Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Run DMC's Other Christmas Song

Everybody knows Run DMC's "Christmas In Hollis," even curmudgeonly old Scrooge boomers who can't stand rap.  It used to get heavy, mainstream MTV rotation (i.e. not just on Yo! or their more urban-themed dance shows), and radio play all over the world each holiday season, even those "absolutely no rap" 100-type stations, largely because it was treated like a novelty record.  This wasn't anything too edgy or threatening for the wee ones to hear; this was "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" pt 2.

That's not a knock on the song itself; I still dig it.  It's not the first Hip-Hop Christmas record, but it's the first one most of middle America ever heard, and it's still well produced (that's a killer Clarence Carter sample) and holds up well today.  It's been released and re-released countless times over the years.  It was featured on Profile's classic Christmas Rap album - still the single greatest Hip-Hop Christmas album to this day - and I was once gifted a cute little 45 on clear red vinyl.  The #1 movie of 1988 - Die Hard - opens with it, The Simpsons have played it, it's been used for car commercials and Adidas even made a "Christmas In Hollis" shoe!

But "Christmas In Hollis" wasn't originally recorded for that Profile album or as the major Run DMC single it became.  It was made for, and first released on, a 1987 A&M charity record made to benefit The Special Olympics called A Very Special Christmas.  It was a big deal at the time, and Run DMC were the only Hip-Hop artists on it, which is a big part of why "Christmas In Hollis" spread to the mainstream.  The album featured Christmas songs and covers by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Bon Jovi, so everybody's parents who bought the album for those guys wound up with a perfectly charming, head-nodding Hip-Hop song as an unexpected little bonus.  Like Run DMC's single, it's been pressed and re-pressed over the years.  It featured artist by the incredibly popular Keith Haring, and really, you younger cats probably don't appreciate just how widespread this album was.  Not only did the music stores bring out the displays every Holiday season, but it had full page ads in non-music magazines, and even places that didn't otherwise sell music, like supermarkets and drug stores, had these at the register.

So of course A&M followed that up with a second album.  And of course they asked Run DMC back.

But Hip-Hop audiences are fickle.  1987 was right at Run DMC's peek, right between Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather.  "Walk This Way" had already come out and they were already being hailed as not just rap but rock superstars.  By the time of A Very Special Christmas 2, it was 1992, long after Back From Hell, and just before Pete Rock briefly resurrected their careers with "Down With the King" and they traded in their hats and Adidas for hoodies and Timbs, trying to find a new image and blend in with Naughty By Nature era.  So I guess that's why nobody seems to remember their second Christmas rap anthem, "Christmas Is."

The album itself did just fine.  They had another stacked line-up with some new folks and some returning, like Luther Vandross, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men and Tom Petty.  Again, Run DMC were the sole token rapper guys.  But they tried; they even shot a video for it, which got a little time.  But stations mostly decided to keep airing "Christmas In Hollis."  It's a solid effort, though.  It's still produced by Larry Smith and JMJ.  It doesn't have the undeniable instant smash hit power of that Carter sample, but it has a respectable, more timely 90's sound with sparse jazz samples and big, but more natural drums.  Their flows are a little more nimble.  They still open with a little Christmas carol jingle and rock the sleigh bells, but it definitely has less of a holiday feel to it, which is part of the problem.  By the time it gets to their "give up the dough!" shout chorus, they've definitely forgone any crossover appeal the first one had.

Listening to it now, it actually sounds more dated than "Hollis," but I still like it.  In fact, it's a plus in my book that it's less kitschy and angrier about socioeconomic inequality.  If only Run DMC had managed to keep up with the times without giving up their identity to chase all the trends, I think this one would at least have lasted longer in the Hip-Hop community (there's no way this was going to be another crossover sensation).  I mean, it is flawed.  Instrumentally, they're leaning heavily into DITC's lane, which sounds good but derivative.  But lyrically, they try so hard to flex faster, more tongue-twisting lyrical skills, they wind up fumbling: "Christmas, this must be that time of year/ Leggo of your Eggo, rather ego, me go there/ And here, my dear, so give a kid a beer/ Cause every time you give it's coming back, let's get it clear."  It's both everything great and everything embarrassing about 90's rap at the same time.

...But is that the end of Run DMC's Very Special Christmases?  No!  The A&M albums kept on truckin', and it would've been a bad look to forgo Run DMC (and with them, all of Hip-Hop).  So even though Run DMC had sort of split up by then (they came together for Crown Royal, but it was rocky), so 1997's A Very Special Christmas 3 featured a Rev Run solo song.  Solo... but with a bunch of guests.  Remember "Santa Baby," with Mase, Snoop Dogg, Pepa, two fifths of Onyx and Keith Murray?  You probably remember that song popping up on the internet back then but maybe didn't realize it was the third chapter in the Very Special Christmas saga.  It's kind of a mess.  The line-up feels pretty arbitrarily slapped together with half the groups appearing incomplete, the singing on the hook is weak and instrumentally, they're just biting a beat from a Fugees record.  But it's still an amusing little treat to have seemingly randomly popped up on the scene.

The fourth Very Special Christmas took a different track in 1999.  It's a live album, featuring a lot of classic covers and renditions of songs from the previous albums.  So you've got a lot of Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, plus artists like Mary J Blige and Sheryl Crow.  Yes, they got Run DMC back and of course they covered "Christmas In Hollis," not "Christmas Is."  The last song is a cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" featuring all the acts that had performed that night, and yes that includes Run DMC.  But it's literally just Run shouting "yeah, who's got the Christmas spirit? Somebody say 'hoooo'!!" at the beginning and "yo, you better be good for goodness sake" at one point mid-song.  Afterwards, they get to shout out Hollis and the Special Olympics, but it's really a number devoted to the singers and they're just on it as a technicality.

2001's A Very Special Christmas 5 is the one where they finally give up on Run DMC entirely.  They bring in another token Hip-Hop artist, and I bet you can guess who.  Yes, Wyclef Jean, who mostly just sings, but he does bust a corny freestyle on a Stevie Wonder song.  It's another live album with regulars like Bon Jovi and Tom Petty returning.  Then by 6 & 7, they finally seem to feel comfortable not having any Hip-Hoppers on there at all, and it's just two more live albums with artists like Reba McEntire, Miley Cyrus and Willie Nelson.  It's nice what they've continued to do for the Special Olympics, but I think most of the world had checked out of this crap by that point.

But yeah, "Christmas Is!"  Awfully dated is what it is; but it's still pretty cool... better than most of their late career stuff, and doesn't deserve to be completely forgotten.  I recommend giving it at least one spin this Holiday Season.

Friday, December 20, 2019

So I Watched Everybody's Everything...

This is my relationship with Lil Peep: he's the guy everybody asks me around the holidays, "hey, you're into rap.  Do you know Lil Peep?"  And I say, yeah a little.  I heard of him when he became too famous not to have heard of 'im, and I checked out two or three Youtube videos, and as you guys could probably predict, his stuff wasn't really my thing.  Then I didn't give him another thought, really, until he passed.

It's a weird (and obviously tragic) thing when a young, popular artist goes right at the peak of their success.  Would they have continued to flourish and cement a superstar legacy, or had we already seen their entire flash in the pan run its course?  Like, when you look at how The Wu-Tang Clan's Beautiful Tomorrow album completely fizzled out even after a huge onslaught of hype.  Biggie and Tupac went out at the very top, but if they hadn't, would they just be two more dull old school MCs unable to capture the attention of the millennial generation in 2019?  And before anybody runs up and smacks me for implying Lil Peep could be on the same level as The Wu, B.I.G. and 2Pac, my point is that he seemed to be for a sizeable number of fans, or at least just one or two more break-out tracks shy, and this got me curious.

