups of three (3 MCs, hook, next 3 MCs, and so on); and all three MCs in the second black use a lot of animal imagery in their bars.  Breeze: "I wear the skin of a lobster, start swingin' elbows, stick my foot in your turtle ass to rock shell toes."  Paramount: "I channel anxiety like female praying mantis; killing cowboys like buffalo avalanches. Levitate like green leaves from tree branches, where monkeys have Tantric sex on,"  Deep: "four beetles on my tongue waitin' for the monkeys to come, in groups of twelve, to develop my religion; my eagle eye persists to have hawks jealous of my vision, venom spittin' to chase the snake"... are just some of the many examples throughout their three verses.  The first couple of times it sounds like a coincidence, but as they keep piling on, I figure it's got to be something they worked out together.  I'm not sure it means much of anything, but it's definitely an interesting choice.

And of course the final third belongs to the Atoms.  By now, you've probably noticed that this is a pretty strange posse cut, merging complex lyricism with a tongue-in-cheek silliness.  And you know the Fam can deliver on that promise.  Vast Aire starts us out by saying, "yo, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm not a genius, but I think the rooster got the penis. Yo, I fuck the track all night like a rapid rabbit havin' sex with all might."  Alaska's dropping Simpsons references, and Cryptic has lines like, "my flow is like a sight only had by African flying squirrels hovering from tree to tree discoverin' the perfect branch to see," and by this point the whole song's totally bugged out.  But they spit their flows so earnestly, you'd never notice if you weren't paying careful attention.  I can only imagine the studio was full of smoke when they recorded this track, but it winds up being a crazy song that fully rewards repeated listens.  You've just got to check it out.

And "Mommi's Relay Race" isn't the only Atoms appearance on this album.  There's a Tapeworms song called "Resolution," which features Vast, Alaska and a guy named Okktagon Zupreme from the Secret Service Crew.  It's produced by Big Deep and has some nice cuts on the hook.  It's not as bugged out as "Relay Race," with them taking a stand for the underground against the popular trendy rap of the time.  Alaska makes the "mainstream maintains position as the enemy" line in the sand most clear with his verse, saying, "millenium model holdin' a rotten bible forgotten gospel that I don't give a fuck about you. Suck you, fuck you, I suck myself. Myself, I think you suck, you fell the fuck off. Alaska tax the lap of luxury, sucker MC, shiny jacket halfwit, rebel for the hell of it, irrelevant Missy Elliot."

What else is on this album?  Well, Ace Lover has a little freestyle, and Mac Lethal, the guy who's since became shockingly famous for his viral video rapping about pancakes, has two songs.  There's a couple more tracks by LoDeck and the rest of the gang.  But for my money, besides the Atoms Family appearances, the most noteworthy track is definitely Jak Progresso's solo song, since he's still on that shock value horror core tip, "at age ten, welcome to my house of trapped children; human hides cover my suitcases.  I'm tasteless, wallpaper handmade of cute faces.  Teeth pulled out and made into bracelets.  I'm living hatred."  You know, I never copped a Jak Progresso album, but revisiting Old Trolls this week has made me curious.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 3: The Persecuted Artifact

This is going to be the most obvious in Early Atoms Week: The Persecution of Hip Hop.  It's a compilation album like Public Exposure, where a whole bunch of indie, mostly east coast artists get a track to shine.  But this one's a double LP vinyl release on Centrifugal Phorce, Da Cryptic One's label.  And because it's his label, The Atoms Family gets a lot of extra representation here.  Like seven song's worth.  It almost feels like an Atoms album.  The majority of the album still consists of other artists, but nobody even begins to tip the scales like the Atoms.

They cover it up a little bit but giving a bunch of the Fam solo songs.  So it doesn't look like a whole bunch of songs by the same crew but one song by Vast Aire, one by Cryptic, one by Alaska, and so on.  A really great side effect of this, though, is that this album is really where I learned to recognize all the individual members.  'Cause The Atoms Family is a big crew with a whole bunch of MCs; and it didn't make things any less confusing when their first album consisted of a bunch of members who quickly dropped out and were replaced by the current roster.  So all of these guys having distinctly credited solo songs spread across the compilation really taught fans to recognize, "okay, this is Vast Aire," and "Windnbreeze is the guy who raps like that."  Up until Persecution, The Atoms Family was in danger of being a giant collective of anonymous dudes who rap together.

There aren't any songs, in fact, credited to The Atoms Family.  It's just ____ of The Atom's Family.  And a couple songs even leave that off.  That's how the first song is billed: it's called "One 2 Your Ear" by Kasm and Alaska.  It's a pretty smooth cut, produced by Kasm, with a super cool bassline and a nice mix of Guru vocal samples for the hook.  Kasm and Alaska just pass the mic back and forth kicking some relaxed freestyle rhymes.  It's a real head nodder.

Vast Aire is up next with a solo song called "Adversity Strikes" produced by Cryptic One.  Cryptic's beat is an ill, atmospheric sci-fi influenced beat that heralded their best work.  This is pretty much the song that introduced Vast to the world and he sounds great.  It has a classic hook, "I'm from the Atoms Fam, and it's the small things that count 'cause the atom's a small thing with a large destruction amount."  A remix of this song appeared on The Atoms Family compilation album, The Prequel; and they later made a sequel to this song called "Adversity Struck" for a 2003 compilation called Embedded Joints.

Alaska's solo song "Who Am I?" is next.  It's got a compelling track by Cryptic that draws you in with more choice Guru for the hook ("who am I? I'm the substance that'll make your third eye cry").  Alaska definitely spits the hardest rhymes of the crew, almost yelling for his delivery, but he's still spinning fast-paced, complicated wordplay in his lyrics.  And it's around this time on the album that I started to realize The Atoms Family guys are noticeably tighter than almost anybody else on this album.  Not 100% everybody, but by and large, they're stealing the show.  A new remix for this song later appeared on The Prequel.

Da Cryptic One comes up next.  He produces and raps "Sexual Harassment (Case #file#050971)."  There's a lot of wordplay that makes it a little confusing to follow, but I think the basic idea is that it's an angry, sexually graphic extended metaphor for the music industry using people: "some cool dude wraps his lips around your plastic smooth tube until you've been blown up. The vision made me throw up.  You dumb sluts continue to suck shit; I told you to slow up.  Dumb fucks!  I guess that's why you're fresh out of luck.  Your ass lasts a year, only a mere minute, fool; left in the cold naked, holding on your miniature tool.  You shake and twitch, your life slips through the cracks in the pavement, amazing how quick you got pimped into that mental enslavement with no future.  Wonder where your past went?  I find this industry guilty of rap sexual harassment."  Cryptic later produced a sequel to this song called "Sexual Harassment (Casefile #031272)," on the Atoms Family Prequel album, with Alaska on the mic this time.

Finally comes the one and only Atoms Family crew song on the album: "Not For Promotional Use" by Vast, Cryptic and Vordul.  Again produced by Cryptic, the energy is really high on this one.  The production is incredible on this one, and the guys gel perfectly over it.  It's like the perfect middle ground between back packer nerd rap and hardcore battle rhymes.  Lyrically, the subject matter's maybe a little basic compared to other Atoms' songs, but you could still put this their greatest hits album.  It's one of those songs you want to replay as soon as its over.

