Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mixture Interview

(Another in our series of Custodian of Records interviews (I just edited it!), this time with Kasem Coleman a.k.a. Mixture, producer of a variety of artists, from Blackstreet to Mytee G Poetic. Youtube version is here.  Also, Happy New Year!)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Just a Little More Ecstasy

Well, damn.  Here's a post I wasn't planning to make.  But if you haven't heard, we've just lost Ecstasy of Whodini.  And in thinking about what exactly to post about for this, I kinda figured everybody pretty much has all of their albums, at least us older heads.  So what is there from Ecstasy outside of a complete Whodini collection?  There's actually only a couple.  There's that weird Paul Schaffer record he was a part of with The Fresh Prince.  And besides that and full Whodini tracks, there's really only these two.

First up is Midnight Star's "Don't Rock the Boat" from 1988 on Solar Records.  They were a sort of post-disco R&B/ funk group, and this was one of their last successful singles after a pretty strong run through the 80s.  I can still remember this video airing on BET all the time, and probably even MTV, with the whole band in boats and there's a shark fin in the water.  These guys didn't usually mess with rappers.  In fact, I think the only other time they dabbled was a couple years later in '90-'91 when one of the guys did their own rapping.  But they got Ecstasy to be on this one, and yeah, he was in the video with his own boat and everything.

On the album, the song was already pretty long, over six minutes.  But the 12" offers an extended mix, adding another minute.  Midnight Star's style at this time was already pretty close to Whodini's wheelhouse, so with Ecstasy's involvement, this plays almost like a proper Whodini record with an extended R&B hook.  It could play right alongside "Yours For the Night," except it's even funkier.  Ecstasy doesn't just have one of those quick, perfunctory raps on an R&B record; he has three verses (though the last one's a reprisal), and he pipes in a bit through the other parts, so he's a consistent part of the song.  Ecstasy provides nearly all the lyrical content of the song, starting with a narrative "about a girl and a guy," which he later extrapolates into a general message about how if your relationship is working as-is, don't make any changes.  There is a nice part where Belinda finally joins in, taking the vocals to another level as they pledge devotion to each other.  The extended version has extended break beats and stutters his line "don't do it," so it feels a little more Hip-Hop.  It comes in a sticker cover and throws in a shorter radio edit and a couple dubs.  I'd actually say this is a better Whodini single than the actual singles Whodini was releasing that year.

Then the other one is actually an example of the perfunctory quick rap verse on an R&B record, but fortunately, it's a pretty funky R&B record in its own right.  1990's "Paradise" is the title cut and lead single off of Ruby Turner's third album, though as the picture cover tells us, this was originally recorded for the Dancin' Thru the Dark soundtrack.  Boy, do I not remember that movie, even in the slightest.

Anyway, Turner and Whodini were label-mates on Jive, which probably explains this team-up.  Like "Don't Rock the Boat," this 12" gives us an exclusive extended mix, this time adding a whopping extra two and a half minutes.  A lot of the heavy lifting on this song is actually carried by some uncredited male vocalists who do a funky "Oh! Oh! Ooh, oh, ooo oh, ooh oh ooo" behind the bulk of the song.  Loris Holland and Jolyon Skinner are the producers, who cook up a surprisingly catchy mix of keyboard and guitar grooves.  And Turner's actually a pretty great singer.  So yeah, I was already digging this song on its own merits.  But then, about halfway through, Ecstasy jumps in and totally electrifies the song.  The beat breaks down a bit for him and his unique style of enunciation steals the show, "Paradise, can it be true? Or just a state of mind induced by you?"

Again, the extended version makes better use of the breaks, giving it more of a proper Hip-Hop vibe.  On the album, Ecstasy feels like a quick injection into a big chunk of R&B.  Here, even though he doesn't actually rap any more on the song, it comes across as more of a collaboration between him and Turner.  Although they're also both overshadowed by the "oh oh ooo oh" guys.

