Monday, December 24, 2018

My B. Boys' Christmas Bells

(Happy holidays, all you B Boys and B Girls!  🎄  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Guess Who's Made a Comeback? You'll Never Guess, So I'll Just Tell You!

Even as another year fades away, it marks one last interesting development in Hip-Hop.  You guys'll never guess which old school MC just made a comeback with a brand new record.  Well, except those of you who looked at the picture on the right.  That's right, it's Sugar Bear, the Strong Island MC who only put out one, exciting and highly regarded 12" single back in 1988 on, well... it originally came out on an indie label called Coslit Records, but it's far better known for the more broadly distributed second pressing by Next Plateau Records.  Red Alert blew it up on his classic We Can Do This album.  I wrote about it a bit here, in a post on KC Flightt, as Sugar Bear was the one who actually beat both him and Chuck Chillout to the popular "Once In a Lifetime" break, but at some point, I should give that record its own post, because it has an equally great, "Once In a Lifetime"-less B-side.

But anyway, yeah.  That was a great record, but that's all he ever put out.  He did a couple guest spots, most notably on producer Richie Rich's I Can Make You Dance album, "Coming From London" ("can't you tell, from the way I walk and talk, I'm coming from New York? But what brought me to London: a homeboy that was really somethin'").  Apparently in the 90's he also did some token rap verses on R&B songs, none of which I'd ever heard of before until I checked out Sugar Bear's discogs page.  So I guess he did keep his hand in it for a while.  But even so, it's been a very a long time, and he has to be one of the last guys I was expecting to see jump dramatically back on the record with a brand new single.

And you bet your ass it's on vinyl.  "It's Hot" is the latest release from Hip Hop Be Bop Records, the guys that delivered Silver Fox's comeback last year.  If this becomes their regular schtick, mounting hot comebacks by the genre's most neglected legends, I will remain permanently enthralled.  I am 1000% on board.  Oh, and by the way, you may remember me mentioning in my post about their last record, that their catalog numbers curiously jumped from HHBB-7-001 to HHBB-7-003, which raised the question, what happened to the elusive HHBB-7-002?  Well, this is it - the single that was evidently originally planned to come out between the two Silver Fox 7"s.

Now, getting down to business, The Powerful Powerlord sounds as good as ever.  His distinctive voice sounds just the same, energetic as ever, and he's kicking a style very faithful to his '88 debut.  He hasn't missed a beat in all these twenty years.  "Stop sweatin' me; you're runnin' out of towels.  Who?  Look at you; now you're an owl.  This is the new kind of style, comin' from Strong Isle, so let's get biz.  You think it's a game and I bet that you're havin' fun; but there will only be one Powerful Powerlord Sugar Bear in the atmosphere, so you can't tear up nothin' but a piece of paper. There's no excuse for catchin' the vapors.  Gonna rip up the contract, do my contact and you best believe that I had to come back."

Production is once again provided by Clandestine, who knows just the kind of track to lay down for Sugar Bear's vocals: hardcore, but with a focus on high energy rather than street gruff.  Fresh drums, a heavy classical music-type loop and a deep horn tone reminiscent of The UBC Crew's ominous sounding "UB Style."  There's also a remix which is pretty cool when you focus on it, but overall feels a little flat.  The one thing that keeps this single from quite hitting the heights of the 1988 record is the samples.  This feels more made up of studio-created elements than raw, chunky samples; so it doesn't really have the soul of the original songs.  But the fact that it's still the original Sugar Bear holds it all together.  And of course, one element that really sold Sugar Bear's old school stuff was the tight scratching sequences he included on both songs.  And thankfully, that's just as present here, thanks to DJ Credit One, the same guy who also did Silver Fox's joints.  His cuts are really slick to the point where I don't understand why I'm not coming across him on more records; he should be getting a lot more work.

So this record's a 33 1/3 7" and comes in a colorful picture cover that recalls the logo and artwork from the original Coslit cover (even more rewarding for those of us who only have the Next Plateau version that came in a generic label cover, which is most of us).  I definitely recommend this for anyone everyone who's been bummed for decades that Sugar Bear only ever had the one single.  And Hip Hop Be Bop's got me on the edge of my seat for what they're going to come out with next.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Labels and Other Bits and Bobs

(Ready for something new? Check out the latest "EP" by Whirlwind D. Youtube version is here. And the "Labels" music video mentioned in my vid is here.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First REAL Beastie Boys Record

This is a record I've been meaning to get for a long time, and then, after I finally scratched it off my Want List, it's a record I've been meaning to cover here for an even longer time.  It's a fairly famous record, even legendary in fan circles, but also not quite so rare as it's often made out to be.  It's the kind of record people probably wind up overpaying for.  It's the Beastie Boys first record for Def Jam, even predating "She's On It" from Krush Groove and the MCA solo single, "Rock Hard."  It's so well known because it's the song that wound up getting left off of the album, or any wide release, because they got sued by AC/ DC for sampling their song "Back In Black."  So it's a semi-unreleased classic Licensed To Ill-era Beastie Boys song, and it's good.

Now, I call it the first "real" Beastie Boys record because it's not actually, strictly speaking, their first record.  They put out two indie singles on a tiny little punk rock label called Rat Cage Records: "Polly Wog Stew" (1982) and "Cooky Puss" (1983), later repackaged with a couple unreleased demos onto a compilation album aptly titled Some Old Bullshit (1994, on their own Grand Royal label).  "Polly Wog Stew" is a pure baby punk band record, straight out of The Decline of Western Civilization (part 3).  Then "Cooky Puss" is a silly "Buffalo Gals/ Hobo Scratch" parody, with the famous "all that scratchin' is making me itch" line becoming, "these pussy crumbs are making me itch."  They're at least starting to venture into Hip-Hop territory, but it's just a cheap novelty record (without any rapping) where a few copies were pressed up to make a local teenage crowd smirk for a hot second and that's it.

But 1984's "Hard Rock" sounds exactly like the Beastie Boys we know and love.  Sonically, it would have fit right into Licensed To Ill, and even have been a popular track.  Admittedly, though, I've always been a "Dope Beat" (a.k.a. "Hope Beats") man myself.  That's the early Boogie Down Productions record that chops the same "Back In Black" sample in pretty much the exact same way.  I generally prefer Krs-One's more natural voice and flow, and I love the way the beat strips itself and breaks down throughout the song.  I know everyone focuses on AC/ DC's guitar licks, and the song certainly wouldn't work as well without them, but I just love how they freak the drum machine on that joint.  Compare it to Stretch Armstrong's remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," for example, which also uses "Back In Black," and that's just a simple loop that repeats and repeats almost to the point of irritation.  "Dope Beat," on the other hand, keeps pulling out elements until sparse bass hits are just floating out there by themselves.

Other noteworthy uses of the same "Back In Black" licks include Hard Corps, a short-lived rap/ rock hybrid group who did a straight up rap cover of the song in the early 90s, and of course the great MC Player.

Anyway though, if you go back and revisit "Rock Hard," it actually does a lot of dope, percussive tweaking like "Dope Beat."  Those massive, bassy beats lifted off the AC/ DC record.  That's probably Rick Rubin's influence, because yes, he was already down by then.  In fact, during this brief period, The Beastie Boys were officially a four-man group, with Rubin the fourth member going by DJ Double R.  He does some scratching on this record, and he's no Mixmaster Mike, but for 1984, hey, it at least jives with the rest of the music.  In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on instrumentally, with some flavor no doubt being added by editors The Latin Rascals.  Plus, there's a lot of live guitar on here, besides just whatever they lifted off the AC/ DC record, probably being played by Ad Rock, who brags "I can play guitar - not just B-boys but real rock stars" in the lyrics.