This brings us to the last solo song, WindnBreeze's "Nothing Really Happens."  It's a very playful unspooling of wordplay for wordplay's sake.  He's saying basically nothing just because it sounds good, over a simple but supportive beat by Cryptic.  "like a grasshopper hopping over blades of grass while I cut blades of grass with two cut blades of grass attached at the end to make a blade of grass scissor."  Okay.  It's just amusing nonsense that sounds nice, showcasing the kind of flow Wind was experimenting with.  It kind of feels like a lyrical version of those Skratch Picklz practice tapes, where they'd just cut up one vocal sample over another over the same break beat for minutes on end.  It's less of a proper song than an exercise, but in the end it sounded so good, they'd sell it to the public.

And that's mostly it for the Atoms Family songs on here, except the last song on the album is "Outta My Head" by The Imperials with a guest verse by Cryptic.  He kicks some packed punchlines and battle rhymes on a solid track alongside the other guys.  It's not as tight as the previous six Atoms song, but it ain't bad.

Apart from that, the album's alright.  At the time, it was also noteworthy for putting out the indie super group Deep Puddle Dynamics before they came out with any of their own records.  It's a slightly rough, early version of "Rain Men" without some of the scratching that was on the records later released by Anticon.  Other noteworthy acts include Dragons of Edin, Octavious (I have his old Descent and Dissention EP... I need to revisit that one day) and a cool track by Dr. Strange of The Lenzmen.

The only thing that makes this less than absolutely essential for Atoms fans is the fact that more than half of these songs were later re-released on their Prequel album.  "Not For Promotional Use" is on there, as well as both "Sexual Harassment,"s, "Who Am I?" as well as its remix, and "Adversity Strikes" and its remix.  It also has two remixes of "Nothing Really Happens," but not the mix on here.  Besides that, all it's missing is "One 2 Your Ear" and The Imperials track, which isn't really an Atoms Family song.  So this is a cool album for completists and historians, but for most Atoms fans, it's probably more of an artifact than an essential.  Although it is cool that it's on double vinyl, whereas The Prequel is CD only.  So there's that.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 2: Blatantly Weightless

Most people who read this blog would be familiar with Weightless Recordings, right?  Actually, looking at my "Find Posts About..." column, I'm surprised I never blogged about at least Illogic before.  Although, I suppose if any you've really been with me for the long haul, I did write about them for The Source way back when.  But real quick, just in case, Weightless Recordings is the official label of Ohio underground family of Greenhouse Effect, Iskabibbles, Blueprint, Zero Star... a lot of the groups are same guys kinda shuffled around.  Like Blueprint is a member of Greenhouse and Iskabibbles as well as having plenty of solo albums, being a part of The Orphanage, etc.  You have to get really dug into them as a fan to sort it all out, but in short it's a small but strong collective of underground Ohio MCs who've been in the game a long time now.  Because yeah, they're still doing it.  Illogic and Blueprint put out new albums on Weightless as recently as last year.  Blueprint's was on vinyl.

And this is an early album from them, called B-Sides Volume 1: Blatant Battle Raps released in 2001.  There never was a Volume 2.  The concept is explain on the inside cover, "[t]his is a collection of songs that we probably would've never put out for one reason or another.  Some were done without any project in mind, others belonged to side-projects that got put on the back burner.  Nevertheless, we've been enjoying them ourselves for a while a[sic.] figured you might also get a kick out of them."  The liner notes also promise an Iskabibbles LP that never happened.

So yeah, it's a nice collection of otherwise unreleased songs by the whole family.  There's only one group of outside artists on here, and if you've read this post's title, you know who that'll be.  There's a big posse cut with The Atoms Family called "Pen Relays" on here.  The full line-up of MCs on this track is Cryptic One, Alaska, Windnbreeze, Vast Aire, Blueprint and Inkwel.  Cryptic also produced the track.  And it's easily one of the most exciting moments on the album, if only by virtue of it being the big posse cut.  Like Day 1's entry (and you'll note: Greenhouse Effect were on that album, too), it's another one that clocks in at over 7 minutes, with each MC just trying to showcase their skills as best they can over an atmospheric, industrial-sounding track.

Despite the subtitle of the album, we're not really getting battle raps here.  Well, maybe a little bit of it is.  It's actually a strange mix of mind-bending imagery meshed with seriously extended metaphors for basic skill flexing ("see me at the back of the class, 101 iconoclast, making all of my professors laugh. Who knows what evil lurks in the ugly hearts of men?  I throw darts at men, tips dipped in carcinogen.  I raise cities out of bottomless pits.  Man, it's all in the wrists.  I can tell a snake by the lisp, because MCs are pathetic"), along with the occasional, perfunctory corny punchline ("me and the mic's best friends like Blossom and Six").  Yeah, it feels a little dated and the punchlines definitely sell the rest of the material short, but overall it's still an impressive display of lyrical prowess sixteen years later.

Then the Fam comes back for an encore on the very last track of the album, a freestyle "Live From Time Travel Radio (Chicago, IL)."  This time we've got Cryptic, Alaska, Vast and Vordul alongside the Iskabibbles crew.  At least that's what's listed on the track-listing.  It gets a little confusing because it lists twelve songs, including Interludes, but the CD is broken up into 25 tracks.  Most of the extra tracks are these very short freestyle snippets, plus an dope unlisted bonus track at the end called "Sun Rise" by Blueprint and somebody named Shabazz of The Commandos.  But there's eight tracks between the last song and the bonus song, and it's not entirely if they're all from the Time Travel Radio session or just other bonus freestyles they're sticking on the CD.  Some obviously are part of the Time Travel bit, because they feature Atoms Family members, but track 20, for instance, could really go either way.  They really do make this album feel like a collection of scraps.

Anyway, it's a bunch of fun freestyles.  There are some surprising punchlines in there ("you're wack like Nas is now"), and you can feel that a lot of these are entirely off the head, while others are more prewritten.  The tracks are very "scrappy," in that we sometimes jump in or out in in the middle of an MC's verse.  Overall, it's cool if you take it as a bonus; but none of it packs half the value of "Pen Relays."  That's the song that's going to really please Atoms fans.  ...And Weightless fans, too, of course.  If you're into these guys, this is a solid album for your collection.  Illogic's got a couple tight tracks, and there's a cool remix of Greenhouse's song from the Foolblown compilation.

This CD was later released with full color artwork of The Thing fighting The Hulk, but I've got the original, scrappy black & white release.  Looking on discogs, the repress has the same track-listing, but I'm not sure if it has all the little bonus filler cuts. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 1: Just Rhyming With Eternia

You know what?  It's been a while since I dipped into some really underground Hip-Hop on this blog.  Indie, sure, and lots of old school.  But it's time to dig deeper.  Not obscure/ rural.  Something straight up, New York, real purist stuff.  And who fits that bill better than The Atoms Family?  And I don't mean any of that Cannibal Ox, Hangar 18 Def Jux material - that stuff is too commercial!  It's too well known for what I want to do this week.  It's time to really get stuck in.