Because sure, that sing-songy The Weeknd style has never appealed to me.  Shit, I remember even back when Domino dropped "Getto Jam" and I was like, "I don't like where this is going..."  But at the same time, I try not to be closed minded to a whole style or sub genre.  I remember when DWG was putting out Unique's Die Hard EP, and they said they were just leaving off the synth-y songs.  Sure, dusty old jazz loops are great, but synthesizers weren't born evil.  Hell, the Beverly Hills Cop theme is pure synth, and the only people who don't love that are dead inside.  And honestly with elite, I actually prefer something like "Homonym Holocaust" to "Don't Even Try It."  Sure, "Don't Even" has that classic K-Solo/ Penthouse Playas/ King Tee/ Poison Clan loop you can never go wrong with.  But I'll take Joey Robinson's "cheesy synths" over the After School, anti-drug message rap stuff.

So anyway, my point with all that is: even if it isn't my preferred style, I'm interested if this kid's got some thoughtful lyrics and something interesting to say.  I remember one of tiny handful of Peep songs I checked out ("Life Is Beautiful") being pretty compelling.  And now here comes this documentary, that sounds like a more engaging way to dive in and see for myself if I thought this was an artist who really had something going for him or if he was just the next in an infinite line of Kreayhawns, Mykko Montanas, and every other rapper the kids forgot about as quickly as they blew them up.

But, uh... this movie didn't really help.  It doesn't really explore his art at all, except to say that he started from very humble, low-fi beginnings and people seemed to like it.  But otherwise the doc doesn't seemed interested in his music, that just happens to be what propelled him into the rags-to-riches story they want to tell.  He could've just as well gotten famous manufacturing widgets for all this film seems to care.  There's a bit where one of his Gothboi Clique members said that when he heard Peep for the very first time, his opening bars were so on point, he knew he had to work with Peep.  And then... they don't play those bars!  I mean, come on, that would've been a perfect opportunity for a very quick soundbite to go a long way towards demonstrating what Peep could do.  I wanna hear those bars, but nope.

So, okay, moving on from what the movie isn't, what does the movie actually deliver?  Well, like I said, it's basically another typical rags-to-riches story that ultimately, of course, ends in tragedy.  I mean, if you swap out Peep for another musician we've lost, then you've already seen this movie a dozen times before.  It can get pretty hammy, as they dramatically read these sappy emails his grandfather wrote Peep like narration over half the film, and a lot of the interviews are pretty superficial.  Most people seemed like they just latched onto the fact that he was popular for some - any - reason and wanted to cash in.  There's a scene where one of his managers (or promoters or whoever) said they asked if he wanted to continue making videos or played stadiums, and when he replied that he wanted to play stadiums, that's when she realized that's when he was a real star.  What?  Ask any third grade class if they want to be rockstars and play stadiums, and two thirds of their hands will go up.  Wanting to play stadiums doesn't mean he could or couldn't do so successfully.  Apparently, Peep's next big move was going to be to start a clothing line?  You wouldn't know from this film if he was a beloved songwriter or just another Instagram Influencer.

But there are interesting moments.  His girlfriend has a refreshingly candid little insight into his relationship with his face tattoos and his family seems nice.  The filmmakers have some of his childhood home movies, and he sure was a cute kid.  You definitely feel bad for his mother and grandfather that they lost him so early.  At its best, Everybody's Everything is touching in a Dear Zachary-lite kind of way.  But that's about a third or a quarter of this film, and the rest just feels like a by-the-numbers E! True Hollywood Story that doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know about the guy... even if, as in my case, you didn't know all that much.  And I came in wanting to learn; I don't think you could've asked for a better audience than that.  I think even Peep's fan club will be looking down at their phones during most of the movie.  Terrence Malick produced this?  I expected more.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Completing the Killa Kidz' Legacy

In 2013, Chopped Herring released a fantastic EP of the Killa Kidz' rarest recordings, including their a repress of their very rare and sought after debut 12" and five previously unheard demo tracks.  Killa Kidz, you may recall, is the original Queens crew of Prince AD, a.k.a. Killa Sha, the lyrical assassin you should remember from his appearances on Mobb Deep's debut album and projects with other Queensbridge and NY allstars Screwball, Chuck Chillout, Large Pro, Tragedy, Phill Blunts and even Anttex.  The other members are Superb, Baby Sham (who was later recruited into the Flipmode Squad), Psycho Child, Third Surgeon and Mr. Ruc da Jackal, most of whom also have some pretty tight appearances, if not solo records, under their belts.  Still, though, all their recording careers have been much more limited than they should've been.

So for those in the know, it was very exciting this summer when Chopped Herring unearthed a second batch of never heard before DAT recordings and released them as a second EP called In the Mental Demos EP.  Their first EP was limited to 300 copies, so they've expanded it a bit this time around to 350, 120 of which were pressed on yellow (yellow) vinyl, and the rest on traditional black, both in a sticker cover.  But still, to spread the legacy out even further, they've now come out with a more accessible (conventionally priced, not limited) CD combining the original six track 1996-1997 Phenomenon EP release and the recent seven track EP to create a proper Killa Kidz full-length 12-track album called Streets Is Real.

So, as the title says, the first EP's tracks were recorded in 1996-1997.  These "new" ones were recorded between 1995-1997, meaning some of these predate that last EP.  In fact, the title track, "In the Mental," was the crew's first recording together.  It's all got a rough but smart energy, like when you hear the disappointingly weaker, crossover modern songs by guys like Nas and Prodigy and you'd wish they still sounded like their early classics.  This is that shit.

The Kidz don't have particularly distinct styles.  You know, like if you think back to the very first time you heard The Wu-Tang Clan before you got to know them, you could still never get guys like Method Man, Raekwon and ODB confused because; they were so unique.  Here, even serious fans may have a hard time assigning each verse to its particular spitter.  But that actually serves the crew more than it detracts, because it winds up hitting you like just a wave of fierce energy.  Everybody's just working as hard as they can to kill the mic, not carve out their personal brands.  Which is not to say the final songs aren't distinct.  "Da Ill Dream" has an early Gravediggaz influence and a sick Supernat sample.  And as with the previous EP, all the songs here were produced by Sha himself, except for the last one, "Who Write This Song," which was handled by Ayatollah and consequently has more of a smooth, sample-driven vibe as a result.

The sound quality is pretty bold across the board, so it all hits nice and hard.  But there's definitely a sibilance cracking, low-fi feel to the vocals (on some tracks more than others), which may have as much to do with the way the songs were recorded as how the demos were preserved.  Either way, it compliments the Kidz' raw deliveries and high pitched voices in a satisfying enough way that fans shouldn't mind even if it definitely doesn't sound studio polished.

Now, all you smarty pants out there who read paragraph #2 carefully probably noticed that six and seven make thirteen songs, not twelve.  Comparing the track-listing for all three releases, it's pretty simple.  The CD doesn't have anything that wasn't on either of the vinyl EPs, and it's missing one from the 2013 record.  Specifically, the final song "City Of Panic" was dropped.  I don't know if it was chosen because it's the only song across both EPs that was a censored Radio Version and they thought the noticeable edits would spoil the album, if they just wanted to leave a track off from the first record to keep it collectible for buyers who understood it wouldn't be repressed, or both.  Heck, I don't know, maybe it was just an oversight (though I doubt that).  But the bottom line is that if you've already copped the records, you don't need Streets Is Real... unless you just want the convenience of a CD.  And if you're a serious, die-hard fan who needs all the songs, you're still going to have to find that first EP.  However you slice it though, the Kidz finally have a top shelf album to their name, which the world is finally able to hear and give credit as of 2019.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Nightmarish Tales of Anita the Beast

(Happy Halloween, Hip-Hop fans!  Let's start off with a Dana Dane classic and then delve into some more fun, obscure goodies.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Unique, Finally Obtainable But Still Untouchable

Diggers With Gratitude released an amazing EP of unreleased tracks by a killer unsung MC named Unique back in January, 2008.  That's almost twelve years ago - can you believe it?  Well, in the final quarter of 2019, they're back with more.  And it's just as thrilling this time as it was then.

