Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Were The 2 Smooth M.C.'s?

Sleeping Bag Records had a great pedigree.  I don't know how well it treated or paid their artists, since almost everybody on the label seemed to jump ship to another label as soon as they blew up, but when it came to discovering Hip-Hop acts, these guys had it down.  Almost everyone they touched were hot, from Mantronix to EPMD and Stezo to Nice N Smooth to Cash Money & Marvelous to Just-Ice to Tricky Tee to T-La Rock to Mikey D and the LA Posse.  They might not have all crossed over to the mainstream, but they all made great, must-have records.  MC EZ and Troup turned into Craig Mack and 12:41 turned into Boogie Down Productions.  Even Bonzo Goes To Washington turned out to be a secret Bootsy Collins project.  And one of the label's last remaining hold-outs, King Doe V, finally got some of the attention he deserved this year with some lost 90s bangers being recovered by Chopped Herring Records.  Everybody they touched seem to have a lasting legacy.  Except for one group, with one 12" you just look at and say, "wait, who the heck are these guys?"  2 Smooth M.C.'s.

Well, the answer's not going to amaze you.  I'm not about to reveal that this single comprises the shockingly slept-on debut appearances of Lauryn Hill and Drake.  I'm pretty sure these two songs are the only ones 2 Smooth M.C.'s ever put out in any capacity.  But have you heard this record?  It's dope and right up to par with the rest of Sleeping Bag's roster.

Conceptually, 1990's "The Inventor" is a lot like Pete Rock's "The Creator," a rapping producer just flexing his multi-talent skills over a thumping beat, even going to the extent of starting a duo's discography with a solo song.  It's a confusing listening to 2 Smooth M.C.'s for the first time and realizing, "I'm pretty sure this is just one dude."  The other guy does turn up for the B-side, though.

So yes, 2 Smooth M.C.'s produce their own material, too.  And "The Inventor"'s strongest point is its production, no doubt.  There's an obvious Marley Marl influence here.  It opens up with a sample from "The Symphony," including Marley's voice, but then immediately shifts into an ultra-funky James Brown sample, chopped and looped exactly the same way Marley used it on "Duck Alert."  I suppose you could say the track's weak point is a lack of originality; but then they mix in some extra, deep horns into the track, and it's so perfect.

But just who are "they?"  Well, the liner notes tell us the writing, production and mixing credits go to two brothers: Calvin and Dennis Moss.  Calvin, who goes by Big Cal on the record, is the one who goes solo for "The Inventor."  And his older brother (I only know he's the older one because he mentions it in his lyrics) shares the mic with him as The D on the B-side, "Give It All You Got."  And at one point they say the line, "XL, Herb and Mike makes up the crew," which isn't the most illuminating but I guess tells us something.

"Give It All You Got" isn't as strong as the A-side, but it's still good.  Like Run DMC's "Together Forever" they loop crowd sounds to make a studio recording sound like a live track.  Although this loop sounds seriously inauthentic, it might've been a strictly musical decision (rather than an attempt to convince us it's really live), but I'd call it a slightly annoying mistake either way.  Still, the rest of the track is some tight, sample-based production that grows on you over repeated listens; and forgoing the traditional verse/ hook/ verse format to just have the two MCs passing the mic back and forth is a very cool choice.  They might not be the most adept lyricists, but they know how to sound good over their own beats.  You can see why they didn't wind up on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, but it's definitely a shame they didn't put out at least a couple more records.

There's just the two full songs on here, no dubs or anything, and as you can see above, it comes in a sticker cover.  It's not a historically important record; it's one of Sleeping Bag's few Hip-Hop records that aren't.  But it's better than a lot of records that are.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Disturbers' Negusa Negast Is Real, I Swear!

So, I got a little curious about The Disturbers the other day... they're definitely a group that merits curiosity, as we'll get into later.  But I was just doing a little googling for myself and found out that, apart from my humble, little Sacred Hoop page, there is no record of their third(?) album existing online.  Like, okay, it's not on discogs; that happens.  But there are none of the typical forum posts of people looking for a copy, expired Ebay auctions, or blogposts with dead Rapidshare links.  Just search for the phrases The Disturbers and Negusa Negast, and literally the only results that pop are my site and a broken Russian mp3 page for a different group called The Disturbers (some Canadian rock group or something).  It's enough to make you think my listing is some kind of mistake or that I just made the whole thing up.  So here we go with a big, revelatory post about it to today just to assure any doubters out there that this album actually exists, and to tell fans what it's like, since I'm guessing most never got to hear it.

The biggest question you might have about The Disturbers is just who the heck are they, exactly.  That's kind of why I was googling them in the first place.  Obviously Luke Sick, front man of Sacred Hoop, Brougham, Grand Invincible and a hundred other rap groups, is the main MC.  But who else is there?  Their first album, 1998's Anansi Spider, is often listed online as a Luke Sick solo tape, which it basically is.  It even reads, "this is a punk rock m.c.'s 4-trak[sic.] practice tape," and he's pretty much the only guy rapping on it.  By the way, my copy has a sticker on it labeling it as a "Limited Edition 'Pissed On J-Card' Issue;" I don't know if there are any alternate versions.  But my version doesn't give any production credits or anything.  Besides Luke Sick, I can't say for sure who else was involved with this album.