So let's start off with a compilation album called Public Exposure, presented by DJ e.s.e. and TES.  They say "present," because they don't do any of the music or anything on here.  Well, TES has a verse on one track, and DJ e.s.e. does produce a song near the end; but by and large, it's on a real DJ Khaled, "I just made some calls; I didn't do any of the music or anything" tip.  This came out in 2000 on... no credited label.  It's briefly described on discogs as an "East Coast underground hip-hop compilation released on a 60-minute Maxell[sic.] tape with no labels; full color insert with full tracklist."  Well, I can tell you there's also a CD version, because that's what I've got.  It's got a fold-out front cover but no back.  I ordered it from Atak or Foolblown back in the day, and that's how it came new.  At least it looks more official than a Maxwell tape (I bet it was a Type I, too, right?).

Anyway, this is a compilation album of all original, never previously released music by all sorts of obscure, underground artists.  I don't even know some of them: Yazeed, Steve Austin (presumably not the celebrity wrestler), The Bronx Monx, Unipod Particles?  Honestly, I'm just barely familiar with DJ e.s.e. and TES outside of this album.  But there are some recognizable acts, too, including Mike Ladd & Rob Sonic, Greenhouse Effect and of course The Atoms Family.

They have a song here called "Hip Hop for Dummies" and it's rather long, clocking in at over seven minutes.  That's partly because it's padded out by a skit in the middle of the song.  See, the song pretty much tells you the premise; it's a sort of tongue-in-cheek class for new jacks on how to make real Hip-Hop, with each verse acting as an example, I suppose, of how to rip a mic.  Jest1 and somebody named Sunspark talk like teachers addressing a classroom.  But really, the skit's pretty short, and it would be an unusually long song even without it.

And who's kicking these verses?  Cryptic One, who of course also produced the track, Vast Aire, and Atoms outsider Eternia.  You know the one who generated all that publicity for her album with Moss on Fat Beats a couple years ago?  This is the first time I heard her, and honestly, I like her a lot more here than I do on her new stuff.  Her voice sounds the same, but lyrically, it feels like she's dumbed it down to find her audience over the years.  On "Hip Hop for Dummies," Eternia spits fast, syllable-dense verses, full of creative imagery, and keeping right up with the Atoms members.  Admittedly, there's a bit of that familiar but awkward feel of backpackers still fine-tuning their flows on this song.  I could see some listeners writing the song off because of their unrefined youth.

Except for Vast.  His flow and distinctive voice are impossible to resist.  He could just read from the phone book and you'd be leaning forward to catch every name he lists.  And that's fortunate, because what he's actually rapping is a bit of a word salad: "I got my eyes on the prize like Olympians flipping when instant replay screws them over.  That's why I hold the mic like a four-leaf clover.  So I can determine what lies at the rainbow's end.  After our reign is over, of atomic dynasty, claymated pottery, air and water; here to fuse life, or create order, and start my apocalyptic dietary, 'cause hysterically[mispronouncing "historically"?] I am known as Teddy Ruxpin, the horizon denter that evolved from an army that never stood at ease."

...Like, what?  I'm with him through the first punchline, and the rain/reign wordplay.  The atomic dynasty is presumably the Atoms Family and I get how claymation and clay pottery wind up fused together.  But after that it's just spinning out of control.  Maybe he's equating himself to Teddy Ruxpin (the talking teddy bear toy) because he's an orator, but how did we get there from talk of fusing life with air and water?  I don't know.  One of my favorite aspects of early Atoms Family material (especially the Centa Of the Web EP) is all the wild imagery and atmosphere they evoked in their bars.  But I feel like there's some cohesion missing here.

Anyway, that's the only Atoms Family credit on this album, but the whole CD is pretty cool.  Despite each song being produced by a different artist, there's a real cohesion to the sound.  Like, maybe they all used DJ e.s.e.'s equipment?  Some guys named RC and Deep have a really catchy loop, there's an early appearance (the first?) by Creative Juice's I Am Many; and the album ends with some fun radio freestyles by an MC named Filli.  He must've passed away around that time because the album's dedicated to him, which is a shame because he came across as talented and funny.

"Hip Hop for Dummies" later turned up on the Atoms Family compilation album The Prequel as "Rhyming for Dummies," but it's the exact same song.  Still, the album's worth it for everything else. I imagine it wouldn't be easy to find an O.G. copy these days (although there seems to be one available from some German seller on discogs as of this writing); but if you see it around, it's definitely a nice pick up, particularly if you're a fan of this era and scene.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How Does Hip-Hop Grow Up? Falling

In the past, I've referred to Whirlwind D's particular take on Hip-Hop as adult, mature, "grown man rap," etc.  But what does that really mean?  Traditionalism?  Some balding rapper talking about break dancing, or beats that sound like they were made in the 90s (for some reason, Hip-Hop producers are scared to throwback farther than that)?  Just anything by anybody who still picks up a mic after 40?  I don't know about all that...  Like, I don't care how old Ice-T gets; I think we can all agree that this isn't what we mean.  But I think we can find it here on Falling, Whirlwind's latest vinyl release.

I haven't really gone on record saying this yet, but I've been pretty disappointed by the lack of political commentary in our Hip-Hop lately.  Now wait before you start posting contemporary rap songs with some political content (actually, don't wait... I'd love to get a little list/ discussion going of some good 2017 political Hip-Hop going on in the comments and get put onto something dope), I'm not saying there hasn't been any.  Of course I've heard "FDT" and that Joey Badass song, and guys like Scarface have done material commenting on Ferguson.  Sole and DJ Pain 1 have been pumping it out.  And sure there's been plenty of social commentary stuff (i.e. everything from "Swimming Pools" to "1-800-273-8255," and material straddling the fence like "What If It Was Me"), but that's not really the same thing.  It's great and important, but giving us more of one doesn't add to how much we have of the other.  So coming from the age of Public Enemy, "Bush Killa," Dead Prez, "the black CNN" and everybody being influenced by the Five Percenters, I feel a little let down by the current string.  Back in the 80s, everybody from Melle Mel to Biz Markie had Reagan's name in their mouths, but now we've got kind of the biggest red flag PotUS yet, and yet you'd never know it listening to any of the Hip-Hop hits we've had since the inauguration.

Anyway, I say all of that just to say that tackling more important, worldly topics like the politics that are pulling everybody's communities apart might be a key factor in what defines "adult" Hip-Hop moving forward.  And that's just one of the areas D jumps into on his new, 3-song EP*.  The song's called "Minutes and Hours" (though, how/ why it's not titled "Stop Look and Listen" is beyond me), and being from the UK, the content's not as Trump/ America-centric as you might expect - be prepared for references to Parliament rather than Congress - but it's no less relatable for being a global take on the rise of modern fascism: "fires lickin' Great Britain/ livin' vision of indecision/ slowly crept up by a smidgen/ inchin'/ the hand draws closer... Doomsday is tickin'/ while most people are just flickin'/ pictures on their phones/ oblivious to their position."

"Falling Down" shifts from the political to the personal, but manages to be even darker and more demoralizing, poetically illustrating what it's like to have your life fall apart.  It's got a fantastic hook, just a vocal sample of a woman saying, "I don't think anybody cares what happens to you. Drop dead in the street, nobody helps you." It reminds me of the kind of nihilistic despair those Sacred Hoop guys would explore, albeit without the punk, ironic celebration.  This is a bit more on the nose gloomy.