And that's another thing about this record, the lyrics are, for a Beastie Boys record, strangely cohesive.  Usually, when I think of Beastie Boys lyrics, I think of an endless string of Greg Nice-ish non-sequitors.  Not that all of their songs are like that... "Fight For Your Right To Party" is a very simply themed, direct song.  But you know, they're generally credited for throwing in a million references, but they're almost never substantive, just throwing in arbitrary mentions of old movies and their girlfriends.  Like, "I'm as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce; you've got the rhyme and reason, but got no cause. But if you're hot to trot, you think you're slicker than grease, I've got news for you crews, you'll be sucking like a leech. Well I'm Dr. Spock, I'm here to rock, y'all; I want you off the wall, if you're playing the wall..." and so on.  That's from "So What'cha Want," but it could be from almost any of their songs, right?  Most of their records are just like a lyrical stew, where one sentence doesn't connect to the next or previous one.  Why bring up "Spock" except that it's an obvious rhyme with "rock?"  Anyway, that's my general little Beastie Boys rant.  I only bring it up to say this record isn't like that.  It's no epic poem like "The Illiad" set to music - the guys are basically just telling us how awesome they are at rocking the show - but it's at least a cohesive song that flows together.

After "Rock Hard" is "Party's Gettin' Rough," which is basically just a crazy, extended dub mix of "Rock Hard."  It extends the instrumental, adds a lot of ad-libs, including a long shout and call sequence of random syllables, but no actual rap verses or anything.  It's cool if you're digging the instrumental enough that you want it stretched out into a ten minute song, but it doesn't stand on its own.

More interesting, though, is the B-side, "Beastie Groove."  In fact, one curious aspect about it right off the bat, is that it doesn't feature any AC/ DC riffs, but was still left off of Licensed To Ill or any subsequent official release, including the bajillion times that album's been officially reissued.  Why?  I don't know!  Maybe they just didn't like it as much, possibly thought it sounded a little too old school?  It does feel a little rougher than most of their Def Jam work, but it's pretty solid with just classic early 80s beats and a hook that throws back to The Treacherous Three's "Heartbeat."  They really sound good over the track, and again, they're just doing standard braggadocio rhymes, but they're not on that random non-sequitor tip.  Ad Rock even flexes an impressive "New Rap Language" inspired flow for his verse.  But the Beastie Boys definitely give their record an updated, tougher edge, especially for its time.  "Beastie Groove" might not be Greatest Hits worthy, but I'd take it over most of their post-"Pass the Mic" indie rock junk, that's for sure.

The 12" wraps up with the instrumental.  So this was an early Def Jam 12", so it's a little on the rare side.  Like, you won't find it in a 99¢ bin.  But it's not like copies were recalled from record shops after the lawsuit, so copies are out there.  And it's been bootlegged plenty, sometimes with slightly altered track-listings, with fake Grand Royal labels.  And there's even a European Def Jam repress that came out in the late 2000s (music licensing laws seem to be a little different over there), all of which probably helped bring the original 12"'s market value back down to Earth.  So yeah, it's not that impossible to find an O.G.; you can own it if you want it.  And I think it's definitely worth it.  I've only sprung for a small percent of Beastie records over the years - most of it just feels like hipster bait to me - but this single is one of the essentials.

Friday, November 16, 2018

EC Illa, the Kanye West Recordings and So Much More

This is an interesting one.  Indie Chi-town MC EC Illa is back with some new music, and some old school rarities finally debuting on vinyl.  Let's start with that vinyl.  Pictured above you see The Grade School Dropout, a brand new limited 7" single featuring production by none other than Kanye West (hence the College Dropout reference in the title).  It's a two song single of "Strugglin'" and "Mask & a Pump," both beats by Kanye and verses by EC.  They're not entirely previously unreleased.  In 2004, EC released an independent CD called Underground Classics which assembled a collection of then unreleased recordings EC had made between the years 1995-2003.   And this would've been a fairly rare CD even for its day unless you were really following EC... Like, for instance, Sandbox and HipHopSite didn't carry it.

So getting these tracks on a legit physical release is pretty rare, and this is their definite vinyl debut.  And yes, these two songs are the only Kanye-produced tracks from that album or any other EC Illa release.  The liner notes for Underground Classics marked them both as being from 2002.  That places these songs firmly in the period where he was adopting west coast gangsta rap influences, even changing his recording name to Whitefolks; and where I as a fan had already pretty well checked out.  The EC Illa I fondly remember was a scrappy underground Hip-Hop purist representing breaking and graf in his videos with banging production and nice DJ cuts.  Like "On Ill" or "Every Hood In the Ill?"  Those are the classics to me.  This "nigga, neva trust these scandalous hoes" period just struck me as a following of trends that never should've happened.

But with that said, going back to and listening to this material now, it's really the production that lost me more than the MCing.  EC always had that street edge to his lyrics, so I'm not really mad at him shifting away from always rapping about having skills.  And actually, him adopting a fast, tongue flipping Crucial Conflict element into his flows was kinda slick.  It was really the instrumental side that let the later music down for me.  And guess what?  The two Kanye-produced really stand out as superior to everything else on Underground Classics.  Not better than "On Ill," but these songs really do deserve to be singled out and rescued from obscurity by being preserved on vinyl.

Because, I'll be honest.  I had mixed emotions when I first saw this release.  EC Illa is an important Chicago artist with a legit place in Hip-Hop history.  And seeing Kanye's name being bandied about as the selling point certainly makes obvious commercial sense, but also rubbed me the wrong way.  As if listeners today should only be interested in these two songs because EC once rubbed shoulders with the celebrity we all know from Keeping Up With the Kardasians and the MAGA hat photo-ops.  I don't like the thought of EC getting relegated to a footnote in his shadow.   But now that I've taken the time to properly revisit this material, I've relaxed into it.  This record should come out now, and people should cop it.

Even if you've never heard these songs, you can probably imagine what to expect.  Yes, EC's in Whitefolks mode, but his delivery is definitely nimbler than his early material.  And Kanye's early work is a good fit.  Yes, we get some chipmunk soul, chopped piano loops, catchy samples and snappy percussion.

"Ya ain't gotta walk fast, sweetie,
I ain't tryin' to steal ya purse;
I'm a home owna,
I just wanna bone on ya.

There's no corna
On any block, in any city,
In any state,

Not bumpin' Whitefolks e'ry day."

This single's limited to 200 hand-numbered copies (mine's #15).  As you can see above, it comes in a nice picture cover, pressed on white (white) vinyl.  The back covers are personally signed by EC himself, and and for the ultra nerdy vinyl enthusiasts, I feel compelled to point out that even the inner sleeve has a nice, plastic lining inside the paper.  It also comes with a neat little Chicago Hip-Hop 45 adapter (since this is a "big hole" 45 7").  And it comes with one more special treat.
Okay, just the one on the right, but I added my copy of Common Sense's (yes, as you see, he still had the "Sense" on this cover) cassingle to show you what that artwork's riffing on.  "I Used To Live H.E.R. Pt. 2: Beautiful" by Griffen featuring EC Illa.  Who's Griffen?  I'll be honest; I had to look him up.  He's an up and coming Chicago rapper.  A lot of his stuff is slower, definitely not mumblecore, but not entirely free of those modern influences either.  I listened to some of his songs online, and I definitely liked some more than others.

Anyway, though, EC's been largely retired; and so the exciting part of this new cassingle is that he's come back to spit a verse on this sequel to Common's classic.  Now, this isn't the first time someone's made an unofficial sequel to this song... a couple artists had songs with titles like "I Still Love H.E.R." and "Death Becomes H.E.R.," all continuing the metaphor of addressing their relationship with Hip-Hop as if it was a girlfriend.  And I think I would've preferred it if they numbered it correctly as like, "Pt. 7" or whatever it would be.  But anyway. this one uses Common's line, "she was fresh, yo, when she was underground" as its hook and jumping off point, talking about it from more of a distinctly underground Hip-Hop angle.

