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?