Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Star Wars Rap!

So, hey, big surprise what the number one movie is this winter: another Star Wars.  This is their tenth movie, not even counting the weird DTV Ewok flicks, holiday specials, and what not.  So yeah, Stars Wars TV commercials, Star Wars McDonald's cups, Star Wars on every aisle of your super market.  Well, I hope you haven't come here hoping for a little break from Star Wars franchise marketing, because that's what I've got for you today.  Except, this isn't officially licensed merch, this is that off-brand, underground Star Wars rap, just barely flying under the litigation radar.  This is Walkmen's 1998 single "Fortruss" on Cybertek/ Atomik Recordings.

So, let's start with who the heck the Walkmen were.  Well, they were a Florida group managed by Celph Titled (who's all over this record).  In fact, Atomik was his label, and almost all of their releases were by The Walkmen and his own group, Equilibrium (with fellow MC DutchMassive a.k.a. Autologik).  According to their official bio, the leader of the group was Tino Vega a.k.a. Bloodsport the Spanish Prince.  And on this single, there's really only one other guy: Storm Trupa the Arch Angel.  I think he later got replaced by Murdoc, and maybe a couple other guys who were either a part of the group or just down with it; it's not entirely clear (a la Cappadona or Killarmy's relationship to the Wu).  Even their bio doesn't attempt to break down the line-up, just calling them an "ever changing collaborative crew" that has "gone through many transitions since then."  But for the purposes of this single, the Walkmen are a duo: Tino and Storm.

So yeah, these cats were from Florida, but they're nothing like The Jam Pony Express or that whole genre of Hip-Hop.  This is like anti-Miami bass, strictly representing very pure, traditional east coast Hip-Hop.  And for "Fortruss," of course, repping Star Wars 100%.

Produced by Celph Titled, the track is made up entirely of Star Wars soundtrack.  Little clips from the movie serve as the intro and outro, the instrumental is a blending key moments from John Williams' score, and the hook is more Star Wars soundbites being cut up by DJ Kramtronix.  It's seriously fresh what he does to R2D2.  And if you know Celph's work, you'd be right to expect a very polished, addictive sound.  He seamlessly blends some of the most famous, bombastic moments from "The Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme) to these light, exploratory flute riffs... all over boom bap beats, of course.  I've already covered other examples of Star Wars rap, but if you want to hear Star Wars music turned into rap beats, this is the quintessential track.

What's interesting about this song, lyrically, however, is how much these two guys are not on the same page.  Now, I don't know the Walkmen well enough to say whose verse is whose based on their voices, but I'll guess by their names and subject matter that Tino is up first.  He just spits basic battle raps, not even making slight references to Star Wars like "I'm a lyrical Jedi" or anything like that.  As far as he's concerned, I guess, this is just a basic rap record that just so happens to have a Star Wars-based instrumental. But Storm Trupa (again, I'm assuming) has just dived 100% into full Star Wars rap mode:

"While my squadron stands in a tight formation on the platform of an Imperial battle station, TIE fighters stand by for aviation... Then I annihilate.  Cloak my ship to investigate; jump into hyperspace, headin' back towards Echo Base.  This is my fortress, this is my place where we integrate with any other alien race.  Scouts give chase.  The Storm Trupa illuminates like a flare.  There's no despair when the Seventh Squadron is there!"

It's a weird oil and water combination, especially on the third verse, where they split it 50/50, and neither one is willing to give an inch.  Tino even brings in lyrical references to other franchises in his parts, "control your mind like a Sega, Street Fightin' all opponents like Vega."  Maybe nobody told him what song they were recording his vocals for?

There's a B-side, that isn't Star Wars themed at all, which is both a disappointment and a relief.  It's disappointing, because most people who copped this single probably bought it because it's Star Wars rap; and so for them, the second song doesn't deliver.  But objectively, I'd say it's a better song, and so it's a relief that the Walkmen get to be more than just a gimmick, and they've made something you can listen to while taking yourself a little more seriously.

"The Countdown Theory" is again produced by Celph Titled, and this time he raps on it, too.  The beat is smooth and this time more original, making nice use of Method Man's verse from "How High" for a hook.  There's also a remix of "Countdown," also produced by Celph, but it's not as good.  They get Kramtronix to add some more cuts, which is a plus, but he doesn't shine like he does on "Fortruss."

So the vinyl version features those three tracks, plus the three instrumentals on the flip.  I'm sure a lot of DJs appreciate getting the Star Wars beats to make further use of.  But here's the bummer: it only has the censored Radio Edit of "Fortruss" where the curse words are replaced by Star Wars sound effects.  That's actually a little amusing, but still I'm sure most heads want the uncut version.  Well, it's not on wax, but there's at least a CD single that put the uncut version into the world.  It has Street, Radio and Instrumental of all three tracks; so nine as opposed to the 12"s six.  It also gives us a picture cover with photos of The Walkmen (further confirming that the group = just the two guys at that stage), since the record only came in a plain sleeve.

The Walkmen only released one other single after this one: "The F-L-A-Team."  Get it?  It's like the Florida A-Team.  And yes, they created the instrumental out of The A-Team television theme.  I think that really shot them in the foot, because it made it look like they were a total gimmick act, only releasing music based on famous soundtrack themes.  Plus, it doesn't sound half as dope as the Star Wars stuff.  Celph produced it, too, and Kram did the cuts.  Storm Trupa's not on that one, but Murdoc is, plus a couple other guys on the B-side.  I can't say the end of The Walkmen was a huge loss.  They sounded alright, but Celph's a better rapper and even when they were doing Star Wars raps, their lyrics were kinda basic, "like Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, in any confrontation, I pull out my light saber."  You could get your little nephew to write that stuff.  The reason to get this single is Celph and Kram's slick re-working of the Williams score.  You know, listen to it on your way to see The Last Jedi in the theater, and then put it away 'till next year, when they release that Han Solo movie.

1 comment:

  1. Chris & Ray - U Don't Walk U Run is the best example of a Star Wars sample