Griffen has a very simple, slow flow that's a little too Future for my tastes, though he's clearly consciously doing that to marry his vocals to the track (he sounds livelier on some of the other songs I heard), which is a smooth, relaxed instrumental that manages to convey a genuine sadness.  But EC steals the show when he gets on for the middle verse, "if you hadn't fallen off, I'd probably dick you still; make you take me down your throat just like a delicious pill.  You used to love her, but me I used to bang it out, up in the studio or when we was just hangin' out.  You once was a down bitch, now you just a clown, bitch.  Can't believe all the phony studs that you get down with."  It's just cool to hear something new from EC.

As you can see in the picture, "Beautiful" is a blue tape that comes in a cover styled off of Common's original.  The cassette features four versions: the main mix, the instrumental, a slightly extended version and a clean edit ...which kinda sucks because they curse in the hook, so they have to really butcher the song to keep it clean.  But the other mixes are uncensored so it's all good.  The whole pack, The Grade School Dropout and "I Used To Love H.E.R. Pt. 2," are available directly from  He also has a slightly pricier version that also includes an instrumental LP, called An Old Soul, which comes in a picture cover and is also signed by EC.  200's a pretty slim run, so if you're interested, I'd jump on it.  Like I said, I was a little mixed on it when I first saw it; but now I've come down fully in support of this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Half Pit Half Halloween

(This year, I decided to scrap together all of the info I could find about the inscrutable horrorcore duo Half Pit Half Dead.  Just who were they?  Did they have any other music?  What was The Army from Hell?  I'm still left with more questions than answers, but I definitely found more to their story than one 12" single.  Youtube version is hereHappy Halloween!)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Perfect Kaotic Diamond

Kaotic Style first got on my radar in 1995 when they released a 12" featuring Cella Dwellas, Smooth & Trigga, MOP and Heltah Skeltah.  I had no idea who Kaotic Style even were back then, but it didn't matter because I had to have it because those were the elite, cutting edge guests to get in '95, and here they were all together on a single.  Unfortunately, this was the the very early days of the internet, before discogs or even Sandbox, so I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy until years later.  I did pick up their subsequent 12", though, "Get In Where You Fit In," released the same year on Nervous Records.  It was pretty hot, though I wasn't a huge fan of the artificial grime they were adding to their voices.  Then I found their earliest 12", when they were going by Kaotic Stylin' back in 1990, and I was even more impressed with them because they sounded ahead of their time... plus, no grime.

One release I never got of theirs, because it was one of the rarer ones, is their 1994 EP, Diamond In the Ruff, on Beat Scott Records.  But thanks to another joint venture between Dope Folks and Gentlemens Relief Records, I've been finally able to correct that... plus a whole lot more.  See, as rare as it was, that EP did come out.  But there's a demo cassette version that never really made its way to the public, and that has a bunch of extra, unreleased songs.  Effectively, it's gone from an EP to a full-length LP, and Dope Folks has released the whole thing - the stuff that was on the '94 EP and the stuff that wasn't - this year on vinyl.

And this LP is pretty choice.  It's harder and more modern their first two singles, which are quite nice but admittedly have a bit of an old school feel to them.  But... it's before that grime gimmick, so their voices are completely natural over classic indie 90s NY tracks.  Sick jazzy samples, subtle scratches by DJ Shazam and tight street beats.  Think DITC, Freestyle Professors, etc.  And this impressive production, like almost all of their releases, is courtesy of KS themselves.  Admittedly, they're never quite "next level," advancing the art along the lines of, say, Natural Elements, or some of their other cutting edge peers of the time.  They're not going to be anybody's Top Five.  They're just doing things other artists had pretty much already done, but they're doing it really damn well.

And the good news is that the five unreleased songs are just as good as the four previously released ones.  It's not one of those cases where you say, "oh, I see why they left these off."  Only one song fell a little short for me, "You Know the Name."  The production's killer and the guys still sound good on it; but lyrically they're pushing kind of a cheesy name-dropping gimmick, inspired, no doubt, like gimmicky successes of its day like "Labels" and "Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag."  Yeah, it's one of those.

But didn't I mention GRR, too?  Yeah, what I just described is the vinyl release from Dope Folks, but Gentlemen's Relief are issuing a limited CD edition, which includes all of the above, plus four additional bonus tracks.  What are these?  They're the last two Kaotic Styles 12"s, from 1996 and 1997.  They're a little more smoothed out.  One song features Jaz and another has Memphis Bleek.  They feel a little trendy (for their time), and I wouldn't rank them as highly as their earlier material.  The chorus for "Da Ones" is a flat retread of the classic PE hit and there's a "Top Billin'" remake which is especially pointless.  But don't get me wrong, the production still sounds nice and these guys can still rap.  It's still good music that would fit well into anybody's collection, especially anyone partial to that 90s sound; it's just not as tight as their earlier material.

So the vinyl is limited to 300 copies, 50 on red wax and the other 250 on traditional black, both in a plain sleeve.  The CD naturally includes full picture artwork and is limited to just 250 copies.  If you're a CD collector, it's a nice way to get all that material, but heads who've already got their late 90s 12"s will only need the vinyl to score all the unreleased material.  These two guys kept putting out single after single from 1990-1997, jumping from one indie label to another.  It's about time they've finally got a proper album to their name.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Gurpy Dozen

So, there's a new album from the Gurp City crew.  If you follow this blog, you know who Gurp City are, because I've covered a whole ton of their releases already.  But just in case you don't, Gurp is the label/ collective of the Bay area family of artists including Luke Sick, Z-Man, Brandon B, QM, TopR, Eddie K, Eons One, Lightbulb, DJ Quest, Brycon...  it's always struck me as a somewhat loose knit affair, and it's not always clear who's actually a member, and who's just a frequent collaborator of some or all of them, or who's dropped out over the years... White MicG-Pek DJ Marz?  It's pretty amorphous.

Anyway, it may be hard to believe considering how long these guys have been assembled under the banner, but apparently this is the debut album from the whole gang as a pack: Rap Camp, Vol. 1: The Flood.  Previous compilations like Fresh Out Gurp City didn't count?  I don't know; their press sheet calls this their debut.  And like all music these days, it seems to be primarily a digital release; but I'm happy to report that there are actual physical copies in existence.  You might have to contact them directly to cop a CD, or corner one of them at a show, because I can't find any place to order it.  But they exist!

And how is it?  Well, I'll be honest, it's overlong and I was a little disappointed with it at first.  It reminds me of the Shady Records Re-Up album, where it feels like a bunch of artists you're a fan of have gotten together with some you're less familiar with to pound out a lot of songs pretty quickly.  It starts out okay, with "Guess Who's Back," including some cool scratches on the hook, an enthusiastic posse cut vibe, all three MCs sound good riding the beat, and it's exciting when Luke clicks in at the end like a king.  One thing I have to say about this album right off the bat is that the biggest names are heavily featured.  You know, if you buy a D12 album, you don't want to find out Eminem's only on one song and you've wasted your money.  That's definitely not an issue here; Luke and Z-Man are all over this.  The only artist on here more than them is Eddie K (Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters), who's on every song but one... I wonder if this song started out as an Eddie K album?

Anyway, back to Re-Up, or Rap Camp.  The problem is we've got a lot of lyrically shallow verses over some pretty bland beats mostly by producers whose names I don't recognize as opposed to the more atmospheric or exciting work we've gotten used to on Gurp City projects.  Tracks like "Drop It" sound like old strip club rap songs the genre left behind years ago, and others like "Mad Scientist" just don't have the energy to lift off the ground.  A couple songs in, and the album starts to feel like a slog to get through.  I don't mean to overstate my criticisms - things here never actually get bad per wack (though "Drop It" probably gets the closest), they just never aim high enough to hook you when there's so much other music out there you could listen to instead.

