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.)