And speaking of that, the final song is about the oft-ignored modern plight of male depression and suicide.  Again, I started questioning, how many Hip-Hop artists tackle the topic of suicide, especially when you rule out the irresponsible stuff like Gravediggaz and Esham.  "Nothing's Better" treats it as a tragic mental illness.  It also features the sole guest vocalist, B-Side labelmate Uncle Mic Nitro, whose work I'm honestly not very familiar with; but he does a great job bolstering D's voice here.

The production duties are split across D's usual and always welcome collaborators Specifik, Mr. Fantastic and a newer guy named Crease.  But they manage to come up with a very unified sound.  Definitely dark, of course, but also generating this kind of rolling rhythm that isn't immediately catchy like a good ol' Phase & Rhythm instrumental or something (which we know guys like Mr. Fantastic are fully capable of), but a feeling that pulls you back for repeated listens.  And when you return, you'll find yourself increasingly appreciate the subtle intricacies.  Plus, there's the one thing you can always count on in a Whirlwind D project, tons of great, expert scratching.  Four different DJs are brought in for just three songs: Sir Beans OBE, Jabbathakut, DJ Tones and Miracle, and they bring so much life and energy that it can never descend into simple gloom or melancholy.

Because I could see this release being so serious that it wards people off for simply being depressive, but it didn't have that effect on me at all.  I hope D continues moving in this direction.  I love it when shit gets real.  And, as always with Whirlwind D, this is a very attractive vinyl release.  Great-sounding wax in the stylish picture cover above, including a nice press sheet with notes on each song by D himself.  All three instrumentals are also included, as well as "selected acapellas," which basically comes out to one verse from each song.  And I think, if you haven't been following Whirlwind D, or he's been on your radar but you've been on the fence about actually biting the bullet and ordering one of his records, this one would make for a really good starting place.  I think we might be leading into his best album yet.

*They call it an EP; but I think we can all agree that three songs = 12" single.  Would you call Express Yourself an EP just because it had "Straight Outta Compton" and "A Bitch Iz a Bitch" on it?  No, right?  100 Miles and Running is an EP, Straight Outta Compton is an LP, and Express Yourself was as a 12" single.  I think you've got to have at least, like, five songs to qualify as an EP.  Maybe four if one is an eleven-minute "A Day Like Any Other" monster jam.  But these are just three perfectly regular length songs.  And I know it's the peak of nerdiness to rant about categorization, but come on.  There's nothing wrong with 12" singles; just admit that this is a 12" single.  😜

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Final Father! The Secret, Nasty One Nite Stand

Citizens of the world, we did it!  With this very post in September 2017, we have officially covered every single Father MC 12" single!  From his obscure indie debut to his major label peak to his early indie comebacks, to his test-pressing only Luke Records single to his obscure later comebacks and so many in between.  We did it all.  And now, today, we look at the last remaining hold-out: 1992's "One Nite Stand" on MCA Records.  And I've got three different pressings for ya.

"One Nite Stand" was the lead single off of Father's second album, Close To You, and featuring his reunion with Mary J. Blige.  His only other single off the album would feature his reunion with Jodeci, showing how he was already becoming overshadowed by his more famous back-up singers.  People were coming to Father MC records to hear what Mary J. and Jodeci were going to do more than Father himself.  But this time, Mary J. isn't really what's interesting here.

Produced by DJ Eddie F of Heavy D and the Boyz, the instrumental for "One Nite Stand" is a simple but addictive merging of "Microphone Fiend" with the bassline from "Funky Sensation."  Yeah, there's a little extra new jack noodling on top of that, but it's basically just those two loops synced up into something fresh.  And the hook, of course, is sung by Mary J Blige.  But unlike her previous records with Father, or Jodeci's records with Father, where they sing their hearts out and steal the spotlight, all Mary does here is sing the one line with two different inflections, and it's looped.  Honestly, it sounds like Eddie F made a chorus out of a studio outtake Mary intended for some other record.  And it's alright; she certainly doesn't reach any dramatic notes.  It's the kind of performance any random back-up singer could cough up, but it's catchy enough over the funky track.

And lyrically, this is before Father adopted the player pimp persona, so he raps some nice verses about how he's interested in more than just one thing ("I wanna get to know ya because I don't want to do you," "sex ain't my appetite; I just wanna treat ya right").  It's a novel concept that he spends the song disagreeing with his hook: "all you want from me is a one night stand," Mary implores, which Father always rejects with a simple, "Nah, baby."  That doesn't come around too often.  He even ends the song with a special, spoken word message to all the women of the world.  "One Nite Stand"'s not exactly a heady, intellectual rap ("I'm all about fun, honeybun, so come and check me out"), but it's a well produced, upbeat song with a positive message.

And now, looking at the different pressings, we've got the basic promo 12" with the black and white label and plain yellow sleeve on the left, and the retail release with the full color label and glossy picture cover in the center.  Musically, though, those two 12"s are the same, with the Radio Version and Eddie's Instrumental on side A and Eddie's Mix on side B.  Is Eddie's Mix some new, 12" exclusive remix?  No, it's just the album version.  The Radio Version (also the one used for the music video) is exactly the same as the album version/ Eddie's Mix except it fades right out after Father's message.  So it's about a minute shorter.  The fuller version has an extra horn solo, where they play the famous fake horn riff from Slick Rick's "The Ruler's Back."  Admittedly, it's pretty kitschy, but I like it.  Mary actually comes back, too, to sing another line ("'cause you don't care") a couple times, and this is actually where she sounds the most vivacious and breathes some extra life into the song.  So stick around for the full version of this song.

That's the basic promo version, which there's a billion copies of on vinyl and CD all over the world.  But on the right is a very different promo 12" with a different track-listing and a genuine, exclusive remix.  A vocal remix, even, with an all new rap; how about that?  Bet you didn't know about this one, Father MC fans!

The Tone Capone Mix, co-produced by Tony Dofat and Puff Daddy, features a moodier, much tougher beat with hard drums, sparse bass notes and sporadic jazz stabs.  It's a pretty good track, but it really doesn't jell with Mary J's hook.  It feels like this beat was made for a different song.  Except for Father's new verses; those sound tailored to this track, and the vibe of the song is totally flipped.  This could be considered more of a sequel song, e.g. "One Nite Stand Pt 2" than a remix.  A bitter, angry sequel.  "My Nubian sista, I wanna get wit cha" has become "my Nubian sista, I wanted to get wit ya," and instead of saying "nah, baby" to every accusation of only wanting a one night stand, he says "yeah, baby."  

But don't get me wrong, that's not all that's changed.  All the rap verses have been completely replaced with new ones.  Now he says, "baby, don't play me like you're all of that, sugar; you should slow down and realize where ya at."  We're not exactly talking Ice Cube here, but he's definitely coming harder, "so now, I know where you're comin' from, honeybun, ya tongue is callin' for the dark one. I got flavor, forget what other's gave ya.  My name is Father so, honey, don't bother."  And this time, yeah, he definitely does want to do you.  "I want panties on the floor, and your bras unstrapped, because Father MC is gonna taste your cat.  No nappin' allowed because it's time to work your body.  No need to drop your panties if the dug-out is knotty.  I'm in the mood to get a kiss - thank you.  Grab you, lay you on my knee and then spank you."