But, but, BUT!  If you have the patience to stick with it, things pick up.  The best stuff is mostly in the second half of the album, and there are some real gems.  "Tribe & Brew" is a crazy duet between Eddie K and Luke Sick where they meld their Gurp styles with the instrumental and vocal stylings of A Tribe Called Quest.  Even diggers who would normally pass over these guy's best stuff should at least check this song out; they'd get a real kick out of it and it's genuinely real funky.  "Cups Up Off the Wall" is just a fun, old school throwback with a Kool & the Gang inspired chorus, and "Young Throats" has a smoothed out addictive track you're going to want to go back and replay immediately.  They have moments where they take the alcoholic theme to interesting places with lines like "high tolerance but I ain't proud of it," you can just feel these guys' talent pushing at the seams to burst out.

So, ultimately, I'd say if you're a serious fan of these guys, you'll want to get this album, too.  Again, like if you're a big Emzy fan, you'll want all his side projects and be happy finding all the points where he shines to appreciate.  But if you're looking for the masterpieces, this ain't The Slim Shady EP; don't start here.  Check out On Tilt or Yole Boys instead.  Either way, though, at least go to their bandcamp and check out that "Tribe & Brew" cut; I'll really be surprised if you guys don't like it.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Infinite Stezos

Look at the picture above and see if you can spot any similarities.  Ha.  Okay, I was just messin' with yas.  Those two objects have nothing in common; it was a trick question.  Oh.  Well, except, looking at it now, I suppose you could say they're both CDs... by the same artist... with the same photo on it.  Okay, actually, I guess they're very similar, except one is from 1996 and one is current, from 2018.  So what's the deal?  Well, Dope Folks - as you should know from reading this very blog, - has been putting out rare and unreleased Stezo tracks for kind of a while now.  And now they've put out this CD version, limited to 250 copies (there's a purple cassette limited to just 50 copies, too), that compiles a bunch of that stuff and adds some more.  And that includes pretty much everything from his rare EP, Where's the Funk At.  Hence the referencing covers.

So let's break it all down and see what's what.  If you have all the previous Dope Folks vinyl EPs, do you need this album?  And yes, at eighteen tracks deep, I'd call Bop Ya Headz a full-length album.  And an alternative question, if you have all of Stezo's vintage, indie material, do you need this album?  Because this release definitely dips into both wells.

So what's on here?  Okay, first up are all the seven songs from Dope Folks' Unreleased and Rarities EP, which I covered here and includes the three previously unheard kick-ass demo tracks, and all four tracks from Where's the Funk At.  So, to be clear, those four tracks appear on both the Unreleased and Rarities EP and the original Where's the Funk At CD, as well as now Bop Ya Headz.  Stay with me, it gets a little complicated.  Because then it also features the four instrumentals from Where's the Funk At, which were on the original 1996 CD, but not the Dope Folks EP.  So if you've just got the Dope Folks EPs, you don't have those.  But, one thing Bop doesn't have is the "Where's the Funk At" remix, which I believe was newly recorded in 2015 specifically for Dope Folks' Unreleased EP.  So getting Bop doesn't completely invalidate Unreleased.

And just to clarify further, and hopefully not confuse the issue, I should point out that there was also a different "Where's the Funk At" 12" released back in the day on Funktown Flav Records.  That, and its B-side "Figure It Out" are both the same songs featured on the aforementioned Where's the Funk At EP and, by extension, the Unreleased and Rarities EP.  All the same versions of the same couple songs.

But that's not where Bop Ya Headz ends; it's just the first half.  It also features all five songs, from Dope Folks' 2017 More Rarities EP.  All five of those songs had been previously released on two indie Stezo 12"s, "Bop Ya Headz" on Funktown Records in 1994 and "Mr. S" on Funktown Flav Records in 1997.  And Bop also throws in the two instrumentals from the 1994 12" (though not the ones from the 1997 12").  Those are the same two instrumentals they put on More Rarities, so nothing different there.  Except More Rarities had another, different remix of "Where's the Funk At," which is exclusive to that EP.  And I'll just mention that those two 12"s were top shelf Stezo material, even better than the Where's the Funk At EP, so if you dug the other stuff, you'll definitely like these tracks.

So that's it.  Let's tally up.  If you just get the Dope Folks' EPs, the only thing you'd be missing out on is the "Mr. S" instrumentals and the "Where's the Funk At" acappella, which was on the Where's the Funk At EP... which explains how Dope Folks was able to make those remixes.  Bop Ya Headz nets you everything except those new mixes and the "Mr S" instrumentals.  If you just have the original records, you'd not only be missing those new remixes (which I have to say are pretty good, though, especially the Handz Remix from More Rarities) but the three 1990 demo tracks.  So you'll want to get at least one of these newer releases for sure; but you may not feel the need to spring for everything here.  This is more of an easier way for Stezo fans to get all that stuff Dope Folks was putting out for the last couple years in one convenient album, and obviously more for CD/ tape collectors who would've given the vinyl a miss.  If you're all caught up on wax, there's no new music to be discovered on this one.

Getting all this compiled feels a bit like they're wrapping up, a final summation.  But could there still be more vintage Stezo in Dope Folks' future?  We know there's still more unreleased demo tracks out there that could make for a pretty sweet release or two.  We'll just have to wait and see...

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Introducing The Fascinating Force

(Here's a video I've been meaning to do for a long time now, on a talented but unfortunately forgotten crew known as The Fascinating Force. Youtube version is here.)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Brick City's Own Mytee G Poetic

Speaking of Gentleman's Relief Records collaborating with another indie label to put out some great, lost 90s material in different formats, this time they're working with a label called Dust & Dope Recordings.  I love seeing these labels work together instead of acting like bitter competitors; it's all for a great Hip-Hop cause.  Anyway, I don't know too much about Dust & Dope, but they're the guys that put out the long-shelved and coveted Raw Breed album Killa Instinct last year.  And the project they're releasing jointly here is Com'n Wit Nuff Ruffness, the unreleased album by Mytee G. Poetic.

This is a project you may've already seen me tweeting excitedly about.   Mytee is a Newark, NJ MC who put out a couple hot 12" singles in the 1990s.  One of the rare ones who doesn't seem to be connected with Nick Wiz.  haha  All his production duties are shared by himself and a bunch of pretty obscure cats: Mixture, Kool Ass Pat, Na'fis Majid, Brand X, Rashad Muhammad, Kasim, Noise System and Maddox.  The only name there I even recognize is Rashad, who did some stuff with The Fugees before they blew up.  But that's not a mark against any of them, because the production here is hot.  And consistent.

But let me back up a second and explain what we've got here.  This is a full length album of Mytee's tracks from '94-'96, plus one bonus track recorded in 1998.  It includes all six songs from his previous 12"s, including both versions of "Com'n Wit Nuff Ruffness," so if you missed any of them, don't worry, you're getting his whole discography here.  And that means we're also getting nine more never before heard songs, including two versions of one called "Poetically Incline."  And the good news is that the unreleased material is just as strong, in some cases maybe even better, than the 12" material.

Mytee is one of those rare rappers with a hard, take no prisoners delivery and a versatility with the wordplay to fit just as well in a backpacker's cypher or hardcore thug rap posse cut without changing up his style a bit, like Big L or someone like that.  And the production, despite having so many people involved, is steady and satisfying, probably due to Mytee keeping a hand in all of it.  There's also no guest rappers or anything on here.  It's all Mytee, and yet this whole album never starts to feel redundant or boring even after repeated listens.  It's basically hard boom bap tracks with some choice jazzy samples, with one or two tracks occasionally smoothing it out (like "Listen To the Lyrics," "Part Of the Game," and to a lesser extent, "Ghetto Journalism") to add a little variety.  Only that last 1998 track stands out as a little bit of a mismatch, but it's still a really tight track, so I'm glad for its inclusion.  As he laid it out in his first single, "what is it gonna be? Some bitch nigga singin' R&B, or a rugged rap show starrin' me?"

As with the Sons of Light, this is being released in limited quantities across all three physical formats.  But this time it's less complicated because all 15 tracks are on all three versions.  So there's the vinyl, which is a double LP in a full color picture cover, which is limited to 300 copies, the CD with a distinctly different cover image, which is limited to 150, and the cassette, which again is limited to only 50 copies, and is a cool dark blue tape.  A great piece of Jersey Hip-Hop history, or for anybody who was into the indie 90s scene.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Who Are the Sons of Light?

