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.

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