It's not amazing, but it's not bad; and it's fun how he reverses his stance from the original version.  It's like a dark secret version of the song.  And I guess they really liked the idea of changing his saying "nah, baby" to "yeah" in answer to Mary J. Blige, but I think they should've really should've gone the extra distance and gotten a new chorus that fits the beat, which is otherwise kinda hot.  That miss-match is what holds the song back from working entirely on its own terms and probably kept it off the major DJs' mix-tapes back in the day.

This promo also has the album version and the Instrumental, which in this case is Tone Capone's new instrumental... a reason for heads to track this down even if they don't like Father or any R&B/ new jack rap stuff.  And finally there's "Daddy's Radio Remix," which is just a shortened, radio edit of Tone Capone's Mix.
Father's closing message from the Close To You cassette J-card.
So, now that I've covered every single Father MC single, where do we go from here?  Well, I don't think we've totally seen the end of Fam Body on this blog.  He's still got more guest appearances in his oeuvre that I'm sure I won't be able to resist.  And hey, maybe I'll decide to go super deep, and examine every single album track that never got released as a single.  Although, you know, I might hold out for a book deal before going that far.  😂  Plus, hey, this is only the end of Father MC's 12"s to date.  He could still put out a new one!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Lost Under Will Smith's Shadow

(Taking a look back at some pretty strong NY/ Philly rap acts that got overshadowed by the popularity of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Lost Rappin Is Fundamental (and Craig Mack) Song(s)

(An obscure promo cassette of Easy Mo Bee's 2000 album reveals unreleased material by Rappin' Is Fundamental, Craig Mack and The Soul Survivors.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Did You Know Urban Dance Squad Recorded a Tribute To Scott La Rock?

Hey, did you guys know the Urban Dance Squad recorded a tribute to Scott La Rock?  I sure didn't; I just found it now.  That's largely because I never really listened to them.  The only real impression they made on me was back in 1990, when their video for "Deeper Shade Of Soul" used to play on Yo! MTV Raps constantly.  Lots of skateboarding in a swimming pool, the guitarist mugging to the camera, and a DJ shown doing scratches you didn't actually hear in the music.  That's what I remember.  It was a catchy sample, and they made major use of it; but I never liked the rapping even as a kid, so I never bought their album.

For me and most of us in the US, they were a little one hit wonder act that released one album on Arista and then disappeared.  But they're actually a Dutch band (they popped up on Cheez Steez vol. 1), and they apparently they were big over there, releasing six or seven major label albums on Virgin Records throughout the 90s.  Rudeboy's the MC, and the other guys are drummer Magic Stick, DJ DNA, and guitarists Silly Sil & Tres Manos.  The only other memory I have of them was back when I was working at The Source, and we were making an online database of every Hip-Hop artist.  Dave Mays sent a memo saying he looked at it and three artists on the list weren't actually Hip-Hop and should be taken off: Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, 7L & Esoteric and the Urban Dance Squad.  I replied that if we're just taking off artists because they're wack then we'd have to remove the Made Men, too, and I never heard back about it and all the artists stayed.  ...The only other time I got a memo from Mays was when he sent one to correct me that "Super Rappin'" wasn't a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song, so I had to fax him a scan of the record label showing him that it was.

Anyway, the point is, I'd never listened to their one album that really sold here in the US, Mental Floss for the Mind.  That title's another thing that put me off it.  ...Never listened to it until this week.  And it's mostly what I expected.  Hip-Hop mixed with live rock music, which isn't bad, though all the live drums and guitars feels a little sloppy for a guy used to loops.  It definitely has a rock and roll vibe to it that doesn't appeal to me, and I still don't like the rapper.  There are some cool samples, like, the first song heavily uses the instrumental from "Strong Island," which sounds good, but guess what?  The JVC Force song is still a ton better, so why bother with this one?  That's kind of the album in a nutshell, and most of the best bits are front-loaded to the beginning of the album, so it gets weaker as it goes on.  But apparently they later really embraced the 90s rap/ rock thing on their later albums, and Mental Floss at least has a funkier vibe to it.

Anyway anyway, near the end of the tape, I was surprised to hear them suddenly rapping about Scott La Rock.  And there's no question that they mean the Scott La Rock.  They specifically go out of their way to sample "South Bronx" right after they say his name for the first time.

The song's called "Famous When You're Dead," and the whole thing isn't really about him.  They start out rapping about themselves, "our aim: we entertain to gain a place, maybe, in a hall of fame.  And If we don't reach this, the world's to blame."  And they slowly get to the overall concept of the song: tragically, a lot of great artists don't become famous until they're dead, "the people and the critics in the biz are impressed 'till my death, so make an album: 'The Best of Rudeboy's Raps.'  Yeah, twice as much money behind my back, now that's lame; too late to get, yeah, you're famous when you're dead. ... Now they fake it, when they try to weep.  Like a family scene, they all just wish it: to bury your body; they won't miss it. like a wife who is wicked.  She inherit, then you know her real spirit."  So there you go; if Rudeboy turns up dead, the police know who to look at.

But then the rest of the song suddenly becomes about Scott La Rock, starting out, "9 AM again, I wake up.  A cold shower, breakfast, time for pop.  Then I be in the mood for some lyrical rock.  I pop in a tape in my deck: Scott La Rock."  Because that's what Scott La Rock's known for... his lyrical rock.  I guess "rap" wouldn't have rhymed as well with "Rock" as "rock" does.  And yeah, he did actually rap at least once or twice in his career, but wouldn't it make more sense to reference his cuts or production rather than his lyrics?

He continues, "superstar status he never lacked, but the words of mouth were final on wax.  The extravagant life came to an end, a nine millimeter and a glock went bang."  Get it?  Because BDP had a song called "9mm Goes Bang," so they're imagining that the gun that shot him was a 9mm.  I'm not sure that's in such great taste.  And again, more about his "words" on wax.  I know they're not from New York, but they had to know Krs-One was the vocalist, right?  It's kinda weird.  The whole song's kinda weird.  Rudeboy keeps mispronouncing words, which makes his verses hard to decipher (he turns "recognition" into a six or seven syllable word); I'm guessing English was not his first language.  And instrumentally, they loop a sample of Biz Markie beat-boxing then pack it with electric guitars.  In fact, the first thirty or so seconds is just a guitar and drum warm-up/ noise jam before the song starts proper.  Then they end it with an electric guitar riffing the famous opening notes to Chopin's "Piano Sonata No. 2" funeral march.

Plus, I'm not sure how much the song's premise even applies to Scott.  Like, his records were big when he was alive; "The Bridge Is Over" was a monster when it dropped.  And since his passing, Hip-Hop purists have been keeping his name alive, none more so than Krs himself.  But it's not like anything he did went on to become a mainstream, crossover success after he died.  Teenage girls around the globe didn't flock to "P Is Free" once they about him on the news.

So, I don't know.  I'm not really knocking it; it's a good thing that they're honoring Scott.  In fact, for me, it's kind of the best moment on the second half of the album.  And when he says, "some act like they were his best friends. those hypocrites, they make me mad!"  That sounds like a real sentiment; that's a good song-writing moment.  It's just an interesting little discovery I thought I'd share, because I'd bet a lot of heads had no idea this was a moment in our history.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Even More Elusive Mr. Voodoo Demos From Our Heroes At Chopped Herring Records

Two years ago, I wrote about a tight Chopped Herring EP of unreleased Mr. Voodoo demo tracks.  Well, this summer, they're re-releasing New York Straight Talk: The Elusive Demos on CD.  But what's interesting about it is that the track-listing's different.  And I don't just mean that the songs are in a different order, although that's a little true, too.  But the original vinyl EP was seven tracks long, and this one's nine.  So, two new bonus tracks?  No, three in fact, because one song has been taken off.  And all three of these new tracks are previously unreleased; they didn't just throw "Come Off Hard" on here to fill up space or something.