I mentioned the Sons of Light when I was writing about Jae Supreme and 2 Deep not too long ago.  Well, let's take a proper their actual album.  The Sons of Light is his indie Queens, NY group he was pushing but never quite broke out.  This would come after both his 2 Deep period and "I'm a Villain," well into the 90s.  The first time most of us would've heard of them is probably when Jae released his Life's Work compilation last year, which featured two Sons of Light tracks ("Hold Me Down" and "Slash Dot Com").  But there was also a very rare (test pressing only?) 12" from 1996.  And what Heavy Jewelz and Gentleman's Relief Records have put out is essentially the unreleased album that single would've been off of.  I say "essentially," because Heavy Jewelz' Facebook officially describes this as, "the 3 tracks from their impossible-to-find 1996 12", plus 16 more demos and unreleased tracks, mainly from '95-'97."  So I guess this wasn't technically conceived as an album proper, but close enough.

Now, the Sons of Light consists of four members: Jae, Syl Drama, Lord Pharaoh and Chico Son.  That's four guys, but you may've notice there's just three dudes on the album cover.  That's because Jae takes more of a back seat as the producer than one of the main MCs.  He does rap a couple of times on here, on "Who's da Man" (also featuring a guy named Hardy Rock) and "Drinks On Me."  And even from those appearances you can tell, though he's definitely drifted pretty far from "I Didn't Do My Homework," that Jae has a more old school and less edgy style compared to the other members.  It sort of reminds me of MC Serch rhyming on Non-Phixion's first records.  Fans of Jae/ Serch will be happy to hear him and wish for even more contributions, but they'd probably just be holding the group back from finding their newer, younger audiences if they'd insisted on more of a front-facing role. 

Because this is like Jae's Private Investigators; going for a decidedly more gritty, authentic street vibe than when he first came out.  The Sons of Light don't smooth it out as much as someone like Bee Why, but they weren't definitely designed to plug into that pure Queensbridge criminology set.  And they're at their best when they come hardest, on songs like "Get Money" or "Can't Fuck Wit," which actually features Cormega and G.O.D. Pt. III from the Infamous Mobb, and get serious lyrically, like on "Crescent Moon," "flip the script on the government and indict the feds for the murder of Chris Wallace and Tupac Amaru Shakur.  We at war, but what we fightin' for?"  But, while I appreciate their nods to Hip-Hop's roots, like the hook to "Handz In da Air," I could do without some of their material on partying and girls.

When the beats are tight, though, they're on fire; but after a while, they can sound a bit simplistic and loopy.  For example, "Zero Vaccine" uses the same main piano loop as Josh Martinez's "Breakdown," but a direct comparison really makes you appreciate how much more producer Jesse Dangerously did with it than Jae, the beat for "Ya Don't Stop" is a bit irritating "Let it Go"'s heavy use of Teddy Pendergrass's "Love T.K.O." (after songs like KMC Kru's "Let Her Go" and Steady B's "Let It Go") would've been tired even in 1996.  I appreciate the variety in their material on one hand, having an R&B singer do a hook for one song, smooth another out 'till it almost sounds west coast, then switch to an upbeat party song.  "Project Life" is deadly serious, then "Remember When" is a name-dropping ode to the history of Queens rap... like some other songs we've heard, but probably the only one to list 2 Deep as a highlight.

But I think they hurt themselves a bit trying to prove how diverse and versatile they could be, and work best when they stay in their lane.  There's a whole lot of songs on here, and they probably would've made a better impression if they trimmed the fat a bit.  But for us die-hard aficionados, I definitely appreciate the impulse to release everything, since this is probably the last chance heads would ever get to hear it, especially on a proper physical release.  Just think of it as a really tight 12 or 13 track album, with a bunch of bonus cuts mixed in.

And when I say "a lot of songs," how many am I talking about?  Well, it depends which format you cop this one.  There's 19 tracks on the vinyl version (a special edition double LP in a picture cover, limited to just 300 copies): 17 songs, plus 2 instrumentals.  Then there's 20 on the CD (which is limited to only 150 copies).  But it's not quite as simple as the CD having one extra bonus track.  The CD actually has three additional songs: "Project Life," "Keep It Hot" and "Remember When," but loses the two instrumentals.  Finally, there's the cassette, which is super limited to a mere 50 copies and includes 22 tracks, meaning it has everything: all of the songs from the vinyl and CD, including the instrumentals. So, just in terms of track-listing, the tape's the best, but naturally a lot of listeners are going to want this on vinyl.  And all the best songs are on that, so you don't miss out too badly no matter which version you get.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Secret Meetings of Fatboi Sharif

Fatboi Sharif is an exciting (and I don't throw that term around loosely) new Jersey MC.  I first heard him on Shawn Lov's last album, where I have to confess he really didn't make much of an impression at all on me.  So I almost didn't bother checking out his new online material, but I'm glad I did, because that stuff definitely made an impression.  His style and content feel very influenced by UG, but with a softer, Scott Lark tone to his voice and delivery, and lyrics reminiscent of early Jedi Mind Tricks, back when they were creative and packed with Children of Babylon members.

And this is his debut solo EP, Ape Twin.  It's available on an official, pressed CD through Fatboi's Facebook here.  Of course there's a digital version, too, which is considerably more accessible.  And there's a previous digital album, Age of Extinction with another MC named Sydetrak Imperial.  It's not uninteresting, but Ape Twin is the much more polished and cohesive work, so I'd really recommend just starting there.

It's a tight EP: eight tracks including skits and songs that average two and a half minutes or so.  And there are a couple of guest MCs, neither of whom I've heard of (Light the Emcee and Nick Jackelson), but they do a good job fitting in.  It always sucks when an artist is making something original and a couple of guests phone in completely generic thug verses like they'd given no consideration towards what project they were being asked to contribute to.  Here, everybody's on the same page: "you can hit the bullseye and still not know how to throw your darts right.  Stand tall over all like my name was Bill Cartwright.  I spark light more than the sun, moon and stars might.  Knock you on your feet like the mutant named Arclight.  Vertigo, Avalanche, the tree of life, grab a branch.  Teleportin' Nightcrawler to the Savage Lands.  This the battle plan, load the mutants in the caravan.  A surgical mystic like Dr. Strange with damaged hands."  Consequently, the listening experience is constantly shifting, always crazy film and comic book references and strange visual imagery, so it's the sort of CD you can just let loop indefinitely, a surreal experience.

So does that mean there isn't any substance to anything he's saying?  Well, there's definitely a "what the hell is he talking about" aspect to his work ("the city from Children of the Corn, mistrial, rumors of kiddie porn.  Prisoner escaper, conspiracy on paper, JFK affair with Elizabeth Taylor").  If you're hoping for direct metaphors like mermaids represent one socioeconomic group in conflict with another, a la "Planet E," I'm not sure it ever gets that one-to-one.  And it doesn't help that he has a tendency to slur some key words.  A little more enunciation and a few less pop culture references would be welcome.  But if you roll with it, it's really not so impenetrable.  There are definitely themes of personal growth and transformation that are probably more than just accidental.  Like the Marvel-themed guest verse I quoted above can be more than just a comic book rhyme, but a relatable invocation of talented artists going out to make their way in the world.  You get it.  And the fact that the lyrics are indirect and a little difficult to discern makes repeated relistens rewarding, where the pieces slowly fit together and his meaning becomes each little bit clearer.

