Friday, February 24, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, The Final Chapter: Craig G Does Horrorcore?

I've only covered an album or single that I don't own on this blog three or maybe four times over the years, and it feels weird every time I do it.  But I'm doing it again, because I just had to include this one in my Infinite Playlist series.  Craig G's horrorcore song.  Now, Craig has flirted with horrorcore before.  He's theoretically on the intro and outro of The Gravediggaz first album (though I've never been able to pick out his voice).  And years later, Prince Paul actually put out a Gravediggaz song with Craig rapping on it called "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark" (off the promo-only version of Gold Dust).  But Craig actually kicks his verse about New York City cops, and really the whole song's about racism; plus it's always been debatable whether Gravediggaz should ever have been filed under horrorcore at all.

But here's a guy for whom there's really no debate.  Richard Gein, a Texas "death rapper" who presumably named himself after the serial killer Ed Gein.  I don't know; I'm not gonna front like I've heard of him before.  But looking him up, he's got eight full-length CDs on discogs and even more on his bandcamp (and if you're interested after reading this post, physical CD copies of this album seem to still be available directly through his bandcamp).  I've been going through a lot of his online catalog for this write-up and he's got kind of a put on, deep voice and a simple, direct flow.  His production is slow, atmospheric sample-heavy stuff.  He pretty much sounds like what you'd expect someone with those album covers to sound like.  Think of a low energy Necro, or maybe more accurately Willus Drummond as inspired by Esham.  He's far from the latest generation's Rakim, but for horrorcore fans starved for material, you could do worse.  Shock value is really what's for sale here, and if you're looking for whole albums worth of songs like The Geto Boys "Chucky," Gein aims to deliver.

So Gein seems to have been doing this for years, developed a following, and it's only natural he'd start to pull in some guest verses, right?  Besides Craig G, he's also had Thirstin Howl III, Insane Poetry, Killah Priest and Prince Paul on his projects.  But we're here for Craig, and his song appears on what I think is Gein's... fourth? album, Killin Sluts from 2010 on Ruler Why Recordings.  Ruler Why is one of Gein's main producers, and that includes this song.  It also features another rapper named Blazey, who's one of Gein's labelmates and actually has a much smoother flow.

The song's called "Un-Optimisitics," which all you old school heads should get right away.  It's a quote from Craig's verse on "The Symphony:" "this jam is dedicated to all un-optimisitcs that thought I wasn't comin' back with some exquisite rhymes," and yes their DJ cuts that up for the hook.  So Craig G, a DJ cutting up classic Marley Marl records, you might think maybe this is a more generic, non-horror-themed outing for Gein.  But nope, it goes all out, and the fun part is, so does Craig G.  When he starts out, he sounds like he might be doing some regular Hip-Hop with just a little violent imagery, like MC Shan's "Hip-Hop Roughneck" or something, but he winds up going all in.

"Make a wrong move for that mic? We split your spleen.
Half of Craig G, the other half of Richard Gein.
Rappers run for cover every time we hit the scene.
We seal off all the exits so that nothing gets between.
Then we start slashin', sounds like cars crashin';
The way that your bones break is done with all passion.
Missin' Persons 10 O'Clock News is broadcastin';
'Cause of our killing spree, there's tons of lost action.
Ted Bundy, Buffalo Bob, you know Gacy.
Follow your favorite rapper's girl outta Macy's;
Snatch her in the back of a van, attachin' her hands
To the cuffs, then the blade's right in her guts.
I carry duct tape; the quiet don't allow screamin'.
Take her to my dungeon, give her somethin' to believe in.
Cyanide in her IV, I get psycho; her eyes closed,
She lost her motor skills like Bret Michaels."

Holy crap, Craig G wrote that?  I never thought I'd see the day.  The first half, maybe, but by the time he got to "the blade's right in her guts," I was like wowww.  Of course ending with that punchline feels like classic Craig, but the rest is a trip.  I think it's pretty cool that Craig was enough of a sport to play along and dive right into Gein's milieu, and I'm sure he was happy to prove once again how versatile he is.  And you know, if Craig G ever released a horrorcore album, I would buy that crazy thing.  This is why it's worth digging through Craig's "Infinite Playlist," because there's no telling what you'll find.  You think it's all gonna be a bunch of soundalike, east coast underground backpack rap, but no sir.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 3: Helpin' Marley Do the New Jack Swing

So, I was still young when I bought Force MD's Step To Me album (Tommy Boy, 1990), and honestly, I bought it before having heard even the single just because I was hoping they'd go back to some of their Hip-Hop roots and do some rapping.  That was a pretty optimistic blind-buy.  They changed their style album after album, but except for one brief Stetsasonic song, they never returned to their original, pre-major label music.  And that's fine; they made some great, classic R&B and some fun, pop New Edition-like music (come on, who doesn't like "One + One?").  And in 1990, they went full New Jack Swing.