This is 1989's "I'm Untouchable," originally released on New Day Records.  His other single from that time, "Pure Dynamite," (which I wrote about here) is a killer and super hard to find, always going for a well deserved high price.  Well, "I'm Untouchable" is about a hundred times rarer and more sought after.  I mean, it took me quite a long time to get my hands on a copy of "Pure Dynamite," but I've never seen an O.G. pressing of "I'm Untouchable" in my life.  And believe me, I've looked.

I say "O.G. pressing," because guess what?  DWG has just reissued it this month on vinyl.  It's a 7", which is always a disappointment compared to a proper 12", but yeah, sure, you hold out for a full-sized original.  Pretty sure you'll take that demand with you to your grave.  In the meantime, this is an attractive, reasonably priced new release, available on blue or black vinyl, and it comes in an amusing twist on a classic New Day sleeve.  Besides, even if you did somehow get your hands on an original, you'd still need this new version.

Why?  Well, the B-side of "I'm Untouchable" was just the instrumental.  I mean, it's a fantastic instrumental, so that's nothing to sneeze at.  But still, if you're not a DJ, who really messes with the instrumental versions of songs that much?  And anyway, this 7" has a new B-side, the previously unreleased "I'm Untouchable (Demo Mix)."

And this isn't just some minor variation where you're gonna need some expert to point out what the difference even is.  It's an entirely different track with a distinctly different feel.  The DWG write-up says that some even say this version is better.  Well, I wouldn't go that far.  But it's pretty strong and unique (pun intended... I'm sorry) enough to stake out its own place in your collection.  The original version was either produced by Joey Robinson Jr. or Sherm, depending which label you put your faith in (heh), and this new version is produced by DJ Hype.  And as you might guess just from reading the names, that means this version has a lot of dope scratches that aren't on the original.  And Unique is one of those MCs whose flow just screams for some cuts on their record.

But it's not just new cuts, the whole instrumental's different.  The drums admittedly don't crack as hard this time around, but it's got some cool, atmospheric synths and a great bassline.  It's a hot record, but it does come off a bit muddier and less dynamic than the original.  Part of that may come down to the mastering or sound quality (it sounds pretty clean, but I think it's taken from some kind of tape and therefore the range might be a little crushed), but part of it is also just down to the musical choices they made.  You're definitely gonna like it, but it won't make you immediately stand up and take notice like the "original" version did.

("Original" is in quotes because this demo version is presumably the actual original; we just never knew it 'till now.)

And if that's not enough Unique for ya, there's more!  DWG has also re-released their 2008 Die Hard EP (which was super limited, after all, to a mere 175 copies) across a series of two further 7"s.  But there's a key difference: they replaced one song.  That certainly keeps the 2008 version highly desirable, but it means again, even if you have the original, you'll need the new 7"s, too.  Yes, the new 7"s don't have the song "Don't Even Think About It," but instead add another great song from Unique's unreleased album, "Axe Maniac."  It's another lost classic with Unique hyping his DJ, Godfather D, who gets busy on the turntables over another choice breakbeat.   You can cop these 7"s separately, or a bit cheaper in a bundle from their official big cartel.  Though all three are also being sold through other online vendors, too, so they're making it easy on us.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Something Different

Remember when I wrote about the debut release of a newcomer Ohio MC named Pseudonym?  Well, he's back with what he calls his debut EP; but at three songs, I'd really qualify it as a second single.  Anyway, it's called Caught In a Deep Thought, and this time he's coming with production entirely by Joey Beach.

The opening track, "Factory-Made (That's the Shit)," has a weird slow groove to it, and his delivery is so off the wall, when I first put the tape in, I thought it was dragging, and I had to search out an online clip to make sure that's how it's supposed to sound.  But that probably makes it sound like this is awful, right?  It's not, the track has a nice DITC-inspired feel to it, actually, but with a more live feel (indeed, a lot, if not all, of the instrumentation is being played live here) with a jazzier bassline mixed with a little Dynamix II or something.  It's an effectively addictive head-nodder, and that's what counts.  And I like that Pseudonym is going for a gruffer sound than his debut.  It's very 90's in a way, particularly the shout hook and references to artists like Cool C and The Crooklyn Dodgers; but his style here, too, calls back the times when all the up and coming artists like Lords Of the Underground, the Fu-Schnickens, or Common when he was still Common Sense, were all trying to originate crazy, original flows that threw you off guard with each coming word.  Will the next syllable be a deep intonation or a high-pitch shout?  Only one way to find out.

But some of the angry aggressiveness of his flow seems like maybe he's over-correcting for the nerdcore twinge his first tape had.  Lines like "you're droppin' off like fruit flies; little motherfuckers better recognize" or "go ahead, get pissed off; I'm spittin' straight facts, bitch" ring more than a little overwrought.  I mean, giving the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume it's meant to be all part of the fun of a throwback to that particular era and style.  We can all think of some fun old records that went way over the top but still entertained (Ganksta N.I.P., anybody?).  But here it might be too many layers removed from directly connecting with an audience.  It's like trying to do a parody of a comedy: you wind up telling jokes that aren't supposed to be funny, and most people just dismiss what you're doing before you can really get them on board with the whole vision.  If I throw on a new tape, do I want to hear lines where I'm not supposed to believe the tough talk?

"Sometimes..." slows it down a bit, and again, I said to myself "okay, now this time the tape's dragging" and I had to check it online again.  The instrumental's well constructed but a little dull and doesn't marry so well with the sung chorus and playful raps.  Part of it might just be a mixing thing, with the lead guitar loop constantly competing with the main vocals.  Anyway, it's not un-interesting, and Pseudo settles more naturally into the groove by the second or third verse, but I don't expect I'll go back to this cut after I've finished this review.  The final track on the other hand, "A Friendly Reminder," is the stand-out, with some funky production with some kind of surf music riff, charmingly chintzy horns and appealing cuts by DJ Etch on the hook.  And where the other two songs are just your basic, "I'm not regal, but it's been twenty years since I've had an equal"-style skill flexing, this one has a clever and engaging concept where your brain is checking in with you for a little reflection:

"Don't let life be the downer at your party.
Also, give me some stimulaaaation;
These Instagram pages are just imitation.
Read a book, have some sex, do what the fuck it takes.

I'm so damn bored; that's why I put your life at stake."

That's just good writing!  There's talent evident throughout the whole "EP," and in general I think I like the direction he's heading in, but he takes a lot of risks.  This is the song where they pay off.

