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, mp3.com 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 ex2.abolanorecords.com.

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.