There's a B-side, "I'm Livin' a Life Of Love," which is okay, but a bit limp and more placid.  It's got a boppy beat, some fresh keyboard riffs and a fun little sax solo towards the end.  But it never fully comes to life like "Paradise."  Plus, of course, Ecstasy's not on it.  The 12" also has a Radio Edit and Instrumental mix of "Paradise;" and as you see, it comes in an attractive picture cover.

The good news is both of these singles are super easy to find, plentiful and cheap.  They're dollar bin records... although that's meaning less and less in this century, where there are fewer and fewer bins of any denomination.  But the point is they're there and easily accessible for anyone feeling the need right now for just a little more Ecstasy in their lives.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas F-ckin' Day

(Sharing one of my personal favorite Christmas rap albums, and even a surprise comeback. Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Reservoir Dogs Across the Pond

Hijack's a curious group: the UK crew that somehow signed up to Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate in their heyday.  Most of us in the US probably first heard their "Style Wars" track on the Hard As Hell album; and the hardcore but high energy style of their early tracks gave off some appealing Bomb Squad-type vibes.  But, like most Rhyme Syndicate artists if we're being honest, they kept dipping into other, weaker styles.  They came out with a corny anti-crime music video; and lyrically, they could be a bit stilted.  I suppose coming from the UK might've made it harder to accept them as authentic in '91, too.  I copped their album at the time, but found it mostly disappointing and wishing they'd maybe just given their beats to other RS members, who all would've stood to gain from Hijack's style of production.

Anyway, they kind of came and went pretty quick to those of us on the states.  Warner Brothers didn't make their album too easy to find over here, though that may've added a little cache to their status with those of us who liked to dig deeper.  So I remember being pretty excited in 1996 when I found what first appeared to be another "random rap" 12" by Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde on Reservoir Records actually bore the Hijack logo on its sticker and label.  Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde were two of the codenames the robbers adopted in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen's characters, respectively); and the artwork they use for the label is straight from the film's promotional materials.  That was an intriguing enough mix of suggestive promises that I copped it unheard.  It turns out Mr. Pink is really Kamanchi Sly and Mr. Blonde is DJ Undercover, both of course from Hijack.

The way it's laid out is that each member gets a side of the record for himself with a solo track... although in 1997 they'd do a follow-up where they collaborated on the song together.  But here, they're separate.  The A-side starts us off with Kamanchi, in this case the less compelling of the two.  It's kind of another slow, anti-crime message song in the vein of their big US single.  Each verse is a different little narrative about somebody who lived outside the law only to eventually wind up "Payin' the Price."  And he's still running into the same lyrical issues, kicking awkward lines like "Mr. Pink, a Reservoir Dog, so it's ironic: I return to the scene like a dog to his own vomit."  To his credit, though, he did beat Ras Kass by about a year to his "Anything Goes (Rmx)" sample, and it sounds as smooth here as it does there.

But it's Undercover's song that's really worth your time.  Both tracks have a distinct west coast, 90s gangsta rap influence (this one is very close to "Deep Cover"), but at least "Death Before Dishonor" is substantially harder, hearkening back to what we actually want from Hijack with an ill Onyx vocal sample for a hook.  And subject-wise: it delivers all the hot gos' about the tribulations the group faced after they dropped off the map.

"I close my eyes,
The world just passes me by.
You ask me no questions,
Niggas, I tell you no lies.
I hooked up with Ice-T
When already on tour;
My relationship with Warner B
Had left me feeling sore.
How could I be so blind?
I guess that it was loyalty;
Ah, I never heard no word
About my royalties.
Heard my record
On the next man's track.
For those that know, the track was
'I Had To Serve You' by Hijack.
It was about that time
Supreme got dropped from the team;
And I couldn't believe
[?? WEA, maybe?] was makin' all the cream.
My attitude was like 'fuck it,
I'll make it as a soloist.
The dopest vocalist,
Now I gots to cope with this!'
Pen to paper
When I make no mistake;
When I shape (produce a track),
I never have to wait.
People all over the world
Send me letters of support
And show me love.
I'm showing them love back; I'm Hijack."

