Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tragedy's LA Drive-By with Str8-G

Now here's a rapper I haven't thought about in a super long time: Str8-G.  I copped his album on cassette in '94, played it some back then, and then that's kinda been it.  But just this week Ben on Twitter suggested I talk about his stuff with Tragedy, and it all flashed back for me: oh yeah, Tragedy was on that album!

Str8-G, for those who missed out, was an LA/ Compton rapper very much in the vein of the early DJ Quik crew, which is what sold me on him back in the day.  He had a high pitched voice, laying in the cut between more traditional gangsta rap and light-hearted sex rap stuff with plenty of post-Chronic G-Funk influence.  His first record was a shameless knock-off of AMG's "Jiggable Pie," with a couple more serious B-sides.  And that's what got him signed to a major for his one album.  He even got Quik to do a remix of his single, "Bring the Funk," which turned out to be his career peak.  You could tell he was really patterning himself off these guys and aspired to roll with them, and honestly, he had a nice flow that would've sound really good on Quik's albums if that had ever blossomed.  But he was a little let down by slightly flatter production by Dazzie Dee and some generic studio house producers.

So with all this west coast talk, who's the last guy you'd expect to turn up in the album credits?  The man who dubbed Queensbridge the new Kuwait, Tragedy.  But yeah, he's got two songs on Str8's album, as a producer, writer and vocals, including the original version of "Bring the Funk" that Quik remixed for the single and video.  It's actually pretty interesting, with a dark, East coast sounding core vibe, including deep bass and "Skull Snap" drums.  They also make great use of a Humpty Hump vocal sample.  But then they lay this syrupy Troutman/ Dre G-funk electronic whistle thing over it, which really hasn't aged well.  But yeah, it's produced and written by Trag, and just in case you might be thinking this might be some other random dude calling himself Tragedy, he speaks on the intro of the song.  This is definitely our Juice Crew Allstar.

And their other collaboration is even more interesting.  Once again, it's written and produced by Tragedy, and vocally he contributes a bit more, though he never kicks a proper verse.  No, this one's called "Drama" and it's a pure East coast sounding-track with squealing horns, a screeching Prince vocal sample (the same one Esham used to use) and a dark street vibe.  Sonically, this would've sounded right at home on Black Rage.  But lyrically it's a narrative on some LA Boyz N da Hood shit, except instead of a proper gang it's Str8-G and his boys, and Trag.

"Three oh-motherfuckin' clock in the mornin';
I'm lookin' at my nigga Tragedy and he's yawnin'.

I'm puttin' on my dickies and yo Trag, it's on.
(Went into the drawer and got the motherfuckin' chrome!)"

...The parenthetical bits being performed by Trag himself.  In the song, they get in their Caddy, pick up their boys and do a drive-by.  "I said 'oh shit, what you doin'?"  And Trag says, "man, that's some nigga my bitch was screwin'!"  And it's all about this gun fight that's gotten out of control.  "And now I'm lookin' for Trag 'cause he's not on my ass, thinkin' about the niggas that's blast - in' on me.  No, it's not me, 'cause the niggas never can see Str8-G.  And no I'm not from they set, and now them niggas don't look at me in a 'vette, 'cause I'm creepin' like a motherfucker.  And I don't give a fuck because I'm not a fuckin' sucker."  This is definitely not the kind of song you expect to hear The Intelligent Hoodlum on, though I guess it ends with his kind of moral, since Str8's character gets shot, and I think we're supposed to conclude that they never should've gotten involved in that drama.  But even for Str8-G, this is pretty hardcore, as a guy who seemed much more comfortable doing songs like "Pussy Time" and "Everything's Fine (In the Summertime)."

And of course it's all the more ironic because the very next record Tragedy would release is "LA, LA," where he rallied his Queens based against the west.  But if you're wondering how these two got together, I think the answer's disappointingly simple.  Str8-G was signed to Tuff Break Records, which was a short-lived division of A&M Records, which was Tragedy's label.  In fact, this was the last thing he did before splitting with them and going indie.  And Str8's only other single was a remix (that leaned much further into the G-funk sound) of his title track with Barry White singing the chorus... Barry was also briefly signed to A&M at that time; so clearly they were just shoving all their artists into studios together.  In fact, that big sticker you see on the cassette case is advertising Barry's appearance, because A&M didn't know enough to be putting DJ Quik's name in big letters on the front instead, even though that's who we were really excited to hear in '94.

But yeah, that was about it for Trag and Str8-G's involvement with A&M, a label which never seemed comfortable with the Hip-Hop genre.  Str8-G pretty well disappeared after that one album.  There's a new guy calling himself Str8 G, but it's a totally different person.  Poking around discogs, I noticed that the real Str8-G did come back to do one song with B-Low O of The Mackadelics in 2007, and he actually came off really nice on there.  It's a shame he didn't get to do a little more with Quik and those guys, but oh well.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Wake Your Daughter Up, The R.A.S. Posse's Back!