So the track that isn't here is "Betta Duck," which kind of makes sense, since it was labeled as a "bonus track" on the 2015 version.  It was still dope, but far from the best song on there and was newer than all the vintage '94-'95 era stuff that comprised the rest of the EP.  And this way I guess vinyl heads don't feel burned, because their original EP still has something exclusive.  But, really the big question is what's new on the 2017 version?

1. Live It Up (Original Version) - This one's interesting, because "Live It Up" was a Natural Elements song from their stint on Tommy Boy; it was even on the Black Mask soundtrack.  But this one here is a Mr. Voo solo track, and he doesn't even kick his bars from the Tommy Boy version (or "Live It Up Part 2").  But this does have a rough, solo version of the same chorus, so I guess this is where they took the concept from.  It has a much slower, calmer feel, with Voo basically rhyming over the instrumental to Red Hot Lover Tone's "#1 Player," with some deeper bass.  On the one hand, it's definitely not as dynamic as the Tommy Boy version, but on the other hand, it's basically an all new song, not just like a demo version with a different drum track or something.

2. Unknown Demo - Yup, I don't know what this is either.  It sounds more like 2000's material than 90's material, though.  I guess "Betta Duck" and all three of these new tracks are essentially more modern bonus tracks, as opposed to their classic era material.  It's a kind of basic but respectable, slower NY street beat kind of track, and Mr. Voodoo comes off well like he always does, with some nice rhymes and a pointed Special Ed reference; but he doesn't use the sick, staccato flow his fans love him for.  The hook is just an extra instrumental sample, so it doesn't give you much to even guess at a title.

3. Let the World Know (Demo Version) - Now, this is one of those Mr. Voodoo demos we've all been waiting for.  "Let the World Know," of course, is the title track of his 2004 EP, and it's okay.  But there's always been a rough sounding (presumably a radio rip) of a tighter original version over Nas's "On the Real" beat.  And this is it.  Longer and in restored sound quality, finally sounding like a proper song.  Why is it longer?  Well, comparing them now, it's obvious the leaked version was clumsily chopping out the hook and other little sections (maybe for one of those old NE mixtapes?).  Uncut, the Chopped Herring version restores about two minutes.  So that's great to finally get, and the most exciting of the three.  It sounds a little slow, though?  I pitched it up a little bit, and it sounded better to my eat, but maybe I'm just forcing it to match the pitch of those old demo rips that could well have been wrong to begin with.  Either way though, I recommend experimenting with speeding it up and see what you think.

Update 8/13/17: Thanks to KayeMPee for pointing this out in the comments! There's another nice bonus to this CD: the track "Pen Hits the Paper," which is on both the vinyl and CD, is a little longer and restored on the CD.  On the old rips that we've had for ages, it's a three verse song (the last verse starts, "when my pen hits the paper, MCs disappear into vapor..."), but every version I've ever cut stops abruptly at the last word, before the hook can start again, cut off.  And I guess the source material CH had to work with had the same problem, so they faded out after the second verse like that was the end of the song.  Well, this CD version restores that last verse, but still fades out around where the other rips "break."  The sound quality is immensely improved (on both the vinyl and CD), so they're obviously working with a much better source than those rips, but that source must be damaged, too.  To be clear, this CD ends awkwardly, too, cutting off the very end of the song... but still restoring the third verse missing from the vinyl.  So it's not perfect, but it's a big improvement.

So yes, this CD is definitely good news.  And now you know, even if you bought the 2015 record, don't think there's no reason to scoop this up, too.  We just got three more lost demo tracks restored, which is also a nice sign that the well still isn't dry and there's still hope for more material, that we both have and haven't heard of before, coming to light.  Right on.  Every time Chopped Herring recovers another lost Natural Elements track, an angel gets its wings.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Yole Boys Number Zero

So, a couple years ago, I wrote about a killer album by Luke Sick's Gurp City Crew, collectively known as The Yole BoysOwe. Reep. Out. was a limited cassette-only album that came out in 2011.  But there was actually something before that album.  Not a previous album, or even a single or EP, but a sort of prelude tape.  Yolemagmix #1 and 2.  It's also, by the way, the very first release on the Megakut label, prominently labeled Megakut #1 on its spine.

Before anyone gets too excited or disappointed, let me just tell you know, this is an entirely instrumental tape.  So no crazy Gingerbread Man verses here, sorry folks.  But it's not just the instrumental version of Owe or anything.  The tape consists of two, roughly twelve and a half minute long megamixes, produced by the Boys' own Fatees, and furiously cut up by DJ Quest.  There are a few ad-libs, including a chant of "too gurp to get in," at the beginning of side 2, plus plenty of choice vocal samples to set the decadent mood; but this is strictly a DJ mix tape.  And it's a killer.

Expect anything between old school references to cocaine and Quest cutting up Biz Markie's "Pickin' Boogers" over a deep, throwback mix of what the Boys fittingly call "Bay-ami Bass."  Classic bass loops mixed with electro samples and a tougher, Philly edge; this tape has a hyper, higher energy than Owe, thanks in part to Quest's quick cuts, but also just in the beats they select.  Owe had a number of slower jams, but here, not so much.  There's one moment where I did feel they let a single beat ride unvaried a bit too long, but apart from that, it's all a great, little ride.

Still, this is an old and quite limited release with only 250 copies (mine has #144 lightly penciled inside the J-card) having been created six years ago... which is still considerably more than the Owe tape, which only saw a miserly 100 pressed (but, unless it's an error, it still seems to be available direct from Megakut!?).  And let's face it, that vocal album is definitely the one you want to track down if you have to choose.  But if you're a fan of these guys - and you should be - than it's worth keeping an eye out for both.  And as of this writing, there are still copies up on discogs, so it's not a hopeless scenario or anything.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Big L Grail On Record Store Day

(This past Record Store Day, we got one killer release, with some very long-awaited music by the great Big L.  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Return Of Silver Fox, and a New Label Enters the Ring

(Kool G. Rap's mentor and O.G. member of The Fantasy Three. Silver Fox, returns with an all new single.  His debut.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wernski Is Rockin' On the Radiooooo

Hey, folks, I was just a guest on the Newt Podcast, a Hip-Hop podcast hosted by comic James Mascuilli that you can listen to here or on ITunes, Podbay, or wherever you like getting your podcasts from.  So you know, if you're the sort of person who finds yourself visiting this blog, maybe it's something you'd be interested in checking out.  My episode and another one interviewing DJ Mighty Mi were both posted on the same day.  Remember "Mighty Mi For Your Stereo System?"  That was fresh.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Death City Boyz Vs. The Bopsey Twins

Sometimes you just talk about a good record.  This is a one shot single by a group called the Death City Boyz out of Clinton, NY, better known as Hell's Kitchen.  "The Bopsey Twins" came out in 1985 on Snowflake Records, the same label as DJ Polo's original group, The Terminators, and it's just a solid record all around.  Yeah, it's a record about girls (we'll come back to them in a minute), but the rapping by the three Boyz: Nasty Prince B, KMG and Johnny Rock is pretty strong.  But the real hook of this record is the phat production with super big beat, deep bassline, and very catchy electro elements, including cuts by their DJ Professor Paul.