Like "Edible MC's," the digital options for Caught In a Deep Thought are a lot easier to find, but the cassette (program repeats on both sides) is coming out on the same label, Vestibular Records, and should be available to purchase on their bandcamp and discogs listing soon.  His full-length, Frustrated, is due out later on Hardcore Rap 4 Life... if you've heard of Caligula, yeah, it's that label.  Anyway, Cal caught a little flack on the DWG forums recently, but I thought his stuff sounded pretty decent.  Pseudo seems oddly mismatched for that roster, though, so that should be interesting.  And in the meantime, he's also got a crazy low-fi freestyle tape called Motion Of the Ocean that's fairly amusing.  So if this is the first you're hearing about him, Caught may not be the ideal moment to jump onto the Pseudonym train.  But if you're already on board, you're sure to find more to like here.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Underground Tapes Shouldn't Be This Complicated

In 1999, Saukrates was crossing the line from underground to a major label artist.  He'd been putting nice little indie 12"s in Canada since '94, started blowing up in America in '96/ '97, and by 2000 he was a part of Universal's corporate empire.  And to bridge that gap, in 1999, he put out an album called The Underground Tapes, which was essentially a compilation of the rare, indie joints that blew him up made accessible for the new fans who were now discovering him, mixed in with some new and unreleased stuff.  And then, for unfathomable reasons, he released it over and over again that same year with slightly different track-listings that I don't think Saukrates himself could even sort out anymore.

I mean, okay, I shouldn't exaggerate.  First(?) there was The Underground Tapes: Limited Edition Vinyl, Vol. 1 EP on Serious Entertainment.  As you'd expect, this was sort of a sampler/ lead single for the album, featuring some of the hottest songs with Instrumentals and a radio edit that weren't on the proper album.  That makes sense.  So you've got that, with 6 songs over 8 tracks, then the album, which Serious put out on CD, with a full 13 songs.  But, since Saukrates was kind of straddling the US/ Canadian line, he also put out a Canadian version of the album on a label over there called Capitol Hill (no connection - I don't think - to the major Capitol Records).  That CD has more songs: 19 including the hidden bonus track.

So, okay, I guess it's not really that complicated.  But oh, wait.  Capitol Hill then re-released that album in 2000, with 18 songs, several of which are different than the other one.  Exclusive songs like "Night Nurse" and "Maybe I Should Change."  Oh, and there's also a cassette release of the 2000 reissue with just 17 of the songs, because the last one was a CD-only bonus track.  Plus Vol. 2 of the vinyl EPs did come from Serious, with seven more songs including a couple remixes that only appear on that vinyl EP.  And if that's still not enough, someone discovered and uploaded to discogs an unreleased CDR master version of the album with yet another alternate track-listing, including "Night Nurse" and also a song that's never been released on any of the previous versions or anywhere else called "Let Me Roll."  And if you want to get really definitive, I've also seen a Capitol Hill sampler cassette of The Underground Tapes out there, with five songs on it.

Whew!  That's exhausting, right?  Well guess what, gang?  I'm here to contribute to the madness, because I was going through my stash and realized I happen to own still yet another version!  It's a Serious promo cassette that features another exclusive track not on any of the other versions, and which has also never been released anywhere else.  For the most part, it has the exact same track-listing as Serious's CD.  It's technically one short, but only because it skips the "Intro," which is a snippet of a radio interview with DJ X.  But all the actual songs are there, and in the same sequence.  However, there's then one last song, "Money Or Love (Remix)."

You may remember that "Money Or Love" was included on every version of The Underground Tapes, even the vinyl EP.  And it was made the single for the album, being put out as its own 12" by Capitol Hill, and they made a music video for it.  That 12" features additional versions of the song, like the Instrumental and Accapella, but not this remix.

Now, I'll be real with you guys.  "Money Or Love" was not a favorite off this album.  It emphasized more of his sung chorus and trendier production style.  He still sounds like himself as an MC here and he's never really fallen off when it comes to his bars, even in recent years.  So it's an okay song, but the topic is pretty crass and the music feels more like record executive bait than his tight "underground" material that got him to this point.  Like this is the beginning of the crossover stuff that turned each Saukrates record from something you just had to have to alright stuff you didn't really need to keep checking for.

But this remix is easily much better.  Why is it the doper versions always seem to be the ones relegated to the B-sides or left in the vaults?  Lyrically, it's the same, but the original instrumental was pretty limp.  It had an alright basic loop, which is still on hand for this remix, at its core.  Like, it's a reasonably catchy, twangy guitar sample (they mime playing it live in the video, but I'm pretty sure it's a sample) and drums with sparse bass notes.  It's funky enough to album filler that keeps your head nodding, but it should never have been a single.  But this remix drops a huge, chunky sample on top of the whole thing, which makes the song a lot heavier.  They fade the guitar out for a lot of it, and honestly they could've completely gotten rid of it for the whole song, because it's totally stomped out anyway.  The only drawback is they still keep the original hook.  And it's not like his singing sucks or anything, but it doesn't mesh with this remix instrumental, which would sound better with a much simpler, stripped-down hook.  Or even no hook at all and just pause as the beat continues.

So there's still room for more improvement.  Maybe this was left off because whoever produced it (this tape has no credits) also felt it wasn't quite finished.  But however you cut it, the remix is by far the stronger version of the song.  And it's only available on this... ninth? version of The Underground Tapes.  Wow.  Think there are any more out in the world to be found?  Can anyone dig us up an even tenth?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Two S-Brothers With S-Checks

Remember not too long ago, I made a video about the overwhelming number of projects Luke Sick had released with other other artists over the last half a year or so?  Well, another producer replied to me on Twitter that it wasn't over yet, because he was currently mixing an album he'd recorded with Luke, too.  Well, guess what?  This... ain't that.  This is yet another new group/ project/ release by Luke that's just dropped!  That other one, I assume, is still pending.  It's a little crazy, and I know it's easy to stop paying attention and let some pass you by.  But some day we're going to look back on this moment in history when Luke was so prolific and blessed us with all this great but obscure music that's gonna be super hard to find when the current crop of bandcamps and soundclouds go the way of emusic, and IUMA.

So this time apparently, we're going by the name of the S-Brothers.  Luke has linked back up with producer Doug Surreal, who worked with before in The Motel Crew.  I assume the S-Brothers name just comes from the pairing of Sick & Surreal.  But anyway, this is a much more traditional Hip-Hop project than Motel Crew, with a distinct old school throwback vibe.  If you were a fan of Rime Force Most Illin and The Yole Boys, this should be right up your alley.

Back II the Scene Of the Blunts is more of a maxi-single than an album, essentially composed of three songs.  It's then filled out with Instrumentals, Bonus Beats, a Luke-A-Pella and a "Jeep Beats Construction Set," which is essentially a succession of brief sounds and samples like you used to find on those DJ tools LPs.  But it all plays like a medley of classic 80s Hip-Hop vibes, with breaks and vocal samples weaving between EPMD, Lord Finesse, Public Enemy, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie and more.  Especially "Throw Hex," which is like a "Jackin' For Beats" pastiche of Hip-Hop's most powerful loops.  But unlike with Rimeforce, Luke doesn't really attempt an old school delivery, but just lets his natural style meld with the instrumental to form something new and powerful.

This is a limited (to 100 copies) green (green) cassette release, though of course the music's perpetually available digitally from their bandcamp.  But the tape, from Needle To the Groove Records, has some sweet underground west coast style artwork, and comes with a convenient download card.  And it also came with a sticker and label patch if you ordered their even more limited collector's edition.  But I'm tellin' ya, even if you're getting a little tired of me covering this dude and aren't feeling terribly interested in any of this stuff, at least check out "Throw Hex" and see if it doesn't get you amped for more.

And the good news, then, is that with all his current and pending projects, there's plenty more.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Vintage LA Underground

I've been on an underground west coast kick this weekend... you know, that slightly muddy, four-track backpacker kinda rap.  And when I got to this record, I decided it was time to fire up the ol' blog machine.  This is a 12" single called Contraband from 2000, a year (and decade!) in which Hip-Hop was feeling pretty bleak, in terms of bland commercial rap pushing out the quality, indie stuff.  This was a nice little hold-out by EX2 a.k.a. E Times 2 on their own label, Abolano Records.