But their next two albums do have more detailed liner notes.  Or what I'm labeling their next two albums, anyway... it's a little debatable what counts.  See, also in 1998, Sacred Hoop put out a scrappier than usual album called Moe's Strange Hobby.  It's got Sacred Hoop's name on it, anyway, and Luke Sick does the rapping.  But when Atak re-released it on CD with some bonus tracks in 2004, it's clearly called a Disturbers album right on the cover.  So, is it a Hoop album or a Disturbers album?  Well, I think Miasmatic/ The Hoop were starting to use the Disturbers name as a sort of junk drawer collective for any project of theirs that they felt didn't quite live up to being a proper Hoop album, and wasn't necessarily entirely produced by Vrse Murphy.  After a certain point, even I'm not a big enough nerd to get hung up on the classifications.  But there is one other collaborator who seems to be a pretty key member of The Disturbers.

When I interviewed Luke Sick for Rebirth Mag, he referred to, "[m]y boys from the disturbers most namely Unbreakable Combz and Curator."  Well, Unbreakable Combz is an MC down with FTA (Full Time Artists), a Cali group who Sacred Hoop used to do a bunch of music with.  I know he has a song on Feed Them Art and appears on Pilot Rase's solo album.  But as far as I can tell, he just rapped on one posse cut called "War the Fuck Up" for The Disturbers, on their 2000 album Kefu Qan.  But Curator, he seems to be the guy.

Curator has an "all songs produced by, except where noted" credit on Kefu Qan, and yeah, he raps on "War the Fuck Up," too.  And Negusa Negast, the album that seems to have slipped off the face of the Earth?  He has some production credit on there, too, plus a lot of engineer credit, as well as a "music stolen from Curator" credit on one song.  And he raps on here, too.  I think, like Grand Invincible = Luke + Eons One, Dankslob = Luke + G-Pek, Grand Killa Con = Luke + Brycon, Rime Force Most Illin' = Luke + Rob Rush, and Get the Hater = Luke + The Dwarves, The Disturbers = Luke + Curator.  Again, Anansi Spider has no credits, but I'm speculating that Curator at least did a bunch of tracks on that tape.  If so, it all adds up pretty nicely.  If not, I guess we revert back to the "junk drawer" theory.  But even then, Curator has to be given a lot of credit for Kefu Qan and Negusa Negast.

Certainly, there's a strong "junk drawer" element to Negusa Negast (which means "king of kings," by the way).  This album lists 41 entries on the track-listing, and the actual CD has 43 tracks.  The extra two can be accounted for because tracks 1 and 2 are the same - the intro just plays twice in a row, and track #43 is just four seconds of silence.  Luke has always leaned into the scrappy "punk rock m.c." aesthetic on his Disturbers projects, and this is no exception.  It's a real crazy, disjointed mess.  Songs and skits often seem to get cut off early, which I'm guessing is an aesthetic choice.  They've got some good stuff on here, though nothing for the Greatest Hits collection, and some crap.  Fans will be rewarded for digging through all this stuff, but casual listeners will probably be ready to turn it off about half way through.

The first half of the album sounds like a scrappier Hoop album.  It doesn't have the polish of Vrse's stuff (although Vrse does contribute one song on to the proceedings, called "The Ruin Me Girl"), but there's some cool Luke material on here.  He edits himself into a Donnas song rather effectively, and has some solid, hard tracks like "Rimp Raps" and "I Don't Feel Better" that are up to par with the rest of his catalog.  And yes, this CD is 41/ 43 tracks long, but a lot of that consists of skits/ vocal samples to set the tone and are only a handful of seconds long.  So it's a long album, but not insanely long.

Actually, most of those skits are from the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer, which turns out to be a strong influence on this album.  Some of those vocal samples wind up becoming hooks on the songs and seem to have inspired at least some of the lyrics.  Luke even does a punk rock (that's right, he occasionally drifts out of pure Hip-Hop and experiments with singing and guitar rock on this album) cover of Sandler's famous "Somebody Kill Me Please" song from the movie.  And speaking of covers, he also covers a Nirvana song; although in that case it's all raps over a very traditional Space Travelers break-beat.  It's actually pretty cool.  But then there's something like "Dreamland," which the liner notes describe as, "Luke covers the Bunny Wailer classic - music stolen from The Upsetters."  I can't even listen to that one all the way through.

So I'm sticking to my Disturbers = Luke + Curator theory, but it's not all just the two of them.  Besides that Vrse song, there's several produced by somebody named Swamp Boogie, and one produced by Tiff Cox, who's co-produced a couple other Hoop songs.  DJ Marz and DJ Bobafett do some mixing, and Rase appears on one track.  Then, towards the end of the album, come three Curator solo songs, "made on his own time in his own personal hell."  Another song, called "Louder Than Death," contains the first verse of what would later become the Sacred Hoop cut "Larry Boy Burial;" and a rough, original version of "Car Crash," which Sacred Hoop eventually released as one of their very last songs in 2013, turns up on here as well.  Overall, there's more than enough really good content on here to make it worth tracking down for the fan who has everything, but new listeners won't have the patience to sift through it all.  I wouldn't even ask most people to consider it, but I'm glad it exists.  Which, I promise you, it does.

Monday, November 13, 2017

World Renown 1.0, 2.0

(Is World Renown actually World Renown, or just some group called World Renown?  And if World Renown isn't World Renown, then who is World Renown?  Come take a ride, 'cause Werner's caught Remake Fever!  Youtube version is here.)