Musically, yeah he's a younger artist, but he's not on some mumblecore, sloppy tip.  His production's the sort of light boom-bap you would've expected to find on an indie 90s CD.  That fits, as Shawn Lov produces one track, and one of his regular collaborators, Raiden, does two others.  I can't say this EP's for every head, let alone mainstream audiences.  You've got to be a bit of a backpacker to bask in the lyrics and rhyme schemes; and if you're not going to do that, you won't find enough else to sustain you.  But I hope Sharif finds his audience with this, because the right people aren't just going to "get" Ape Twin, they're going to be surprised how much they enjoy it.  And I definitely look forward to hearing more from him.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Compton's Most Wanted Ultramagnetic Diss You Never Knew About

I've gotta share some credit with Marc of Black Pegasus Records for this one.  He asked me recently if I remembered a time Compton's Most Wanted took a shot at The Ultramagnetic MCs, sort of suggesting they were out of touch old school.  And it did sound sort of vaguely familiar... like I could hear MC Eiht saying "Ultramagnetics" in my head, but that was about all I could remember.  He thought it might've been on the remix of their 1991 "Compton's Lyncin'" 12", which was one of the later singles off their second album, Straight Check N 'Em.  It's one of those generic diss songs, where it's going pretty hard but not really directed at anyone in particular.  They're cutting up the Ice Cube line, "last year I was Ruthless, now I'm Lynchin' motherfuckers."  I generally think they peaked with their first album, but they never really fell off, and this was one of the better singles off this album for me.  Especially the remix, which comes with a tighter sample that Special Ed had already used for "Ya Wish Ya Could" the previous year.

Anyway, that was easily checked, but it wasn't there.  I even checked the instrumental, in case there was a little hidden shout out at the end or something.  So then I started listening to other CMW songs from around that period.  "They Still Gafflin'" because it was the B-side to "Compton's Lynchin'," and other more diss-oriented tracks, like "Duck Sick 1 & 2" and even the extended version of "Rhymes Too Fonky."  No dice.  I was starting to wonder if I'd ever actually heard what Marc was talking about, or if I just let him put the idea in my head like some kind of autosuggestion.  So I kinda gave up on it... and then I found it by accident.

So, on that "Compton's Lynchin'" single, besides the remix, instrumental and B-side, is a shorter Radio Mix.  It's a Radio Mix of the remix, meaning it uses the newer remix instrumental rather than the album version.  But the album version and remix both have the same vocals.  The Radio Mix, though, is one of those where instead of bleeping the curses, or cutting to silence, playing them backwards or whatever, Eiht recorded all the vocals over with adjusted cleaner lyrics.  So, you know, "I don't give a fuck," becomes "I don't care jack," etc.  Basically the same rhymes, just with little substitutions.

But I guess one line was too radio unfriendly that a simple, single word change or two would do, and so that felt they had to swap out the whole thing.  Or maybe they were intentionally tucking it away in the Radio Mix to be a little coy.  I couldn't say either way, but the whole song is the same, minus a few phrase swaps, until midway through the second verse.  I was only listening to it because I'd already given up searching and was just letting the record spin while I was on the computer.  Then I heard the lyrics go from, "the motherfucking power after hour.  No air to breath, cause all the suckers we devour," to "with your played out rhymes, you can't forget it, 1970 Ultramagnetics."  It is real!

So, to be clear, the whole song's not an Ultra diss.  Again, the rest of the verses are unchanged from the original version, none of which have any reference to those guys in them.  And I don't even think the line is even meant to be taken as a direct diss at them, per se, though it's definitely insulting to them.  I think the idea is the generic, sucker MCs they've been talking about the whole song are, in this line, being called tired and hackney, like played out Ultramagnetic 70s rap.  Not that Ultra were a thing in the 70s, of course; their first single was in 1986.  That means this line would've come at them even before their second album, when they signed to MCA (Funk Your Head Up was '92).

So it's a little harsh, no doubt, and completely pointed, since he used their name specifically.  But I doubt it was an indication of a serious beef.  Just a fun little shot that makes an otherwise completely skippable radio mix worth checking out even in 2018.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

White Boys, You Know They're Down By Law

So, I got an email a couple weeks ago asking if I knew about the 80s rap group known as the White Boys.  And I gave 'em a quick answer, but I thought their story would make for a fun post.  They had an album called ...On a Mission on Polydor in 1988, with two 12" singles.  They obviously look more like a rock group than a Hip-Hop outfit, but apart from a few Run DMC-influenced rock twinges, they're definitely on a straight rap tip.  Like, just to give you an idea, the opening and title track is a straight up "Mission Impossible" inspired jam (yes, sampling the famous theme) about how they're being sent on a mission to overcome the "plan by unfriendly elements to undermine the efforts of the Hip-Hop generation."  Yup, it's pure 80's cheese, completely reminiscent of other "Mission Impossible"-themed raps like The Bad Boys' "Mission," World Class Wreckin' Cru's "Mission Possible," Mellow Tone's "Mission Is Possible," etc.  Look, nobody's calling it an original or great concept, but my point is it's nothing like when Faith No More or whoever started mixing rap into their rock.

So, who were these guys?  Well, as you can see there's three of them.  From left to right, on the CD cover, it's M.J. Precise, M.C. Exact and Mr. Ed.  M.J. Precise is the main guy, who put the group together, does half the lead MCing, produced most of the beats and did the DJ cuts.  MC Exact was his friend who he brought in to be the other MC, and Mr. Ed plays guitar.  I said "produced most of the beats," by the way, because their album also has beats courtesy of Marley Marl and Cutmaster DC.  So yeah, there's actually kind of a reason to pick up their stuff besides the novelty of the picture covers.

With that said, though, Marley just produced one song and I wouldn't exactly say he gave them his top shelf material.  It's okay, but actually some of the best production comes courtesy of M.J. himself.  "Some," because this album is all over the map.  They have upbeat songs, harder songs, a token sappy love song and a cover of "Play That Funky Music White Boy," because of course they do.  The times they do touch the 80s metal sound, like on "We Live To Rock" or their single "This Is Hardcore (Is It Not?)," are often their best moments, not because I'm much of a fan of rap/ rock hybrids, but just because that's clearly when they're playing to their strengths, and Mr. Ed actually has something to do.

On the other hand, some of their more pure hip-hop tracks like "Continuation" and "Running the Show" (the Marley Marl one) are pretty fun, too.  Their rhymes are straight corny ("Your toe is tappin', your hand's movin' back and forth.  I'm takin' a stand, like Oliver North!"), but the production's pretty polished and the cuts are nice so long as you don't try and take anything seriously.  They really only run into major trouble when they try to stretch themselves, like with more pop songs, the love ballad, or their goofy reggae-style message song called "Human Race."

I've actually read two conflicting origins for the group's name in interviews.  Either they were originally trying to go by another name, but everybody who booked them where ever they played just called them "the white boys," so they decided to adopt the moniker...  OR, they shared management with The Fat Boys (they were both on Tin Pan Apple) and The Skinny Boys, and they insisted on giving all their acts the most obvious, uncreative names possible.  Either way, I gathered the point was they didn't want to shoulder responsibility for their cringey branding.

So, unsurprisingly, the group didn't last long.  But you can see the talent in the group is MJ Precise.  I mean, I don't want to get into splitting whether Precise or Exact was the better rapper - half the album they're doing that 80s "say all our bars in unison" thing - but you could tell Precise knew how to make a professional rap track.  So, it's still definitely surprising that any of The White Boys continued on in the industry, but of any of them, it makes sense that it would be Precise who'd go on to become the thoroughly credible producer known as T-Ray, member of DJ Mugg's Soul Assassins who produced solid material from legends like Kool G Rap and Percee-P to artists like OC, Double XX Posse and more mainstream acts like House of Pain, Cypress Hill and Mick Jagger.

And if you're wondering what he's been up to even more recently, since he doesn't seem to be doing much as T-Ray anymore either, check this link out!  Yeah man, I've gotta say, it looks like he's had a pretty fun career.  I wonder if he ever got MC Exact to guest on that show.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 2: Did Thomas On Time Just Diss the Juice Crew?