And so the Hijack guys have continued to release indie projects over the years, together and apart.  They even released a new music video with Ice-T about this Covid lockdown.  But the real jewels in their catalog, the ones that keep me keep chasing the Hijack logo, are their earliest singles, before Warner Bros even tried to introduce them to the states.  Their "Hold No Hostage" 12" is incredible and beats the pants off of most any Rhyme Syndicate record you can find.  This Pink/ Blonde record isn't on that level, but it's still an interesting little pick-up that showed these guys had more to offer even after the mainstream music industry had seemingly finished with them.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Keep Troopin' In a Place Called Four Wing Island

This was well-timed.  I've been in the mood for something new... not just in the basic sense of a song I haven't heard before, but some really new Hip-Hop.  You know, it's an easy trap to fall into when you're a little bit older where you just listen to old school Hip-Hop in your comfort zone.  And then you just listen to the biggest, dumbest pop rap song "the kids are listening to" and immediately recoil saying, okay, nothing but TDS Mob for another four years!  So I looking for a little shake-up, and as fortune would have it, this one found me.  Four Wing Island by an independent London MC named Joejas.  I mean, just look at that cover.  If this one doesn't fit the bill, nothing will.

In a sense, this feels like UK equivalent of Odd Future, scrappy, young and entirely self-made.  "All music," we're told, has been "written, recorded and produced by JoeJas."  The artwork and everything's all done by him, too.  There are no guests except for a single other voice that pops in to back him up on a couple hooks.  But where Tyler and co. came out dark, bordering on horrorcore, Joejas comes out as light (or at least un-sinister) and defiantly childlike as his artwork suggests: "just another nigga to these cops, aight, with my limbs stretchin' out my drop-top tike.  No license, registration, parents tryna pull me out said 'it's only meant for kids to play in'!  Said fuck that then I got weighed in, woke up later and my brain moved places.  Already got a mortgage and a lame whip.  God damn, bro!"

His singles (at least the ones I checked out on Youtube) are all pretty strong, though the album as a whole drifts into some weirder, more conceptual areas.  You know, like Kwamé's second album, except that album lost control to a series skits that were meant to create an over-arching narrative about a hard day at Polka Dot School or whatever.  Four Wing Island doesn't have any skits, but it tends to get lost in over-repeated hooks and esoteric references.  Like, for an obvious example, what the heck is "Four Wing Island?"  The title track tells us repeatedly that it's a place where he feels safe, and the liner notes hint that the island is a kind of reference to how each song has a distinct (isolated) tone.  But I'm not sure we're meant to have any idea where the Four Wing name comes from or what it might mean.  Like a Greenthink record, we're just left to guess at a lot of the insular references.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you should be forewarned going in, because they're the sort of unsolvable poetic mysteries that will frustrate as many listeners as they might intrigue and delight.

But don't get the wrong idea.  It's not as hopelessly artsy-fartsy[to use a technical term] as I may be making it sound.  Don't look for any familiar samples to latch onto, but there's a lot of emphasis on creating relatable moods (one track is a essentially a piano solo over a Hip-Hop beat), talking about just drifting around on his bike, eating alone feeling heartbroken or "stay bumfy reading comics in my undies."  "4wingkilla!" is just a fun opportunity to go hard over an aggressive beat, "even in these bright ass clothes I'm still seen as a threat... make me wanna wile out Mortal Kombat 'finish him,' uppercut rip a shin, adrenaline kickin' in."  That's a pretty tight flow there, and the lyrics are consistently well written throughout, no matter the subject.