This was their second album as a whittled down four-man crew, when their line-up consisted of just T.C.D., Trisco, Mercury and Stevie D.  So this was not only post DJ Dr. Rock, of course, but after Jessie had left.  Anyway, the A-side of this album is pretty okay, but the B-side basically sucks.  There's more of a leaning towards traditional R&B, which is fine; but it's not far enough to be actually good, and it ends with a modernized remake of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" with a corny rap verse (one of two cuts with them rapping that the MD's do deliver on this album, admittedly).  But, yeah, the A-side's better.  That's where their single is from, and they've enlisted some good producers including Full Force, who even sing with them on one song.

Oh, and they also got Marley Marl, which is how Craig G comes into the story.  Marley produced two tracks for this album.  "How's Your Love Life?" and it's not the better of the two.  It inexplicably starts with a keyboard refrain of "Hail, Britannia" before mixing in some hip-hop breaks with pop music about infidelity.  Marley does some cuts and it's not terrible - the MD's sound alright on their chorus over the "Peter Piper" bells, and there's some interesting live guitar - but it's disappointing.  The album's title track, however, is much stronger.  If Tommy Boy had given the MD's another single, that would've been it.  But unfortunately, this was the end of their major label run; and they didn't come back until years later with their oddball independent album, minus Mercury and Trisco.

"Step To Me" has a cool bassline and a smooth, coherent feel.  If "How's Your Love Life?" was a jumbled mess featuring everything including the kitchen sink thrown into a big, sloppy pot, this is a slick, refined song with some nice piano and sly vocals by the MD's.  It's also got two verses from Craig, so it's a little more than the typical R&B song with the token rap verse at the end that the genre would develop in the coming years.  And while lyrically, it's nothing amazing, he sounds really good. It almost feels more like a Craig G song featuring the MD's than vice versa, and could easily have fit right into Now That's More Like It after "U R Not the 1."  Everything about this song just clicks; you can see why they made it the title track.  And again, by all rights, it should've been a single, too.  "Are You Really Real?" (which even uses the same root sample that Teddy Riley did on "New Jack Swing") admittedly had more energy, and I dig it; but I could see a music video for this getting a lot more play on Video LP back in the day.  Sherry Carter definitely would've kissed it, not dissed it.

There's no 12" of this, though.  So interested heads will have to buy the whole album, which is fine for Force MD and new jack swing fans.  But if you're just into Hip-Hop and Craig G, you might just have to find an mp3 or something and call it at that.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 2: Drum, Bass 'n' Craig

So pouring through the endless list of guest spots on my Craig G page, this is probably not one of the records anybody would guess that I owned, but I do.  Mostly just because I was trying to fill a "buy 3, get 1 free" type of offer, and I spotted Craig G's name.  I had no idea who Woogie was, but what the heck.  "Free Your Level," 2003.  Craig G guest spot for free, D&D Records is one of the labels, should be pretty decent, right?

Well, when I first put this on the turntables, I thought I'd made a big mistake.  Even for a free record.  Woogie's not a rapper, or even a Hip-Hop artist at all, I realized; this is a Drum 'n' Bass record.  And not to dismiss the whole genre, but it's not my thing.  I'm a Hip-Hop head.  And this is just Craig G lazily freestyling off the top of his head over a DnB beat that doesn't fit the vocals at all.  At the beginning of the song, he proclaims that he'll "spit shit to anything, dawg, anything" and alright.  But I'm not sure people want to hear just anything.  Yeah, they mix in some classic Craig G samples (first the "Droppin' Science" remix, later "The Symphony," then back to the horns from the original mix of "Droppin Science") at certain points, but still, no thanks.

But fortunately I stuck with it to try out the B-side.  Because it is so much better.  The A-side is actually a remix by Mike & Ike, some drum & bass guys.  And look, DnB isn't my thing, but I can appreciate a really good DnB record.  But this mix isn't a really good DnB record.  Maybe there's a bit of novelty/ nostalgia in hearing Craig against some of his old school samples, but really, just listen to the original records, they're infinitely better.

But the B-side, which is actually the original mix, is kinda dope.  So, who/ what is Woogie?  I'm still not too familiar.  I've heard his other single, "Painting a Rhythm," and that's pretty generic Drum 'n' Bass.  But this Original Woogie Mix of "Free Your Level" isn't.  I mean, it still has a drum line that's atypical Hip-Hop and closer to DnB, but it's got much more of a Hip-Hop appeal.  It's got a really terrific, head-bobbing bassline and jungle sound effects looped in the background a la "Sounds Of the Safari" (though not nearly as complex or creative in that regard).  And Craig G sounds really natural riding over this beat; this must be the one he actually recorded to.  And it's long, like seven minutes of non-stop flowing from Craig.  If you're in the mood for something different, this one's actually pretty funky.