...Continuing on from Part 1, there's a lot of key info I didn't even get to about 2 Deep.  The first big thing is that they were on Cold Chillin' Records.  Throughout the 1980's, Cold Chillin' meant one thing: Juice Crew.  From the very beginning, every single record released on Cold Chillin' Warner Bros (and there was a lot) were from members of The Juice Crew.  Seeing the Cold Chillin' label on an album's spine was the same as seeing the Juice Crew Allstar logo once you opened it up.  And 1990 was the first year they strayed at all from that, with two artists outside that family: Grand Daddy IU and 2 Deep.  And those two acts were barely outside the Crew.  IU was being produced and managed by Biz Markie and Cool V.  Honestly, the reason I sprang for 2 Deep's album after copping their "Homework" single based on the video was seeing that Cold Chillin' logo in the stores; it meant "must have."  These guys had to be some kind of Juice Crew affiliates!  And what was 2 Deep's connection?

That leads us to the other major point I left out of Part 1... who was the other half of 2 Deep?  Jae Supreme was pretty much the lead and only MC, and based on his later career, clearly played a major role in the production.  And the guy doing all the dope scratching seemed to by that DJ K-Slim dude (2 Deep's liner notes really sucked in terms of giving proper credit).  But there's obviously two guys on all the album covers and in their video.  So who's the other half of 2 Deep?  Thomas On Time.

If that name rings any bells, it means you were a rap nerd like me reading all the credits in your rap tapes.  He came up a bunch in early Juice Crew projects, seemingly in a largely technical capacity.  You'll see him listed as an engineer or mixer, and his name stood out because he had a nickname.  Here, for example, check out the credits to Craig G's first album, where he's featured quite prominently.
...Okay, not as prominently as Marley Marl.  But still, you can see he seems to have been a pretty big player on that album.  And he worked on a bunch of Juice Crew/ Cold Chillin' projects.  So, I assume that's why 2 Deep got an album.  He put in his time behind the scene, spent years working on their projects and they finally decided to give him and his partner a shot to shine for themselves.  They probably also pressured them into doing a school about "Homework" they could market to children.

But like I said, that was the only Kid 'N' Play-type song they had.  The rest of the album was more traditional, going for a pretty smooth type of vibe over all.  They had a couple house songs, because of course they did; and yes, the token whispery love ballad with a rather underwhelmingly sung hook.  One song had guest production by Larry Smith, but otherwise 2 Deep produced everything, usually together, though each had one solo effort, too.  It's got a lot of familiar samples other hip-hop artists had already used - plenty of James Brown staples - but always with a unique little spin to it, and a very polished, professional sound.  They might not have been pushing the envelope, but these guys knew how to make a quality record.  And yeah, Jae was really the front man, who did all the rapping.

Except on one song (well, two if you count the posse cut I wrote about in Part 1).  Deep into side 2, Thomas On Time takes the mic for a solo joint called "For Those Who Dissed Me."  It's a harder track, again with very recognizable samples: "Funky Drummer" mixed with the classic "Take Me To the Mardi Gras" bells.  It's sort of like a more hardcore "The Vapors," where the T.O.T. just goes off on everybody who didn't support him, and how they must all feel bad now that he's a big success.  It's pretty straight forward and starts off safely generic:

"There's not a soul to blame,
Just cold cash to gain.

So when you hear my name?
Add fame.
Thomas, p.k.a. I'm the T.O.T.
For all those who dissed me!"

We get it, right?  But as he gets into it, there are lines where it starts to sound like he's got someone specific in mind:

"Run! Run and hide, you dirty maggot!
These nineties I'm claimin' - watch me bag it.
Put me down those times I begged for support?
Now excuse me, hold that thought.
You didn't want me around like some low-life;
Cut me from the crowd you ran like a sharp knife.
Bet you those old days you regret,
Wouldn't let me touch your set.
Now, peace my man, I hope you live longer;
Things you did just made my pride stronger."

Things are sounding a little more personal, but still, it's fairly generalized.  Could be just some generic artist he didn't get along with one day in the studio.  "A composite, like New York Magazine does!"  Except there are some lines that really seem to be singling out somebody in particular:

"Yeah, you played yourself.
Now you're low in health, poor in wealth.
Never thought I would succeed - the last one picked.
But I stick.
Seems to me that your daily plan
Was to mentally destroy this man.
I got a life to live, a lot to give,
And you're a fucked up man with how many kids?"

Okay, he's definitely talking about somebody, right?  This isn't just a general record for all the people who didn't think he'd become somebody, this is aimed at somebody.  But who?  Unfortunately, there aren't enough clues for me to quite figure it out.  But there are a few specific lines, so maybe if we all put our heads together in the comments we can figure this out.

"I admire a child that has a goal,
And not one selling their soul,
Sucked in by those nickel and dime days;
You'll be in debt for life thinking crime pays.
I'm not mad, but hot enough to cause a heat wave,
So stand up tall and be brave.
I'm not trying to be a teacher,
A preacher,
Heal you like a doctor,
The one that shot ya."

So, someone in the industry who Thomas worked with, who's now falling on hard times, fathered a bunch of kids and did some dirt.  An artist who wouldn't let him touch his set, and who got... shot... by a doctor?  I swear, that's what he's saying; he's got a pretty clear delivery, plus the lyrics are typed out in the J-card (though they're a little inaccurate, and I've had to correct them here and there).  So who the heck could he be talking about?  Most of the rest of the song is just him talking about his own success and plans to "make g's at ease from beats that keep the crowd intense."  But there's one more line where he really tips his hat:

"I got a show to do,
There's no time for you
And your crab-like No Juice Crew!"

He's going at The Juice Crew!  Or at least somebody from it.  Marley?  Maybe a rapper like MC Shan?  Or someone more on the business end, like Fly Ty or Lenny Fischelberg?  I don't see why he'd be going after Cold Chillin', though, when they just put him on and gave 2 Deep their album.  I could see them coming out later and having beef with those guys, but not right in the middle of their album.  The stuff about not letting him touch his set and going broke sounds more like an artist than a label executive, anyway.  But this album shouts out the Juice Crew artists (and the Cold Chillin' staff) in their liner notes, and I couldn't spot any conspicuous absences.  Jae even name-drops most of them at the end of "Rain Dance."  In fact, this song ends with shout outs, and T.O.T. doesn't name any Juice Crew guys, but he does shout out Lenny and Ty, so they have to be in the clear.  There is one line, though, in the shout-outs that aren't included in the printed lyrics: "A lot of people in Queensbridge... there's also a lot of people out there who did diss me, but I said I wanna give thanks to those who didn't."  So it's someone from Queens?

I mean, again, it's possible he's thinking of different people who dissed him during different parts of the song.  It's even possible that he meant that Juice Crew line to be like, "we're down with the Juice Crew; you're in the No Juice Crew," which would be corny as Hell, but possible.  Maybe it is all just referencing a hypothetical nonbeliever.  It's just that some of those lines sound really pointed, like he's zeroing in on some specific guy... who sired a lot of kids.  And him burning bridges here would explain why Thomas On Time never seemed to appear in any liner notes after this.  Somebody must know the answer to this mystery!  2 Deep had one more single off of this album (the love song... god knows whose decision that was), and that's the last time I've seen his name anywhere.  As we know, Jae Supreme moved on to other things.  I kinda feel bad for T.O.T.  There's no lost masterpiece here, but even in 2018, Honey, That's Show Biz is still pretty listenable.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 1: Jae Supreme's Kiddie Rap

Look, okay, I know this post is about some easily dismissed kiddie rap.  But hey, I was a kid once, so yeah, I used to rock this stuff and it had an impact on me and probably a lot of people my age.  Like, you know how a couple years ago, DWG discovered Fifth Platoon's killer B-side, "Hallelujah, the Fifth Is Here?"  Well, I'll confess.  The reason I was already up on it isn't because I was the world's greatest digger of the finest, most obscure random rap.  I'd bought that single back in the day for the silly A-side, where they exchange goofy stories about meeting girls on a party line.  "Well, excuse me.  (Excuse who?)  Excuse me.  (Well, who the Hell are you?)  'Ey yo, they call me BooGee.  (And what do you need excusin' for?)  Because I have to speak.  (About who?)  Vanessa.  (Vanessa?)  The light skin freak that I met on the telephone.  (The telephone?)  Yeah, that's the one that won't leave me the Hell alone.  (Oh no!)  She's a tight freak that calls me twenty-five, eight days a week.  (Well, I can't recollect her.)  Man, open your mind.  (Oh yeah, that's the freak that you met on the party line.)"  I just typed all that out from memory, and I could keep going.