So this is the first I've heard, but it's actually Joejas's third album.  It's out on CD in an attractive digipack with a full-color booklet of lyrics from his website.  And, as of this writing, his previous two CDs (Planet and Gappy) are still available, too.  Of course it's all streaming everywhere, too, like all music is nowadays, which is probably good, because I'm sure you'll want to try before you buy.  But I'm very glad to see there's a solid physical release for those who decide to get on board.  This reminds me of the Atak days, with a catalog full of mystifying scrappy young idealists releasing tape after tape, pushing the envelope and being just a little too "out there" for the undaring.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

LA's Finest Dopest Rhymers

Oh man, you have no idea how excited I was when I came across this one!  A split 7" of rare and unreleased LA Rap on a small subscription service label called Ximeno Record Club run by Danny Halloway.  Meaning, you can only get one of these records by subscribing to the whole run, or as in my case, finding someone willing to sell their copy second hand.  But I think your odds for that may be better in this case as it's the only Hip-Hop record in the line-up, which is otherwise comprised of all funk/ soul and reggae stuff from the 60s and 70s.  So I imagine there were several collectors who were happy to dump "the rap one."  Or maybe the label itself is just selling overrun spares.  Either way, there are copies online as of this writing, so you better jump on it or you'll be kicking yourself.

Side A gives us "On the One" by legendary Project Blowedian Medusa.  This is her first vinyl release since the "Fiend and the Fix" 12" with Nobody in 2000.  Produced by Evan V with some fresh cuts by DJ Drez, originally appeared on her rare 2012 CD-only Whrs the DJ Booth? album on Jthesarge's label, One Wise Studios.  You can tell Halloway was choosing a favorite on the first listen, because song stands out with its upbeat blaxploitation-style funk guitars and catchy horns.  Medusa is in full force with her clever, deep-voiced lyrics, "first of all, I don't speak in no whiny tone. What I wanna do that for?  Bitch, I'm grown.  Diamonds?  Nah, leave well enough alone.  Stylish and classy, ain't nobody like me.  Men find me sexy, women exciting.  They stand on by me, just in the Walmart tampon shopping."  Then, as she's wont to do, Medusa goes full R&B to sing the hook with Drez mixing up some "Mona Lisa" and "Public Enemy Number One" behind her.  It's one of those songs you want to replay as soon as it hits its last note.

But I was even more amped for the B-side, the never before released or heard anywhere "In My Niggahood" by Vooodu.  The label tells us this one was recorded in 1993 during his ferocious True Sound stint, which of course was Halloway's label.  This is something a little more serious than the fast-paced battle rhymes he was spitting back then.  He slows down Chic's "Good Times" just enough to give it a creepy, ominous vibe with a patchwork of other samples slipping in and out, all to match his own sinister voice as he kicks some street stories about his youth in South Central.  Vooodu was a master, and it's a crime so little of his work has made it out of the vaults, making this record essential.

According to their website, Ximeno is gearing up for another year ("Series 2") of releases starting this month.  Let's hope they take the opportunity to crack open the True Sound vaults of classic unreleased LA rap once again, and we Hip-Hop heads can get our hands on a few copies.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Juice Crew All Stars Was My Boys

Here's an interesting one!  It's a "Juice Crew Law" remake by the All Stars, but not the Juice Crew All Stars you'd think.  There's a new Juice Crew in town, yes even newer than Juice Crew 3rd Millennium: a Shanghai-based B-boy crew.  And this is a record by DJ DSK, a British expatriate now based in China who's assembled a pro tem super-group of English Hip-Hop artists collectively known as the All Stars, released as a tribute to the crew.  The All Stars and "Juice Crew Law" are obviously throwback references made to the original crew in fun, but the connection runs deeper than some punny names.

Musically at least, this is indeed a remake of MC Shan's original "Juice Crew Law," with the All Stars rocking Marley's original instrumental.  Well, at least they use it as the base.  DSK mixes in additional musical samples, and the All Stars layer a wealth of turntablism over the top.  Not only are there cuts in the hook like you'd expect, but the segment that would traditionally be the third verse is dedicated to just a killer stuttering slaughter of The Choice MCs' "Beat Of the Street." Yep, the All Stars aren't all MCs.  Specifically, they're MCs Chrome and Whirlwind D (who I think I might've mentioned here once or twice before) and DJ/ producers Specifik and Mr. Wonderful.  I'm not 100% certain, but from what I've been able to glean, I believe DSK produced the track and Specifik and Wonderful do all the scratches. 