Now, if the name "Bopsey Twins" sounds familiar, it's because it comes from a long running series of children's books called The Bobbsey Twins.  Seriously, there've been hundreds of them, going back to the early 1900s.  It was a boy and a girl and I think they solved mysteries... I never actually read them.  This record doesn't really have anything to do with those characters, though, it's just referring to "Bobbsey/ Bopsey twins" as a nickname for any two inseparable friends.  In fact, in this song, they're literal identical twins, two hot girls named Katie and Kim - one sexy, one shy - who each of the Death City Boyz have romantic run-ins with, and of course it's a misadventure, mistaking one for the other ("Now hold up, man, now it's me to do the dissin'.  I was goin' out with Kim, but it was Katie I was kissin'!").  I'm not quite sure if it's meant to be funny, but it's not really the story-telling aspect of this record that works.  The Boyz have great voices and flows for 1985, and high energy interplay with each other.  And again, they sound kind of hardcore for such a fluff topic, which goes great with the electro production, mixed by DJ Frankie Bones.

There are a couple mixes on the 12": Long Version, Short Version, Dub and X-Rated Version.  Despite the name, the lyrical differences between the X-Rated and other versions are pretty slim, and it really doesn't live up to its "X-Rated" name.  But it is a little more sexual, starting with the second verse, where the line, "found Katie in my house, in a nightgown" becomes "found Katie on my bed, without a blouse."  And at the end of the verse on the original, he brags "we did it mid-town style!"  But he says "doggie style" on the X-Rated.  Later, they call Katie a "ho," but on the original they say "she's so low."  Finally, in the last verse, Katie is either "the one I screwed" or "not the one for you," and she either got "horny" or "hot."  And the biggest difference is a whole extra couple of lines in the final verse, "yes, we hopped into the sack and she was ready to work.  And I thought in my mind I was Kimmie's first, because she started to scream, and she started to shout, and now the whole East Side knows that I busted her out," is only on the X-Rated Version.

Actually, I've been calling the Long Version the "original," but it's probably more likely they wrote the X-Rated version first, and the label asked them to rewrite those lines for radio.  Anyway, as you can see, the X-Rated version isn't exactly a Blowfly record; they probably thought the X-Rated was clean enough when they wrote it.  So, lyrically, I'd definitely say just go with the "X-Rated" version, because it sounds more natural, although the long version does also have some extra, funky instrumentation.

So, like I said, this was a one-off record for the Death City Boyz, meaning it was their only song.  But Prince B and KMG continued working with Frankie Bones and formed a singing group called Spirit Matter.  I'd say they were better rappers than singers, but they still had some solid, electro-style production, and released a couple respectable freestyle records, particularly 1989's "Betrayal."  But none of it was as dope as "The Bopsey Twins."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Really Hidden Jewels

Here's a really obscure and interesting one.  The name, Hidden Jewels, turns out to be quite apt.  On the surface, it's just a compilation album of old, common funk records from the 70s... some James Brown, Funkadelic, Roy Ayers and a lot of War.  There's one Beastie Boys joint in the mix, which is a little random.  But otherwise, it seems pretty straight forward.  It's a 1998 mix CD, meant to sell you on buying a bunch of Polygram vinyl reissues.  "CLAIM YOUR VINYL JEWELS TODAY CALL NOW!" it says in the CD booklet, and there's a bunch of phone and fax numbers for "interested jewel buyers."  And so in a way, it's as much of an advertisement as a mix.

Or should I say, three mixes: the sapphire group, the diamond group and the ruby group.  This gets into some ridiculously corny shit that fits perfectly with the goofy, tacky album cover above.  On the inside, we learn that the Ruby Mix is funded by "Milk-crates," and Diamond Mix's religion is "Baptist."  And it's all laid out over a map of Sherwood Forrest.  lolwhut?  But, here's the first hint that this album might actually be worth looking at.  Each of those three mixes is by a different DJ... an actual, credible talented and established DJ.  These are mixes by DJ Rhettmatic, Mr. Len and DJ Drez/ Dr. EZ.

So, it's not just a compilation of these old songs, it's a mix, with scratching, beat juggling and interesting things like that.  So, okay, kinda cool.  But still, the CD was made first and foremost to sell these old records, so the DJ's can't too much musical transformation with these 12"s.  They still largely wind up having to let each song play out unaltered for long stretches at a time.

But there's still more, and here's why this CD (and yes, it's a CD only release) is actually worth tracking down.  At the end of each mix, each DJ gets a posse cut with their crew.  So, at the end of Rhettmatic's mix, there's a big Visionaries posse cut.  And it's not just one or two of them, whoever wasn't busy that day, it's the full line-up: Key Kool, 2Mex, LMNO, Zen and Dannu.  Mr. Len's mix ends with Dujeous? (I know, we were all hoping for The Indelibles; but you can't front on their Wax Poetics EP), and DJ Drez has the whole Living Legends gang (both Mystik Journeymen, Murs, Eligh, Aesop and The Grouch).  And they don't come off like just quick, mixtape freestyles.  The verses feel written with hooks and the tracks feel professionally produced, like proper songs.  And because they're rocking over loops of these classic, 70s funk breaks, they're actually better than a lot of these guys' other records.

So, overall, the mixes are decent.  They are solid records, and the DJs are talented.  But nothing to go out of your way for.  But the posse cuts?  Yeah, if you're a fan of any of those crews (and odds are, if you like one, you think all three are dope, because they're all kind of in the same wheelhouse), you want these tracks.  Keep an eye out for this one in your local dollar bins, because I don't think anybody's going to recognize this as a keeper, but it sure is.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rough House Survivers' Long Lost Second Album

(Man, if you don't know, the Rough House Survivers [sic] were dope.  So how come they only made one album?  Or... didn't they?  Youtube version is here.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Schoolly D's Secret Girl Group

How many records did Schoolly D and Luke Skyywalker collaborate on?  Um, I'm pretty sure just this one: Peters Posse, the compilation album of Steve Peters' Peters Records label from 1990.  It features an entire roster of unknowns except for one: Captain Sky.  And yes, Schoolly and Luke worked on it.  This is a real head scratcher of a record, so let's just dive right in.

Let's start with Captain Sky.  Captain Sky was a funk/ disco guy most famous for "Super Sporm."  He wasn't a rapper, though he did rap once on a song called "Station Brake" in 1982, and maybe one other time.  But he was a singer, and known for wearing crazy disco outfits.  However, this right here is his last record after a hiatus of several years, and his return to rapping.  It's called "Thank You," and it's a rap remake of Sly and the Family Stone's classic "Thank You."  It really liberally uses the music from Sly's version and he kicks lyrics like, "I got the beat, to move your feet."  How or why they dragged him out of retirement to be a rapper for this project is anybody's guess.