If you're thinking you've never heard of these guys, actually you might have.  E Times 2 is just a clever way to say that their group's initials are "EE," as in Endangered Elements.  That still doesn't help?  Well, they're essentially part of the broader Shape Shifters crew.  Like, in the Shifters, you've got the core four members: Circus, Awol One, RadioInactive & DJ Rob One (R.I.P.), then you've got the ring of essentially junior members (although guys like Akuma's involvement actually go back pretty much to the earliest recordings).  And then you've got these guys on a further ring out, sort of like Othorized F.A.M. might be to the Wu-Tang Clan or something.  In particular, these guys seem particularly affiliated with Awol; most of them could be pretty much, more or less said to be the "Three Eyed Cowz" of his classic Evil Cow Burger album.  EX2's line-up has itself been known to morph a bit over the years (yeah, they're still prolific, making good music up to and including 2019!), but the line-up on this particular record is: producer Sirk, DJ ESP and MCs Gel One, Syndrome228, Virus, Digit6 & DustOff.  This is the lead, and only, single off of their album Undersounds of the 562.

Their opener, "Life Iz..." features the Awolrus himself, which was the big selling point at the time.  It has a simple but effective hook ("life is what you make it; the worst thing is talent wasted") and EX2's interesting blend of fast raps over slower beats.  GelOne starts us off with who stays on theme while mixing in creative imagery, "proceeding with life rather than getting self defeated over mediocre complaints; I'm self-motivated to be a loc with no motive, potentially explosive with enough inertia to be a locomotive, going full speed, I got a full head of steam,  Contributing to a team who doesn't live in a field of dreams; I remember my life is how I make it."  Then Syndrome gets a little more tongue twisty, followed by a harder, more aggressive flow by Virus and Digit just dropping in for a quick verse that leaves you wanting more.  You can tell these guys are still young as their delivery gets a little convoluted, and we get some corny 90's punchlines like "keep it tight like virgin pussy penetration."  But the flaws never outweigh their talents, and the surprisingly effective looping beats never let you go.

Finally, Awol comes in at the end with his traditional ultra-relaxed flow.  The beat doesn't change, but he makes the samples sound different just by the distinct way he approaches the track.  His verse does feel a little lazy; I wouldn't be surprised if he essentially freestyled his contribution, but he still sounds uniquely raw, especially as his verse minds up melting seamlessly into the hook as if they were always one, "I believe in manifest destiny... can't let it get the best of me.  Since I was born naked... and life is what you make it.  Word.  Karma is my religion... The worst thing is talent wasted.  Life is what you make it."

The first of two B-sides is "Sirkulatin" featuring frequent collaborator Tommy V.  He often produces, but to be clear, here he's dueting with Gel One on the mic over another beat by Sirk.  It's a slower beat and Tommy's flow is pretty crazy.  The way he doubles-up his own lines sounds almost tongue in cheek.  Gel's a little more straight forward, but they both sound cool over this atmospheric track with sparse piano notes sounding like drips from a cave ceiling, as if they're literally underground.  ESP comes in at the end to add some spacey cuts.  Finally "Tarmen" has Virus, Gel and DustOff spitting battle raps over a tougher track.  This is their shouty "don't mess with us!" song, with literal references to "wack MCs," but they don't manage to shake their backpacker vibe.  Although I'm not sure it would be better if they did; I like EX2 as they are and this is probably more fun because they do still sound like their nerdy selves ("we stay on top like salad dressing!").  But it does feel like they're attempting some degree of transformation that they're not quite pulling off.

All three of these songs are on the album, though only the 12" also throws in the instrumentals, plus a supposedly Clean edit of "Life Iz...," which actually still has all the curses in it?  I checked the first version two, in case the labeling was just reversed, but no; both have the curses.  So I'm confused; maybe it's just an error.  Anyway, as long as we get the uncut version, who cares about a clean edit?  This comes in a sticker cover with an address to their long dead website, though they can now be found on

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Learn Along With Werner: The Rap Song That Killed All the Right-Wing Zombies

I still enjoy discovering new artists, and I love going back and listening to my favorite old school records.  But my favorite thing is to discover something that's new to me but dates back to the old school era I grew up in.  So, while I'm not going to try to argue that the song I'm about to talk about is some dope hidden jewel, or even passably good, if you're anything like me, it's still a kick to learn about.

So this story starts with a disappointing 1987 horror film called Zombie High.  It's not really what it sounds like... they only mean "zombie" in the most generic "thoughtless person" kind of way.  It's not a high school full of undead gut munchers.  It stars Candyman's Virginia Madsen, a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn and a very pre-Ghostbusters remake Paul Feig.  Basically our heroes are sent to a fancy prep school where we learn all the students are being turned into conservative zombie-types by the faculty who are really feeding off their brain juice to stay young forever.  You get it.  It's a lot like Disturbing Behavior, or better yet Society but without all the crazy Screaming Mad George shunting effects that made that movie so cool.  Invaders From Mars without the Martians.

Anyway, it ends (spoiler alert) with the last remaining free thinking kids discovering that the bland, classical music being piped through the school's PA system is what's keeping all the preppy students under control.  Fortunately, one of them happens to have a cassette tape in his pocket ("it's a good tape!") of a rap song; and when they play that instead, it literally smokes all of the zombies and their leaders' brains, 'causing them to drop dead.  The film ends with a montage of them all dying as this song, "Kiss My Butt," rocks into the closing credits.  Even the president of the United States (who would've been Reagan in '87) is taken out.

This song is a total "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" knock-off.  From the early rock/ rap hybrid sound to the short, pause-filled stanzas about anti-homework, parental rebellion.  Or actually, it might sound even more like The Fat Boys' "Hell No," which is in itself a shameless "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" knock-off, which was released on 12" in 1987.  "You get up in the morning and your clothes don't match your hair.  They say maybe you should wash 'em, you say you don't care.  They're screamin' in your ears 'till their face turns blue.  You turn around and say, kiss my butt!" ...sounds an awful lot like, "Get out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear.  I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair.  Your mom busted in and said what's that noise?  Oh mom, you're just jealous, it's the Beastie Boys!" ...which in turn sounds just like, "Coolin' in my room watchin' Yogi and the bear, when my father busted in and said comb your nappy hair.  He gives me five bucks for a haircut and says take a walk.  I know he will be buggin' when he sees my mohawk!"  They all have the exact same shouty delivery and everything.  "Kiss My Butt" ends with them doing an Eddie Murphy impression that at least sets it apart from its predecessors.
Unsurprisingly, when you look it up in the credits, this is not a song contributed by a credible, existing rap group.  This isn't like when they got The LA Posse to do the Waxwork 2 "Lost In Time" rap (although it might deserve an honorable mention on that Top 13 list).  As you can see, the three writer/ performers, Kent Richards a.k.a. Kent Ormiston, Tymm Rocco and Bobby Gabriele are the guys who did nearly all the songs for the movie, and the rest aren't Hip-Hop at all.  They were part of an outfit called LA Musicworks, where studio musicians provide songs and soundtracks for movies and TV shows, so it's not surprising that they would be attracted to the most popular, rock-leaning sort of rap they possibly could've.

But what is surprising, and what's lead me to make this post, is that it turns out they shot an independent music video for this song!  And yes, I found it on Youtube.  It was clearly shot on consumer level video cameras, and is padded with film clips from Zombie High.  But between that, we see the guys in wigs carrying their guitars through the streets of LA and doing motorcycle stunts.  There's also celebrity cameos by people like Leif Garrett and Justine Bateman who, no, were not in the movie.  These guys just had the Hollywood connections, I guess.

