Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Halloween, You Cannot Escape Bigfoot!

(A Bronx horrorcore MC nobody ever seems to talk about.  Happy Halloween!  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When the Grym Reaper and Paul C Were In the House

I don't imagine I'd be blowing anyone's mind to say to you guys that Grym from The Gravediggaz used to go by Too Poetic and put out a single as a solo artist.  That was a common narrative for the forming Wu-fam; talented yet overlooked artists who'd already struck out in the industry coming together to dominate.  Genius had his early album on Cold Chillin' Records, The RZA had a 12" out as Prince Rakeem on Tommy Boy, Frukwon was one of the lesser known members of Stetsasonic.  And in 1989 The Grym Reaper was a clean cut, tracksuit wearing, fast rapper from Long Island hyping up his two DJs on Tommy Boy Records.  And the one thing I'm not sure all you Gravediggaz fans out there realize is how hot his first record was.

First of all, I should specify, Too Poetic's debut single wasn't just on Tommy Boy; it was a joint release with DNA International.  And Hip-Hop collectors who've been in the game for a long time know that's a good sign.  Sure, Tommy Boy had plenty of great and important Hip-Hop records, too; but odds were just likely that you'd get a Rappin' Duke comeback record as a 4-Ever Fresh classic.  But DNA was Super Lover Cee, Kev-E-Kev and Ak B, Majestic, and a handful of other dope 12"s.  If it had a DNA imprint on it, you could be confident it would have a solid sound.

And speaking of reliable names you can keep an eye out for on the record label, look closely and you should spot none other than Paul C, credited as both mixer and engineer.  But's not, as is often the case, billed as producer.  That goes to Poetic's own imprint, Poetic Productions (which basically means himself and his two DJs, Woody Wood and Capital K) and J. Tinsley.  I can't say I've followed much of Tinsley's career, but I am familiar with the name more as a house music guy; an influence you can definitely feel on this record.  Unfortunately.

Because the weakest aspect of this single is that it's very dance-music driven.  I'm not sure I'd quite label it as Hip-House, but it definitely has elements.  Not that Hip-Hop dance music is a bad thing.  I've pointed it out before, but in the late 80s, Eric B & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" was a dance record ("I'm about to flow long as I can possibly go; keep you moving cause the crowd said so.  Dance!  Cuts rip your pants.  Eric B on the blades, bleeding to death; call the ambulance"); and that's one of the greatest Hip-Hop records of all time.  But there's definitely a bouncy, club tip feel to the record that really prevents Poetic from landing it 100%.  Like, he really should've leaned just a little further towards "Words I Manifest" and a little less "Rollin' With Kid 'N' Play."

But let's get specific.  Poetic gives us two songs, and the first of which, despite its title, "Poetical Terror," is possibly the more club-oriented of the two.  It's got Poetic ripping syllables over some tough, rolling drums.  But it's all dominated by this poppy bassline that just winds up distracting you from the flow.  The the second half of the song is really cool on the one hand, because he gives the spotlight over to his DJs to mix up a a bunch of records over the track, but they're definitely choosing some very house-like samples to throw down with.

That's the Hype Vocal Mix.  There's also a remix called the Fullhouse Vocal Mix.  That's got even more of a Euro-sound with tight little keyboard riffs and tones all over the shop.  But it's also got a much funkier bassline, and none of the other elements sound drowned out like they do on the Hype mix.  It absolutely has a traditional house drum track, and it starts to get repetitive by about the fourth minute, but ironically it's kind of more hype than the Hype mix.  I think, as long as you're in the mood for Hip-House, it's actually the better version.

But even though "Poetical Terror" comes up first on the record, "God Made Me Funky" is the one they made the video for, and the overall superior song.  What really stands out is Poetic's energy on the mic and the crazy mix of samples.  I once read a bio about Capital K that inventive use of sampling was his forte, so I suspect a lot of credit for this one goes to him.  Despite the title, they only really use a vocal sample from the original "God Made Me Funky" for a hook.  Most of the beat is a sick chop of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" over a the "Synthetic Substitute" breakbeat.  It's funny, because now I associate "Inner City Blues" with its use in classic, syrupy, west coast productions like "A Minute To Pray and a Second To Die," "The Formula" and whatever that OFTB song was called (hey, it's been a long time).  You never heard it back in the days, it could take a couple minutes to get used to hearing it mixed into an up-tempo jam like this.

There's also a remix of this one on here, the Funky Vocal Remix, which keeps pretty much everything from the original, but has the DJs cutting and mixing the rhythm up some more.  It's not as radical a shift, but both versions are definitely worth your time.

And Poetic's flowing like a madman on this record.  Admittedly, lyrically, it's a bit lightweight.  Some nicely constructed, multi-syllable rhymes (remember, this was the 80s); but he's not saying much of anything, slipping into the occasional Robin Leach impression, and throwing out cheesy references with lines like, "eat your Cheerios than prepare to go into the zone" and "on like an automatic, word to Roger Rabbit!"  He never goes full blown Fu-Schnickens, but you can tell he's oozing skill out of every pore and you just wish he'd reach a little higher.  I almost wonder if Tinsley or somebody told him to dumb it down a little for mainstream audiences.  It wouldn't have been a problem if Tommy Boy had stuck with long enough to release a full-length, where he could've thrown in a couple more serious moments to show and prove a little; but unfortunately this is all they gave him, and the world had to wait until he got "Rzarrected" to discover his true talent as a lyricist.

My 12" here is a promo copy, hence the black and white labels.  But it's the same track-listing with both songs, their remixes and their instrumentals on either pressing.  The retail version of course has the usual Tommy Boy blue labels, but also comes in a cool picture cover.  Again, this was Too Poetic's only release until The Gravediggaz brought him back.  But he did record an entire album for Tommy Boy called Droppin' Signal, which has been floating around the internet for years.  Chopped Herring cleaned up and put out about half of it as a limited vinyl EP last year (is a part 2 pending, we hope?), and they also unearthed another interesting EP he did with another MC named Brainstorm, calling themselves the Brothers Grym, which is obviously where Poetic got his Gravediggaz persona from.  It's just sad Poetic isn't around to see the resurgence of his great, lost music.  R.I.P. to Poetic and Paul C.  I'll leave you with a great article an old friend of mine co-wrote interviewing Poetic not long before his passing and examining the terrible lack of health care in the Hip-Hop scene.  It's a little dated and pre-Obamacare, but for a lot of us I'm afraid, as timely as ever.

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.  😜