This is a pretty fun update on a classic.  You might ask who needs a new "Juice Crew Law" when we have the original, a question that usually brings most remakes to their knees.  Even assuming the remake's good, why listen to it when you can listen to the classic, right?  Well, this one adds a lot, with additional instrumentation flushing it out and the cuts are killer.  Not that the original didn't have any good ones, especially the 12" version.  But there's definitely enough fresh elements in the mix to make you yearn to relisten to the this version specifically.

Plus, let's be honest, Shan wasn't above the occasional corny line ("my rhymes say more than a tasket, a tisket. Too clever, yo, I never go out like a biscuit." "The same theory if the words don't fit; got the nerve to get on stage and wanna sing that ____? Wait a minute, wait just a second. You know that's not my style.  'Sorry, just checking!'").  While rhymes praising break-dancers by their nature don't hit as hard as aggressive battle rhymes directed towards Krs-One, I'm happy to report the verses are 100% free of cringe moments.  And I don't know about you, but while I have been able to overlook some infamous examples in my childhood favorites, that's a pretty crucial standard to meet for my listening enjoyment of any song at any time.

Still, if all of this isn't enough to compel you to seek out a copy for your own yet, let me tell you about the B-side.  DSK has another song for us, "Check Out the Technique" featuring Akil of Jurassic 5 (making this a tri-continental effort) and London MC Mystro (here billed as Mysdiggi).  This has similar themes, but is more of a general tribute to Hip-Hop, rather than any specific crew.  As Akil details, "no matter the element, the culture pushed excellence, dedicated freshness, hard work and messages.  We pushed the limit: go all out to win it.  From start to finish, we get in it, we created our own lane of genre, built it up proper, B-boys and poppers, DJs and lockers, MCs and graf writers, Soulsonic fire fighters; we loved it, we lived it, built it like an empire."  This time I assume the cuts - which tend more towards rhythm scratches and some Premier-like juggling of a line from Jay-Z's "Threat" on the hook - are by DSK himself.  This track's a little slower and funkier; a cool head nodder though lacking the dynamic energy of the A-side. 

"Juice Crew Law" is a 7" record that plays at 33 and comes in a plain black sleeve.  It's released by DNA Records, DSK's own label, not to be confused with the famous NY label.  The A-side also names B-Line Recordings, Specifik's label, so I gather this is a joint release to some degree.  I'm not sure if this is limited to a specific pressing amount (they don't say as much).  It's already sold out from DSK's bandcamp even though it just dropped like two weeks ago, but a lot of the usual online record shops seem to still have it, at least as of this writing.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Graveyard Terror

(This Halloween, we examine the last outlier from The Fear soundtrack, Terror. Who was he? Let's journey into the graveyard and find out. Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Monumental Wreckage

Oh yes, it's another gem from Vendetta Vinyl.  This is the latest release by Drasar Monumental entitled Lifetime Of Wreckage.  Each song is layered with samples that feel like they were always made to be layered together.  Busy but never over-crowded.  There's a lot of change-ups, too, which can make it a little confusing on the first couple of spins to determine which song you're on.  But you'll catch on quick enough.  The back cover credits spell out concisely, it's a one man show, "beats, rhymes and scratches: Drasar Monumental."  And it opens with Drasar catching wreck over an equally murderous track.  Hard battle raps with a creative dramatic flourish, and even a tinge of righteous fury:

"Rhymes give you more than a slight chill; my mic's type ill, you're just another sucker that I might kill.  You know the drill, my skill gives 'em nightmares, equivalent to getting thrown down a flight of stairs!  Wake 'em up, tapin' 'em up, my box cutter will taper you up.  I don't give a fuck, rhymes spray in all directions.  I slay competitors.  Hated and vile enforcer, ultra-violent sorcerer, bringin' ya horror straight from Sodom and Gomorrah.  USA, home of the Satanic; I set you on fire at your pagan gatherin', and leave 'em staggerin', babblin' and mumblin', my only mission is to murder 'em."

After that, the subject matter starts to get more complicated.  "Scavengers" smooths the mood out slightly, but still remaining pretty hard, like that feeling you'd get when Big Daddy Kane got on a posse cut.  Drasar sets it off on the kind of people he doesn't like, "waitin' on a hand out.  Runnin' ya mouth but your plans never pan out."  But the more serious matters are still to come.