Anyway, you guys are gonna tell me this is a stupid song to cover, and I know.  I'm not trying to sell you on it as anything more than that.  Not every post has to be about that, does it?  But it does make me wish that they'd pressed the Zombie High OST on wax, just as a silly collector's item.  Plus, depending how things go in 2020, we might just need this song again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Great Hip Hop Hoax?

Boy, it's been ages since I've done a Hip-Hop movie review, huh?  I miss 'em, and I recently stumbled on one that riled up my interest: a 2013 documentary called The Great Hip Hop Hoax.  Right off the bat, I think your first question is, what would constitute the great Hip-Hop hoax?  Eric B taking credit for Large Professor productions?  MF Doom sending out imposters to perform his shows in the mask?  The Made Men's Source coverage?  Joaquin Phoenix again The Top Shelf 88 albumToo $hort's 1996 retirement?  Iggy Azalea's accent?  Willie D's iphones?  Tim Dog's boxed set?  All these seem too small-time to constitute the great Hip-Hip hoax.  So, what could it possibly be?

Well, the disappointing aspect is that it's actually smaller time than any of those.  It's about how rap duo Silibil N' Brains lied their way into becoming a major success story.  But I've certainly never heard of these dudes, and I think any of you visiting my blog would at least attest that I tend to know of even many of the more obscure groups, right?  It can't be too impressive of an industry success story if you the documentary has to tell you how huge they supposedly were.

That said, this film isn't entirely pulling its premise out of its ass.  Apparently these cheap Eminem knock-offs did lie their way into a record contract with Sony Music, wasting a lot of money before their album was scrapped (hence their obscurity).  This feels a lot like Hot Karl's Interscope story (and musically, they sound a lot like Hot Karl, too), but with an extra twist. The gist is that these are two young rappers from Scotland, and after flopping an audition for Warner Bros, they went to London and claimed to be from California.  And once people believed they were American rappers, everybody gave them a break they couldn't get as Scots.

It's kind of interesting.  The filmmaker gets substantial interviews with the two guys, their girlfriends, and even the executives who signed them.  Hot Karl's signing wasn't based on a lie he had to keep up at all times, so that definitely gives these guys' story a more novel twist.  They always spoke in fake accents.  At one point they claimed to be friends with D12 (why they didn't pick a California-based group is beyond me), so their label had them open for them when they came to the UK.  And they had to keep making excuses to stay in England because Sony wanted to bring them "back" to the US to record their album, but they couldn't reveal that they didn't have America passports.  So it's kinda fun.

But it's ultimately spread a little thin.  The biggest thing these guys seemed to do was a single interview on MTV's Euro channel.  If these guys had hit records out and fooled millions and billions of adoring fans for years, this would be a great hoax.  As it is, it feels like a 30-40 minute story stretched out to a feature film-length running time.  And it doesn't help that this film seems hellbent on positing that these guys were talented enough to be huge stars, but bias against Scottish rap was holding them back.  So, by pretending to be American, they were exposing the industry in a big way.  But we hear their music throughout the doc and they suck.  Their flows and production are passable, in a shameless knock-off kind of way, but their constant punchlines are painfully contrived and lame:

"If she didn't drop to her knees, your mom would have a huge bust.  And when she wears a yellow coat, kids think she's a school bus.  She ain't fat, though, she's just humongous boned.  From space she looks like a country on her own." 

Eminem would never write that, and he should be insulted by the comparison.  And that quote is one of the ones this film highlights to show just how talented and clever they were.  "Rappers having no fun are no one; they're probably coming out more overdone than Posh Spice and David Beckham's son."  Somebody shoot me.

This film also struggles because it was made long after the pair's story had ended.  So they weren't able to film any of the events as they happened, instead relying on lots of cheap Flash animation to tell large portions of the story.  And this doc doesn't exactly dig deep.  Like, if they want to show that the music industry is prejudiced against Scottish musicians, they could've talked to other acts from Scotland who could've talked about the struggle to break out of the local scene, or how they even wish they could've faked being American to gain access, too.  Or interviewed the D12 guys and asked if they remembered their meeting with Silibil N' Brains.  Or just... anything.  It feels like the whole doc is centered around two guys at a bar telling us what a big deal they were and we have to take their word for it all.  Worth a quick watch, I suppose, but surely we have greater hoaxes than these two.

Monday, September 9, 2019

DJ Premier's Mystery Medley

You guys can thank Will for this post.  😎  The answer to his question is: not quite.  But I do have the M.O.P. "World Famous" cassingle, which has the exact same track-listing, including the mystery song in question.  I totally didn't remember this, so I was excited to run and check if it was on my tape.  It's interesting; this came out in 1997 and is kind of the last major single of their second album, Firing Squad, but it feels a lot like a lead single. 

Here's where I am with M.O.P.  They're great, but once you have one or two records, you kind of have them all.  Like, they don't have a great range, and they put together some nice bars (that sometimes go under-appreciated by audiences who just get into their hooks and shouting), but it sort of feels like they're either remaking the same song with slight variances, or they're experimenting in a bad way... remember when they were going to front a rock band in the early 2000s?  But, that basically means, you don't need to keep adding new M.O.P. records into your collection, unless they happen to have a really great beat.  And "World Famous" has got it.

It's produced by Jaz (yes, the "Hawaiian Sophie" guy), and it's just a really great loop.  It's surprisingly kind of mellow for the Mash Out Posse.  I mean, yeah the drums snap kinda hard, but it feels like an old 70s soulful track.  But thankfully, the guys play against that and come really high energy and hard, which works perfectly.  Lyrically, it's pretty much just them selling themselves to us ("Hardcore was raw but we got more to hurt 'em. Firing Squad all up in your district.  Last album was phat, but yet some missed it.  But they gone get with this shit.  Who's in the house?  It's the last generation, real ill niggas from the 'ville you be facin'.  '96 flava for your neighbor; how ya like us now?"), which is one part of what makes this feel like a lead single.  It feels very "wait'll you hear our upcoming album," though it had already come out in '96.

Anyway, that's on here as the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella... and something unique called "World Famous/Downtown Swinga" (Video Version)."  That's because they did one of those music videos for two tracks at once, where they play half of each song to get both out there for the cost of one.  Plus, DJ Premier produced "Downtown Swinga," so even though "World Famous" had the more addictive beat, I think they wanted Premier's name, because he was really becoming recognized as a selling point in the mid 90s.  But listening to halves of a song is nowhere near as satisfying as listening to whole ones, so I can't say this is too exciting.  In fact, I don't care for that whole practice at all.  Let's move on.

Because we're here for the fifth and final track on this single, anyway: "DJ Premier Medley," which is not on the album or anywhere else.  It's nothing super essential, so don't get too excited, but it's interesting.  It's a mix by DJ Uneek of Crooklyn's Finest (not that Uneek), and like Will guessed, it is a medley of Premier MOP songs, but far from all of them, or even a greatest hits.  Only tracks from Firing Squad, so in a way, it plays like "snippets," which is another reason why this all feels like a lead single.  But it's better than snippets, it's a genuine mix and Uneek really does something on the turntables, including lots of cuts and some juggling.  It's more than just radio blends.  It starts out with "Brownsville," then you get a little of the "Stick To Ya Gunz" instrumental before diving into "New Jack City."  It's definitely not a reason to run out and track down the 12" like some lost Premier gem; I can see why I forgot all about it.  By the time the single came out, I already had the album with those songs, so the value was mostly just in Uneek's cuts.  But it's kinda neat, and at least makes the single a little more interesting.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Two Essential King Sun B-Sides

In King Sun's catalog, there are two essential B-sides.  To be clear, that means the song in question must be exclusive to a single off one of his five albums to qualify.  "Universal Flag" is a dope song on the B-side to "Be Black," but it's also on the Righteous But Ruthless album.  And "In Pursuit Uptown" is a dope song on the B-side to "Sippin' Brandy," but that's not connected to an album, so the whole 12" is already essential in its own right.  I'm talking about the 12"s you still need to get, even if you've already got the album, because of these hot B-sides.

