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