"Fratricide 1993" goes in on how, when faced with political oppression, we're more likely to kill each other than unite against the greater corruptive forces, "grew up Baptist, now you're a savage.  I can tell from your ways and actions.  Grew up from a B-boy, skating rink to Cuban Link.  Never thought I'd see you in the Clink.  Must've been a plan: the way we crumble, cops cuff you.  Caught up in the struggle, we scramble and shuffle.  But it's all meaningless.  Penny pinchin', but end up dying penniless. It features an MC named Hogon Plus, who worked with Drasar previously on Box Cutter IV.  He has a similar voice and flow to Drasar, to the point where, when I was first listening to this I was wondering when he was going to appear... until he name-checked himself and I realized he was already on the mic.  That's not a criticism, though, because Drasar sounds pretty great here, and Hogon mixes in his own style of tongue twisting wordplay without sacrificing the gravity of the topic.

The last track is "Black Calculus Part 3" (Part 2 was on The Box Cutter Brothers' III CD), the catchiest, most head nodding of the beats.  But the racial injustice laid bare in the lyrics is still as raw and pertinent as ever, "uneven playing field, inequality.  Fighting over turf but we don't own the property.  They make a mockery of our misery, rewrite history; it's all lies and trickery, fuckery and deception.  In 2020, your mind is your strongest weapon.  Born leaders never meant to be followers, we're descendants of gods and goddesses."  This material is gripping and compelling to the point that I don't think we can keep Drasar in the box of a producer who can also rap competently, a la Diamond D, Large Professor, and so on, but a lyricist who needs to be heard in his own right.  His production just happens to be brilliant, too.

This is a perfectly tight EP with just four songs and the instrumentals on the flip, so there's absolutely no fat.  Every passing second is a killer.  And as you can see above, this is a proper 12" record in a cool picture cover, though I believe there is also a CD option if you find that more convenient.  But I think this is one you're going to wish you had on wax years from now; this feels like a project that's going to stand the test of time.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Many Returns Of the Liquor Store Laureate

(Wow. It was only like a year ago when I made a video about the insane amount of projects Luke Sick had released.  Multiple albums collaborating with multiple producers... Well, here he goes again!  Youtube version is here.  Also, apologizes for repeatedly calling Wolfagram "Wolf Pack.")

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Outsidaz' Family Vacation

As any of you who've been with me for a while surely knows, I'm on a perpetual Outsidaz watch.  So just because it's been almost exactly twelve years to the day since I've written about it, it should be obvious that I haven't put down the torch for Yah Yah's lost "Collaboration" album from 2005.  Well, except I sort of am, just now, because I'm pretty sure I just got my grubby little hands on it.  In case you've forgotten, Yah is Young Zee's younger brother who had some killer moments on the Outsidaz' albums before moving from NJ to Florida where he had a brief excursion with a little known label called 5th Lmnt.  Back in 2008, I posted a quote from their now long departed website that talked about it.  "Through a series of events, THE 5TH met up with Yahyah, formerly of the Outsidaz and recorded two albums... Sage [one of their in-house producers] and Yah got together on a collaboration effort and after crankin out some of the hottest tracks you'll ever hear, started bumping heads in the production process. This creative control issue is what eventually lead to Yah's departure."  I was excited at the time because I uncovered a CD single from an album that I was beginning to wonder if it had ever truly existed.  I've found another official little 5th Lmnt write-up online that adds a little bit more: "For all you hardcore Yahyah Fans you can get your copy Here of the 10 track Album Featuring Yahyah and Sage Lee."  No, you don't seem to be able to get your copy there anymore, but it does give us a couple clues about this album... which again, may be in my grubby little hands right now.

I won't try to draw out any undue suspense, since you can see it in the photo at the top of this post anyway.  I've scored an 11-track Yah Yah CD from 2005 called Appetizers, which I'm at least 90% certain is the album I've been referring to as The Collaboration.  Worst case scenario, I'm wrong, and I've just uncovered an entirely separate, third Yah Yah full-length CD from the same label and time period, which would be just as rewarding, so I'm happy no matter what.