It's just the two versions of the song, one on each side.  No instrumentals or anything.  It's a 12" that plays at 45rpm, and as you can see above, comes in a sticker cover.  There's a full-length Woogie album, called Farmin for Beatz, which also came out in 2003 on the same label, Taciturn Records.  It has the original Woogie version of this, and that "Painting a Rhythm" song from 2002, too.  It has some interesting samples and stuff, but I wouldn't recommend it for non-DnB fans.  Just get the one 12" for the Craig G song, which you should be able to scoop up for under a dollar.  It's no Juice Crew classic, but it's worth more than that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 1: Craig G & Barkim?

Guys, seriously.  Check out the Guest Spots section on my Craig G page; I've just been updating it.  And without exaggeration, I ask: could this be the most guest verses a rapper has contributed to other artists' tracks in the history of Hip-Hop?  Is this the honest to God record?  Should we have an intervention?  I mean, some rappers have had a year or two where they were netting some crazy numbers.  Like Grand Puba or Canibus.  But then they kinda flamed out after a couple years.  But Craig's numbers keep rising.  And that list only counts physical releases that've actually been made available on CD, cassette and vinyl.  Think of all the random stuff on obscure rappers' Youtubes, Bandcamps and Myspaces that must be out there that we've never even heard of!

And if your question is, Werner, do you actually own all of those?  Nope.  I'd like to meet the man who does, if such a person exists.  But I do have some of them.  So I thought I'd make a little mini-series of posts looking at some of the random, curious entries.  I mean, okay, a guest spot on a Sadat X solo album kinda goes without saying, but there's a lot of big question marks on that list.  In fact, a post I made a couple years ago already fits, so check out this 2010 post about Craig G's record with Strippoker.  What, you've never heard of Strippoker?

But today I'm starting with a different record, Craig G's record with Domination Statuz.  You've probably never heard of them either, but as far as I can gather, they're two guys from the Bronx.  This is their only record, released in 1999 on the slightly infamous label, Echo International.  Apparently they went on to release an mp3-only EP in 2001 called Operation Domination... you can read it getting a pretty negative review in German here.  But happily, the criticisms, at least about the production - Google translated: "monotonous beatbox production, cold computer stunts and simple synth effects" - don't apply here.  This record has strong drums and nice, crispy samples.

Now, the sticker cover says both songs feature somebody named Barkim, and Barkim also gets sole writing credit for the song.  But there's only two voices (not counting Craig), so even though it doesn't help that he doesn't say his own name on any of the tracks to identify himself, I think Barkim is actually one half of Domination Status.  And the other guy seems to be named Shine (guessing on spelling).  Is it possible this Barkim is the guy down with Nas?  Listen to "Represent" and he says, "Barkim, my brother Jungle, Big Bo cooks up the blow," and the 2001 song "Gangsta Tears" (from the Exit Wounds soundtrack) is all about how his man Barkim got shot.  And he also ran with another guy named Barkim who got locked up (yeah, they're two different people).  Now, Craig is from Queens and has made records with just about everybody from there, but these guys do refer to themselves as being from the Bronx, so maybe it's a different Barkim.  After all, it is an actual first name a number of people have.  Or maybe he moved, who knows?  Maybe somebody who actually knows them can comment and shed some light on this mystery.

Whoever these guys are, they're not bad.  But they're not exceptional or anything either.  This is a pretty solid NY street record.  Domination Status are a little basic, but a strong track with a tiny piano loop and a number of layers, plus the cameo by Craig on a harder record then you usually find him on add up to a nice little single.  It's a typical, this-is-the-dirt-we-did-to-become-iced-out kind of record, with some bland punchlines like "kicking the real shit like Bruce Lee."  But then Craig jumps in with a slick message in his verse that's sincerely heartfelt enough to not come off as preachy.  Craig is also on the hook, so it doesn't feel like a phoned in cameo where he just emailed them a verse; and in 1999, I guess cats weren't doing that yet anyway.

There's a B-side called "Murda He Wrote," which has some more solid production, though it hurts for another Craig G appearance.  They shout out Biggie and 2Pac just like they do on their 2001 EP, so lyrically these guys are on the same tip.  The other credited artist, China Mist, is a girl they have singing the hook.  She's pretty good, and matches well with the instrumental.  It's not gonna knock classics like "One Love" or "Sugar Hill" out the box, but it's actually pretty good.  I actually recommend this record.  It's got Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions for both tracks.  And I would say it's a shame Domination Statuz never put out anymore records, though after hearing what's supposed to be the best track off of Operation Domination (it's on youtube), maybe it's just as well.  But this 12" is kinda nice, especially since you can pick it up cheap.  Craig G fans will be happy to add it to their crates.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Overlooked Princess of Brooklyn

(It's been a little while, but nothing's changed - here's a look at one of Brooklyn's most underrated female MCs: PreC.I.S.E.  Youtube version is here.)