Up first is 1987's "Mythological Rapper."  This is on Zakia Records, and in fact is his very first single.  The A-side with D-Moet, "Hey Love," eventually found its way onto his debut LP on Profile, XL, but for whatever reason, they left this one off.  Based on its title, you might expect something like Kool Moe Dee's verse Olympian from "Get the Picture:" "Aphrodite would freak as her knees get weak, and Venus would peak off every word I speak. And Zeus would get loose, fully induced, and I'd make Apollo's rhymes sound like Mother Goose. And by night's end, Mercury is so hyped he'd spread the word that there's a god on the mic."  But nah, it's just King Sun going hard over a tough beat by D-Moet and Cut Master DC.  The premise is just that fake MCs, or mythological rappers, need to suffer the brunt of his battle raps.

I've heard speculation over the years about who he's dissing on this record, but I'm convinced this is just general "sucker MC"-type targeting.  Lines like, "see, I'm waitin' for one of you to slip up and make a mistake; just to mention my name, that is all it would take," suggest these shots are open to anyone who dares step in front of them.  And who he's talking over the course of his many bars (this is a seven minute song with six or seven verses) keeps changing.  At one point the "you" is a woman he's talking sex smack to: "I get the booty hole warm like the quiet storm; I go to work and go berserk and work you out your skirt.  You really dig me 'cause I'm thick, but then you think it would hurt.  But see, you told me you're a woman, I guess you can hang; don't blame it on me if I hurt your thang."  I mean, I could be wrong, but I hope that's not directed at Big Daddy Kane or Rakim!

Admittedly, that brief diversion is more the exception than the rule.  It is mostly battle rhymes.  But again, things he says keep suggesting he could be talking about anyone who crosses him: "rappers are cryin', cussin' and swearin', calling me names, but I can't hear 'em.  They always get nervous every time I go near 'em.  Soft like tissue, fear is the issue.  Just when you least expect that I'll diss you, I'll take away your title, I'll make you bow.  I'm the King and I have spoken, and I mean now; so drop to your knees and lower your head; don't think about repellin' one word I've said!"  Of course I'm familiar with subliminal disses, but I think sometimes we just want the drama too much and force ourselves to find it.  But don't let your blood lust for a good diss record cause you to miss this strong little record.  The beat's pretty raw, with smacking drums and bells, with a simple, stuttering "mythological, mytholog-mytho-myth-mythological" vocal sample for a hook.  But they don't really cut it up 'till the end of the song.  All in all, it's better than a lot of the stuff that made it onto XL; I'm surprised they left it off.

Then there's no other B-sides to worry about until Sun's second album.  Now, this one's interesting.  "Be Black" was the big, lead single off Righteous But Ruthless, but "Big Shots" was his less acknowledged second one.  "Undercover Lover" is actually the B-side on this record, which is far more well known.  That's actually the song they made the video for, and yes, it's on the album, too.  The B-side I'm singling out here is actually a 12" exclusive remix of "Big Shots," and you'll never guess who it's by.  Funkmaster Flex!

The original "Big Shots" is a really tight narrative crime rap, that's equal parts "Road To the Riches," "A Children's Story" and the final verse of "The Message."  Right from the jump, "Once upon a time there was a big diesel kid who just got sprung from a ten-year bid.  Ten years is a long time; he left as a pup, but came out as an adult, about to act up."  There's just some great writing in here like, "you dissed him and you just got smoked, then he'd take your spot and leave your family broke.  Even 5-O was petro and wouldn't even act up; to give him a ticket, they'd have to call in for back-up."  And it's the details that really put it over similar crime stories: "never again would homeboy go thirsty 'cause he bought a mansion in Paterson, New Jersey: the house that was owned by Lou Costello.  At the age of 25, life was so mellow; a father of four, each had different mothers.  That's to my knowledge, might've had others."  It's a predictable but effective rise and fall tale all set to a classically atmospheric "Nautilus" loop produced by King Shameek, who cuts up a tried and true "Gangster Boogie" vocal sample for the understated hook.

Yeah, the one weak spot of the song is that, lyrically and sample-wise, we've heard it all many times before.  It's so pure, though, you wouldn't want to replace it with a remix.  But revitalize it with a whole new energy that turns it into a hyper companion piece?  Yeah, that could work, and a pre-Hot 97 Funkmaster Flex did just that.  I can't even pull out all the samples that're thrown into this pot (though I do recognize a little Trouble Man).  King Sun adds some new adlibs ("yo Flex, we're livin' extra large"), but the story's all the same.  However, this is a much higher energy and denser track, and of course Flex is cutting up on the hook; it feels like an entirely different story.  If you want the best telling of these lyrics, the original version does still suit it better.  But this mix is hot enough that you'll need it in your crates, too.

And other than that, the albums and the two isolated 12"s ("Sippin' Brandy" and "New York Love") are all you need.  There is some later-era 12" with exclusive remixes of his "Pimp" song with Ice-T, but I definitely wouldn't file that under "essential."  Of course, you still might want his other 12"s for their instrumentals or just as collector's items for hot songs.  But these are the two, and surprisingly, they don't seem to get much shine.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

You're the Journal, He's the Journalist

(I’ve had a new record sitting here for a month, unplayed, because if I wound up not liking it, it was gonna really bum me out. I finally broke it open. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Box Cutter Buzzz Is Back

In 2017, I wrote a post about The Box Cutter Brothers making the move to release their latest (at the time; I think they've since done a vol. 5) album on vinyl.  Well this summer, one half of the Cutter duo, Drasar Monumental, is back with his solo debut; and I'm happy to report it's also on vinyl.  And this one's interesting, because Ayatollah is certainly the better known of the pair, with an unquestionable track record, having spent decades producing hot tracks for artists like Bee Why, Screwball, Inspectah Deck, Cormega, Tragedy, The Dwellas, Mos Def, Master Ace and the list goes on and on forever.  So it was a pretty safe bet the Box Cutter albums would be at least fairly solid.  But Drasar doesn't share much of that history; and outside of the Brothers' collaborative albums, he's really only done those (admittedly pretty sick) MF Grimm records before.  I mean, even I could make a good record with that man as a partner (the secret? Delegate, delegate, delegate).  So the big question is, without Ayatollah, how's Drasar going to stand on his own?

I won't keep you in suspense - I was really impressed.  Production-wise, he opens with his most impressive cut, "Bells."  At this stage, the label "90s throwback" may be as much of a repellent ward as it ever was an alluring siren's call - I love me some old school Hip-Hop, but I don't want the genre stuck in the past.  However, when something sounds this good, labels like that don't even matter.  This song obviously brings Lord Finesse to mind, as it uses a substantial, two-line vocal sample from his "You Know What I'm About" for the hook.  But it would bring Finesse to mind anyway, because this fits in perfectly with his early 90's production aesthetic; the track, which literally loops up some smooth bells, could easily have been the B-side to "Hip 2 da Game," if Finesse hadn't opted to go the hardcore posse cut route.  But then this song kind of winds up going that route, too, as two-thirds through the instrumental entirely flips and becomes a rough sonic attack with aggressive battle raps. And while I'd say Drasar's strongest suit is his production rather than his MCing, he's still capable on the mic.  You know, think of rapper producers like Diamond D, Showbiz, and Extra P.