Besides that Baby Chill reissue, P-Quest Revivals has an even more interesting new release.  When I first heard they were putting out unreleased music by R.A.S. Posse, a.k.a. Riddem and Soul, the name rang a bell, but I couldn't place it.  They're from the House Party 3 soundtrack!  And they performed in the movie itself.  Well, outside of that, these Brooklyn cats just had one indie 12", the self titled "R.A.S. Posse" on Kid Entertainment Records.  Yep, as in that Kid, because he was genuinely managing them, just like they said in the movie.  Unfortunately, Kid 'N Play were having their own problems transitioning into the 90s, so R.A.S.'s stuff got left on the shelf.  That is until now that P-Quest got a hold of their archives, a whole collection of material recorded between 1992 and 1993.

The Posse consists of rugged reggae MC Bigga Don, Soul G, a.k.a. Easy G or ZG of The Undefeated Three (Funkmaster Wizard Wiz's old group) who kicks a distinctly playful American style ("I'm quick with the giz-nift of gab, the vocab, I smoke ya like a spliz-niff") and also produces, plus a singer named Robbie Irie who's on so many songs, he should at least qualify as an ancillary member.

The tone here is really interesting.  The production is rich and varied.  Sometimes you'll recognize some loops, but they're either paired with some other unexpected samples or just used in a very different type of song.  My favorite example of this has got to be "Lazy Body," that uses the signature music from Special Ed's "I'm the Magnificent" for some funny raps dunking on their lazy girlfriends, like an even catchier version of UTFO's under-appreciated "Beef Pattie."  To put it in terms of rap blogs, this is Wake Your Daughter Up music, not Unkut music.  And that's not a bad thing; I wish more unreleased stuff that wasn't strictly purist would get rescued from the vaults.  A couple songs, like "We Are the Teachers" and Money, Weed, Hoes" are a little rougher and definitely incorporate more hardcore elements from their time, like screeching horns and shouted hooks.  But, you know.  Think The UMCs' second album, not 36 Chambers.

Their actual House Party 3 song itself is left off of here, but instead we get an unreleased demo version.  The only really noticeable difference is that the final version fades the bassline from Ed O. G's "Bug-A-Boo" in and out of the mix, though, which the demo version doesn't really bother with.  That bass sounded really good, so I'd say the House Party 3 version is easily the preferable one, but since that's already out and easily accessible, it's cool to get this version instead as a historical artifact if nothing else.

Their Kid Entertainment "R.A.S. Posse" song is on here, too; though dedicated fans will still want to track down that original 12", since they left off the B-side, a pure reggae (as opposed to Ragga Hip-Hop, with G's rapping and their usual Hip-Hop beats) love song called "Love Me."  But I can see why they left it off; that's really an outlier for the crew, who I'd definitely described as Hip-Hop with a Reggae Twist, as opposed to Reggae with a Hip-Hop twist.  The only "pure reggae" song on this collection is the Dancehall Remix of a song called "Well Run Dry," which is quite different from the main Hip-Hop version that's also on here.

Yeah, there's one or two remixes on here.  The whole album is 21 tracks, with the first being a quick intro (a snippet from House Party 3 where Kid talks about the Posse), and one specifically demarcated as a bonus track.  So basically 18 songs and two additional remixes, and those "Well Run Dry" mixes are practically two entirely different songs.  The other remixed track here is "The Posse" (not to be confused with "R.A.S. Posse"), which is a pretty tight track that uses a sample you'll recognize from Pete Rock's killer remix of Da Youngsta's "Pass the Mic."  The other mix is the Freestyle Version, which sounds just like you'd think, alternate off-the-head lyrics roughly recorded in one pass, as opposed the more polished professional mix.  So it's basically just a fun lyrical remix.

And that bonus track?  It's an unreleased Cool Supreme (also of the Undefeated Three, and the classic "B Boys Style") song that features Bigga Don.  It has a similar production style, and Cool's flow and humor is just like Soul's with just a slightly deeper voice.  So it's just like another R.A.S. song; you probably wouldn't even catch the difference if it wasn't labeled.

So this is another very limited CD, restricted to only 100 copies.  It's brand new for 2019, but P-Quest already put out an equally limited (yes, 100 copies) vinyl EP of highlights in 2017.  That's a sticker cover pressed on green vinyl, and as of this writing, copies of both are still available from the label.  All six songs from the vinyl are on this CD, plus of course, 16 more.  I don't know if these recordings were taken from DATs, cassettes or what, but the sound quality is very clear and strong.  None of these are "sorry, these were ripped from low quality tapes but that's all that exists" like we sometimes have to settle for on projects like these.  I hope this projects succeeds, because Hip-Hop's an awesomely broad scene, and I'd love to see more diverse artists from different periods get their unreleased brought back.  And when they do, I'd like to see bigger runs than just 100.  In fact, my next post is going to get a little deeper in that.