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.

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