But once that opening track switches from smooth to gritty, it pretty much stays in that lane... which I suppose is more in line with what you'd expect to hear looking at the album cover.  But the lyrics start to get more interesting on these harder core tracks, anyway.  "Fine Art of Survival Part 2" (the first part was an entirely instrumental song on Box Cutter Brothers III) gets into some serious sociopolitical subject matter that adds some welcome weight to the project:

"No bank deposits.  Now my girl's actin' awkward,
'Cause with no money in America, they treat you like you're damn near retarded;
So I went to college, with no money.
I was hungry; became difficult for me to study.

Now the situation's lookin' ugly; my own family don't fuck wit me."

The content resonates perfectly with the beat.  Again, sometimes his lyric writing can be a little awkward - he opens the above verse with the old line, "I was so poor I couldn't afford to pay attention."  But the fact that his bars aren't super polished actually in a way works in his favor.  Like this is just real talk from a regular man, not some clever rhyming jester who's packed every line with three bits of wordplay and a pop culture punchline.  "The Murder Game" is a rather cutting take down of your small time neighborhood criminal, a theme he follows up on and broadens out for "Snake Mode," which makes clever use of a Whodini vocal sample.  Then "Perpetrator Overkill" and "Unpredictable" kick us into pure battle rhyme territory, with two killer beats reminiscent of those classic early Rebel Alliance records, right down to the scratch hook (which Drasar also does himself).

Yeah, it's just those six tracks.  Hardcore Overdose Sessions is basically an EP with no absolutely no filler, but then all the instrumentals are included on the flip filling it up to a full LP length.  As you can see, it comes in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-themed picture cover, pressed on burgundy wax.  There's also a CD version with the exact same track-listing, including the instrumentals.  The label is pretty cool, making the CD look like a 45, with little three-dimensional ridges so you can feel the grooves.  You can cop both from

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Doin' It Well

It's been seven or eight months since we've heard from Whirlwind D, but he's back in 2019 with a new record, and like he tells us in his very first line, he's "still doin' it."  This is a single, released on 7" by his regular label, B-Line Recordings, and I think you could say it's a bit of a personal anthem.  The title is "Doin' It," but "Still Doin' It" might've been more fitting since it seems to specifically be about keeping thee enthusiasm and passion for the music over the years and challenges, "my knees getting battered, hairs out my nose and my hearing's all shattered, six pack's gone and complexion's all tattered, but the funk's still fresh and you have to admit Specifik, Djar One and D, we're still doin' it!"

If you're at all familiar with D, or my coverage of him, Specifik should be a very familiar name to you by now.  He's been a regular producer and DJ on D's projects who consistently does good work.  In fact, he runs B-Line Recordings.  But on this track, he's just doing the (essential) cuts.  The producer is that other guy, Djar One.  But you should recognize him, too.  He produced the lead track off of D's last EP, "Labels" (which Specifik also did the cuts on).   This is a much higher energy, hyper track, but it's just as much of a killer beat, and the cuts are a big part of its drive.  It's also got a sweet little breakdown; the perfect kind of instrumental for an anthem; you can definitely see why this song was picked to be a single.  Though you can see from just the few lyrics I cited, it runs a little deeper and more personal than just your average "I love Hip-Hop" theme.

And of course there's a B-side.  This one's also by Djar One and Specifik, but this time they switch roles, so Specifik's the producer and Djar One does the cuts.  And as you'd probably guess, this one's a bit slower.  It's called "Sometimes" and tackles online issues.  Now I have to say, usually I'm fairly put off by internet-themed rap songs, because it typically feels like a cheap novelty.  Like "hey, I made the first song about reddit!  The rhymes you wrote get a downvote while your mama gives me Karma."  Or worse, it'll be some kind of corny nerdcore flow over a Halo sample.  But this is a serious discussion:

"Centralized views peddlin' fake news
Shuttin' down all arguments by shoutin' abuse.
Confused by the profuse researchers who reduce
the internet searches to hunches and views.

The age of information, later greater integration,
Proliferation nation right back to segregation.
When will it stop?  When will we see the truth?
Am I just as bad, falling victim to abuse?

So what's the conclusion in all this confusion?
Intrusion of illusion leaves seclusion and delusion.
Excusin' the fact that I'm hit with so many views,
Where should I go for my daily fix of news?
I just want the truth, a healthy dose of debate.

Analysis paralysis some people who equate;
Freedom is a right to speak when not bullied.
Acceptin' the fact that I might never not fully
Understand other thoughts, whether bought or sold,

Despite middle-aged a fixed mindset folds.
Scold myself hard for not reading all the cards
As they fall to the table leaving other suits barred."

I like the way he eases in and out of dense, almost "New Rap Language" wordplay and more earnest, direct communication with the listener.  It syncs up perfectly with the funkier, but still rather bouncy track.  It's serious subject matter, but lightened up by the hook, which is an ever-changing collection of rubbed in vocal samples of classic rap lines containing the word "sometimes."  You could just as easily ignore the message and just play the game of trying to pick them all out.  Depending on your mood, you can engage with the song in completely different ways.

Anyway, as you can see above, this comes in a full color picture (and sticker) cover.  Again it's a 7".  I'm not sure if this single is leading up to another album per se (nothing's written on the back cover like "from the forthcoming..."), but knowing Whirlwind D, even if it is, at least one of the tracks here will remain an exclusive to this particular record.  So don't let this one pass you by.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ladies HaveAComplicatedRelationshipWith Cool James

(Six female MCs issued four answer records to LL Cool J in 1987, and they each had a distinct point to make.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dig On That

Look out!  Werner's just been spotted writing out in the wild again!

Have you guys ever heard of Dig Mag?  I don't mean the corny lifestyle website that first pops up when you google "Dig Mag," I'm talking about a dope little magazine about crate digging and hard to find music, i.e. just the kind of stuff anybody looking at our humble site here would be into.  It's relatively new - they've got five issues out so far - and they get a lot of cool DJs and music writers to contribute tales of finding rare vinyl.  And, well, I'm in it.

They publish out of the UK but they get writers from all over, and they cover all genres of music.  You can imagine I don't have a lot of stories to share about obscure Salsa 45s, but they've just come out with their first "Dig Deeper" special issue, focusing exclusively on Hip-Hop, and appropriately enough, that's the issue they reached out to me for.  You can see all the contributors in the picture, including some familiar names to regular readers here... I mean, there's Oxygen, an artist I was just writing about a couple posts back!

Now, when I called this magazine "little," I mean that literally.  It's the exact size and shape of a CD. It's 32 full color pages (I think the average issue is 24, but the special's 32) and the layout is really slick.  See how it's like a record in a crate?  The crate is a plastic cover, and the issue slips out of it.  You'll see.  Anyway, I have a 2-page spread in this issue.

And obviously I'm not a big mp3 guy, but the other thing about Dig is that each issue also includes an online mix of all the music talked about in the issue.  Not all of it's super rare or anything, but for example, DJ Format included an unreleased MC Shy-D I was excited to hear for the first time.  And for my part, I won't spoil the exact record I cover, but I'll just say I had to figure out a way to rip a full quality, white label-only DITC-related track.  And no, it's not Ground Floor, but if you put together that guess, I'm proud of ya.  😎

Anyway, I think it's pretty cool, and not just because I'm in it.  They're also putting out their first 7" record, too... although I'm pretty sure the guy behind Dig has released records before under a different label name.  Anyway, I'd recommend starting with the Hip-Hop special, and then check out the rest if it's up your alley.  It's definitely more of a thing, I'd say, for serious enthusiasts than just casual music fans.  It's just coming out this week, plus you can get back issues and reprints of the first couple issues that've already sold out at