So, that quote refers to two Yah Yah albums from his time with 5th Lmnt, the label he hooked up with when he moved to Florida.  We already know the first one is Lord Of the Underground.  It's only natural that this is the second of the two, supported by the fact that it tells us it's entirely produced by Sage Lee, the named collaborator, except for one song, which he still gets name checked on.  Further more, they specify that it's a ten track album, and Appetizers is eleven tracks, one being just a twenty-some second intro.  Plus it's dated 2005, and the MasterLab manufacturing credit matches the other 5th Lmnt CDs.  All the pieces fit; a perfectly solved puzzle!  Except a few details do make me 10% unsure.

The Lion Clan Music Works is Yah's own little label that he used for some later mixtapes.  So this being some kind of joint release with 5th Lmnt doesn't throw me, especially since 5th L is name-checked on the album.  But the "E.P. Give Away" bit does.  And the intro tells us specifically, "we the good people here at Lion Clan Music Works, we just want to get y'all ready for the plates. So y'all, don't worry, don't worry, you ain't gonna be charged for this.  This is gonna go along with your order. We like to call this the hors d'oeuvres, The Appetizers."  That naturally had me thinking this was a different, distinct promo disc.

But thinking about it, it doesn't seem like there's likely to be two complete Sage Lee collaborative albums that would both been ten songs long in 2005, especially when both songs from the CD single are featured on this but no songs from Lord Of the Underground are.  Also, that quote makes it sound like Yah recorded two 5th Lmnt albums before he did the one with Sage Lee, which actually suggests a whole third or fourth album is floating out there and makes me question the veracity of all their details.  At the end of the day, I can't be sure, and I'm still keeping an eye out for more, but I think this is the whole rest of the story.

And how is it?  Pretty great!  Just about everything I wrote about the CD single can be extrapolated to the whole LP.  Sage Lee has a very studio-bound, sample-light sound that I ordinarily wouldn't gravitate towards, and doesn't sync at all with the kind of music The Outsidaz made otherwise (except maybe for some of Rah Digga's worst singles), but somehow the extreme contrast between Yah's gritty style and the Southern pop beats really clicks.  Also, that guy who sung the hooks on those two songs?  He's all over this album; singing on more than half the tracks.  Again, not the sort of thing I'd want to hear Yah have on his album on paper, but the guy's good and it all strangely gels.  And listening to the album, I now know his name is Mister C (albeit guessing on the spelling).

Not that all of the songs here are just like the two on the single.  Clearly one thing they're aiming for is variety.  Some songs are clearly made for Yah to just flex his skills, while others slow things down to get more serious.  But most of it works.  It really is a weird hybrid of a NJ and FL album.  Guests aren't credited, but "Das How You Like It" is a bit of a posse cut with Jus One and Critical Madness, and "Without Struggle" is a sociopolitical duet with an MC I can't place[I almost want to guess Ill Bill, but nah... right?!]; and yes, both of those also feature hooks by Mister C.  Oh, and speaking of Mister C, he even gets his chance to rap with Yah on "We Ride," which is probably the worst song on here, trying to push Yah into a more west coast: the only experiment that doesn't really work.  But it's not C's fault.

The only song not produced by Sage is that "Without Struggle" track, which is produced by someone named 1 Spade for Beatwave.  This song and "What's It All About" slather on the R&B elements, but because they can do it so well, and Yah and still make it entirely his own, they wind up being some of the best tracks on here.  Yah shifts his subject matter up just as much as the instrumentals, gliding smoothly between punchline-laden battle raps, surprisingly earnest messages, and the Outz' unique take on street life, "niggas think they tough 'cause they got out of jail; take some shells, let's see if you can get out of Hell."  Yeah, this is that real Outsidaz shit we love!

