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.

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