But here's what we do know.  The liner notes brag about assembling their posse "from the four corners of the land, from NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Jacksonville, FL."  Peters Records itself is straight out of Miami, and at least a portion of this album was recorded in Skyywalker Studios with Luther Campbell.

The album starts off with a pretty decent song by Queen D.  I'm pretty sure she's the Jacksonville one, and she's not bad.  I mean, her song "Queen D's World" is definitely on a poppy dance tip, closer to The Real Roxanne than MC Lyte.  It's got a DJ cutting up a bunch of records like "Don't Want To Lose Your Love," James Brown, UTFO's "Bite It" and a liberal dose of "Tell Me Something Good" on the hook.  It's one of the stand out tracks, and it even came out on 12" single with an extended mix and a disappointing B-side called "Rock It To Me Faster."

In fact, a bunch of these songs got 12" singles.  News 4 You's "Good Times," which is actually a crappy R&B song, b/w "She's a Lady," which is more of a catchy new jack swing song at least, but still pretty weak.  Then there was a corny rap duo named 2 La Jit.  Their 12" said it was from the album Having Fun, but that never happened.  Kenny B Devine is the only one to go on to a couple more records on other labels, as well as another Peters Records 12".  He was from Miami, but all his stuff was pretty weak. There's a song by Money D and Wayne, which is a big improvement, although I can't decide if it's actually good, or just feels good by comparison.  Finally a group called GQ Tab that combined R&B and rap had a corny anti-drug song on this album called "Stop the Pusher," and came out with a love song called "Teen Emotion" on a Peters Records 12".

So yeah, most of this album's pretty bad.  A group called Satin does a Hip-Hop version of "The Name Game," which hits a terrible low, with all of the lyrics literally from the children's song.  But there are some interesting moments.  A song by 2-Real is rather listenable, with a couple interesting samples and a harder edge.

And Schoolly D's contribution?  Yeah, he produced a song by a Philly girl group called Northside Alliance.  Actually, it's just one MC, but I guess she had a DJ or someone to justify the "Alliance" name.  Anyway, the song's called "Give My Regards To Broadstreet" and is unquestionably the jewel of the album.  The title's kind of a pun, because Give My Regards To Broadstreet was a famous Paul McCartney film, but Broad Street is also a major urban boulevard in Philly.  It's a hot track with a killer break, sick horn samples and a cut up Krs-One vocal sample for the hook.  It's too bad this never got a 12", because I would definitely recommend it and it's the only song to really deserve it (although I'm actually pretty happy with my Queen D single).

So this album is still kind of a weird mystery.  Someone (I guess Peters) sunk a lot of money into this lost cause.  Not just this album but the whole label.  They put out six 12" singles, five from this album plus another News 4 You single.  But I recommend the compilation just for the Northside Alliance song.  I've searched and have never been able to find out more about this group, which is a shame because an album of this would be fantastic.  But take what you can get; this is hot.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Thoughts On Kool G Rap's Latest Album... Is It Too Late To Return Return Of the Don?

Well, this is disappointing.  I mean, I know a lot of naysayers have been down on Kool G Rap since he left Cold Chillin', talking about how he's only spitting gangsta raps now.  Does it count for nothing that his gangsta raps are incredible?  But tonight, hearing Return Of the Don... Oh jeez.  And it's not that G Rap can't rap anymore or is spitting weak verses.  He still sounds great.  But I knew we were in trouble when they announced his track-listing, and nine out of eleven songs had guest rappers on them.  And one of those two remaining solo songs is an introduction where he just drops one quick verse.  So this is unfortunately one of those guest-on-his-own-album deals like Thy Kingdom Come, only even more so.  He only strings two verses together once on the entire album!

So if you don't know, the vinyl doesn't drop until August 25th, because these NY guys always release the vinyl months later for some reason, but that's another gripe.  The CD's out now, and they've officially put the album up for streaming.  And you guys know, I would blind-buy any G Rap album; but this stream might've just saved me some money.  ...But honestly, I'm still on the fence.  It's not terrible, and I'm not sure I can go through life missing a G Rap album.  Maybe I'll just wait for a sale.

Because this is definitely a wait for a sale record: weak, but still has its moments.  The whole album's produced by Moss, and you could do a lot worse; but man, he just plays it so safe.  Like, he's got that Premier Jr. formula down and he's not gonna stray from it.  Think of all the classic G Rap songs that got you hyped, from "Road To the Riches" to "Letters."  Well, nothing on this album comes close to giving you that feel.  For the most part, it's pretty low energy.  "Mack Lean" almost turns into a spoken word piece.

And yeah, there's far too many guest spots.  On the other hand, that doesn't mean somebody like Raekwon wasn't a worthy inclusion.  I was excited to hear their joint together (though ultimately, it was a little boring).  But yeah, guys like Crooked I sound good.  Or take "Wise Guys;" that's one of the album's highlights with an energetic beat and Kool G Rap and M.O.P. sounding strong together, but they should've just gone: G Rap verse, M.O.P. verse and hook, second G Rap verse.  But instead they also throw Freeway on at the end of the song, and he definitely doesn't live up to everyone that preceded him, with lines that would've been junk even in the 90s like, "you must be a dyke because you've been abroad."  Who let him take up space?  And the same with "Popped Off."  Having G Rap duet with Sean Price (R.I.P.)?  Great!  But why is there also some guy named Ransom on there?

Who decided we needed verses from virtual unknowns like Manolo Rose, Willie the Kid, Pearl Gates (who delivers what is possibly rap's very worst hook to date), Westside Gun, or Conway the Machine?  I mean, to be fair, having those last two dudes on "Rest In Peace" actually kind of worked.  It reminded me of G Rap bringing out Papoose and Jinx da Juvy on a trio track back in the day.  I mean, none of these guys kill it like Jinx used to kill it, but they tread water well enough, and it's one of the few moments where Moss takes a chance production wise.  But yeah, if they really want to put the next generation on, maybe cram them all into one posse cut; but don't give them more collective mic time than G Rap himself.

Not that most of the veterans impress much more.  Saigon attempts to revive the phrase "ba-dunka-dunk," Termanology gets overly dramatic rapping about sluts and Satan and Sheek Louch just adds some filler.  Only Cormega, N.O.R.E., Raekwon, M.O.P. and Sean Price really belong on here.  They're the only ones genuinely enhancing the album with their contributions.  And five artists?  That's enough guests for an album.  Especially when it's not one of those 23-song packed mix CDs.  Everyone else is dead weight.  Again, Kool G Rap only has one full solo song on here.  It's pretty good, though.  And yeah, he does have some nice verses on the other songs.  But there's so much filler, it's like a surprise whenever he gets on the mic again, like oh yeah, this is a G Rap album!

And here's a question.  In several songs (including "Wise Guys" and "Criminal Outfit") he references being part of The Five Family Click.  What?  Are these just fifteen year-old acappellas that Moss patched together to mock up an album?  Is this another Half a Klip situation??  I'll tell you this much, Half a Klip might actually be a more satisfying album.  He wasn't sidelined this much on the Click Of Respect, and he was supposed to be just one guy in a group there.  Again, it's not all bad.  Like listening to him start rapping on "Capitol Hill," I'm getting excited to have the new Kool G Rap album I've been waiting for.  But then this annoying hook comes on and the rest of the song belongs to a bunch of other guys.  Listening to Return Of the Don all the way through is a drag.