Anyway, it may not be a good look now, but as a little kid it was all good.  Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" was the cutting edge topic in grade school classrooms.  We played The Fat Boys and kept the volume down so our parents couldn't hear Eazy-E or 2 Live Crew.   I still remember being torn because I had Young MC and Gangstarr's first tapes in my hands at the music store, and I couldn't afford both.  We would go back and forth over whether "Principal's Office" was better than "Bust a Move" because it was funnier.  Plus, I'm from the suburbs, so songs like "Turtle Power" and "Parents Just Don't Understand" were the hits I could talk to the other kids about, because nobody else seemed to be excited about Lakim Shabazz's "Black Is Back."  And this was the kind of time when even artists like Craig G had songs like "First Day of School."  So yeah.  I say all of that just to explain why 2 Deep's 1990 debut, "I Didn't Do My Homework," was a Day 1 must have purchase for me.

Because this is about as cornball kiddie rap as it comes.  Like its title says, it's a light-hearted narrative rap about a guy who should've done his homework, but didn't feel like it, and now has to pay the price.  The 12" mentions special appearances by West and Will, whoever they are.  I'm guessing they're the guys who do the character voices, because during the breaks, we get little skits with "Mrs. Buttercup" chewing out our MC, Jae Supreme, for not having done his homework.  It's absolutely Fresh Prince/ Young MC knock-off territory:

"It was a Friday afternoon and the only thing on my mind?
Huh, was having a good time,
At the party tonight.  But then I quickly woke up
To the sound of Mrs. Buttercup.
She said, 'okay class, you've been good this week,
So I'm only gonna give you two hundred pages to read
Over the weekend: chapters one through twenty.'
I wasn't laughin', 'cause there was definitely nothin' funny
About staying in the house with my nose in the book.
I was waiting for the joke, the hook.
But she was serious;
I got delirious;
See, I got the same from six classes previously.
There goes the weekend, and all the fun I planned.
How can I get out of this jam?
Missin' one assignment couldn't hurt.
I wonder what would happen...
If I didn't do my homework?"

Oh boy, you'll have to listen to the whole song to find out how this gripping drama ends!  Spoiler alert, though: it's never as clever or amusing as the more popular records they're emulating.  But maybe you noticed something.  Did that name, Jae Supreme, ring a little bell?  Maybe you remember a lost Nas classic called "I'm a Villain?"  Yeah, this is that Jae Supreme!  This is his beginning in the industry, producer and lead rapper of the short lived rap group 2 Deep.  He became known for producing a lot for Cormega, and Heavy Jewelz & Gentleman's Relief Records recently recovered his lost 90s album with his crew Sons of Light.

But Jae didn't produce "I Didn't Do My Homework;" some guy named Tuta Aquino did.  Don't feel bad if you don't recognize that name.  I had to look him up myself; he really wasn't a Hip-Hop guy.  This was an exception in his career, which mostly consisted of a lot of dance and pop stuff, including Sinead O'Connor and Duran Duran, and more known for engineering and remixing than production.  It's actually not a bad track, though.  It's a little too smooth to have been quite the break out crossover hit they were obviously looking for with that song, but it makes it a little easier to revisit this song in 2018 without cringing.  In fact, 2 Deep have some really nice cuts by DJ K-Slim on the hook.

So as you can see above, the 12" comes in a full color picture cover and it splits the song into a slightly shorter Radio Edit, the Deep Vocal Mix, and a Kingston Regga Muffin Mix.  That last one really isn't as dramatic of a change as it suggests, there's no new reggae-style hook or anything.  The instrumental is just a little more reggae influenced and a lot more forgettable.  If you've got the album, you don't really need the single for any of these mixes.

Finally, the last song on this 12" is "Simply Done (LP Version)," a posse cut featuring his crew, the S Double R Posse/ Tore Down Posse.  The line-up (pieced together from the album's shout outs, since they're never properly credited) are Jae, Enforcer L.D., Troop and Rob Well.  Rob Well's the only one of those who seems to have recorded outside of this endeavor - he had a split single with T-Wiz on DNA International that 2 Deep also produced.  Anyway, "Simply Done" has a pretty cool, darker groove with backwards drums like a Paris track.  They're all going for a fairly similar smooth but hard style, and they each prove rather adept at it.  It's not mind blowing, but it's a respectably solid effort and a world away from the preteen targeting material on the A-side that probably pushed away as many potential fans as it attracted.  In fact, their whole album turned out to be fairly removed from that kind of stuff.  But we'll get into all of that and delve into the less public face of 2 Deep in Part 2.

Monday, June 25, 2018

2 Black Across 110th Street

Okay, I've got some crazy records I'm looking at blogging about in the near future.  Some kinda unconventional, even silly or legitimately kinda wack stuff.  So before I sunk too deep into mode, I thought I'd get something real in the bank first.  I've written about 2 Black 2 Strong MMG before, but this right here is their best record.  They'd gotten a lot of controversy with their debut EP, but I think this single better represents them: "Across the 110."

2 Black 2 Strong MMG's name can be a little confusing, and I don't think I really cleared it up before.  "2 Black 2 Strong and the MMG" would make more sense, because 2 Black 2 Strong, a.k.a. Johnny Marrs is the front man, and MMG, or Mad Motherfucking Gangsters, is his crew.  So yeah, it's really just the one guy rapping, and the production is by... Chill Will of The Get Fresh Crew.  I guess Chill Will had another side of himself he wanted to express after doing all the soft, party records with Dougie, because he also produced the classic, hard rock single "Begs No Friends" by Strickly Roots.  ...Or not, that was Chill Will From the Eastside, the mixtape guy.  See the comments.

So, the title is in reference to 110th St, famous for being the dividing line between Harlem and the gentrified Central Park.  There's a classic, gritty 70s film about it called Across 110th St, which sparked the even more famous Bobby Womack song of the same name.  So this is kind of the rap version of that (though Pretty Tone Capone also made a pretty terrific "Across 110th St"), though it doesn't make the obvious choice of sampling any of it. Instead it flips a super tough break from a Lyn Collins record produced by James Brown and his band.

And really, the break makes this record.  It sounds incredible.  Really abrasive instrumentation and slow, smashed drums.  The subtler smooth bassline sounds like it's taken from somewhere else, but it's the same sample.  Then the dusty horns come in on the hook; it's perfect.  Because, honestly, Johnny doesn't exactly have the nimblest, most impressive flow.  He's no Rakim; he gets most of his vocal strength just from yelling.  Not that he doesn't make it work.  I described him before as a cross between Public Enemy and Willie D, but here he's on more of an early Fat Joe meets Freddie Foxxx tip.  And lyrically, he doesn't have much to say besides you better think twice before stepping onto his side of the 110 and shouting out every single member of his crew.  But that's all you need; this is a killer, no fucking around record.

The 12" makes it look like it might have some interesting remixes with titles like "Uptown's In the House Mix" and "Harlem Radio Mix," but really they're just minor edits of each other.  You also get the Instrumental and Acapella, which is nice.  And the B-side is the album track "Only the Strong Survive," also produced by Will.  It's a much faster, higher energy track with a killer "Funky Drummer" break and a dramatic piano loop.  It's pretty hot, too; and his flow's a little tighter when he's forced to rhyme twice as fast.  There are album, radio and instrumental versions for that one, and it comes in an inconspicuous sticker cover.  It's one of those records I really feel doesn't get the attention it deserves, probably because MMG got overshadowed by their own controversy of the previous record.  But it's too bad, because this is the one that really stands the test of time; a legit Harlem anthem.