I'm also happy to report that the glitch from the CD single is gone, so the end of "All I Need Is Some Love" (here simply titled "Some Love") doesn't futz out at the end of the song.  So complete, undamaged versions of this song do exist.  But I really wish more people had ordered directly from 5th Lmnt back in the day when we had the chance, so we'd actually know how much music there even is out there... and maybe even enough fan interest to get those guys to put it back out on the market.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Unlocking the Whirlwind Demos

I've been covering the vinyl releases of Whilrwind D for a long time on this site; but this is something different.  His latest LP, Original Breaks To B-Lines, is a collection of rare, mostly unreleased tracks, remixes and demos, spanning the run of his solo career, from 1990 to 2019.  So some of these tracks are repeats, but many will be new to us, even if they're not brand new recordings, or at least appearing in new versions.  I imagine keeping track of what's new could be pretty overwhelming if you're not a seriously dedicated fan, so this is absolutely the kind of album I'll have to break down track by track... although I am happy to report that he writes some personal notes about each song on the back cover, so listeners and follow the narrative.  And for the record, the sequence is largely, but not completely, chronological, taking us essentially on the journey of his career.

1) 'How I Get Ill' Live at the 02 Bournemouth supporting P.E. - We start out with a live recording, the only one on this album.  It's pretty short, and though it does give us a full verse over a nice head-nodding beat, it acts more as an intro to show what the kind of artist he is and what he's stayed up to even when he wasn't putting out records than a song to collect for its own sake.

2) Battle Tipped Rhyme - long unfinished Solid N Mind (his collaborative effort with producer Johnny F) track that was eventually completed and released on 12" in 2010, which I've detailed here.

3) Centre Stage - Another Solid N Mind track, made for 1991, but not released until 2009 as a Liberty Grooves 12", which I covered here.

4) Butta Funk (Pt. 2) Demo - This is an essentially unreleased track, only put out on an incredibly rare cassette from 1997 entitled Son's Rise.  According to D, there was only "around 50" made, so I think it's safe to say you've never heard this before even though, technically, those tapes are out there.  This one finds him kicking flirtatious love raps and a more light-hearted flow over EPMD's "It's My Thing" instrumental.  And no, I don't know where or what Pt. 1 is.

5) Son's Rise Demo - Another one from Son's Rise (obviously), although apparently this is an "alternative edit," so even if you are one of the fifty people with the tape, you haven't heard this version.  This one sounds a bit muddy, but that might just be the low mix, as this features super deep, Cheetah Records-level bass notes rolling over a bucolic strings sample and some abrasive cuts at the end.  His style here sounds surprisingly Slick Rick-influenced, though not his lyrics: "Sun arrives early in the morning; I'm mourning over time and a new day is dawning.  Words yawning, tired of tireless texts, others always fighting and knowing what's best.  But what's best is a matter of judgement, different assumptions and life's great sentiments.  And then feelings are borne from these; sharks infest murky waters, and seized, diseased, bereaved families lose belief."  This was probably a fairly experimental excursion for him, and it turned out pretty cool.

6) Brainwash Demo - Now we're back to the Whirlwind D we know and love with an early, never before released SnM track from 1990 with some slightly pitched up vocals and a wailing "UFO" sample.  The liner notes say the production was "never really finished," so I don't know if that means this is a reconstruction, or if it's missing some elements and tweaks that were meant to be implemented before it was finalized.  But hey, either way, no complaints here.  This is the kind of candy we rap kids clamor.

7) Carpathian Dreams Demo - This is a slower, more thoughtful track with some heavy bass (though not quite at "Son's Rise" levels), lyrics laden with vivid imagery and some subtle instrumental recurrences of "It's My Thing."  This definitely feels more clean and polished following the previous songs.  And that's because this demo is much newer, an unreleased originally intended for his 2012 WD40 EP, which I wrote about here.  We're definitely shifting, rather dramatically, from era 1 to era 2 here, although we discover a foundational consistency throughout this album, too, which is impressive since it covers nearly thirty years and some deliberate shifts in style.

8) Stronger - This is an album track from his 2014 Nomansland LP, which I covered here, itself an update of the song "Strong" from WD40.

9) Labels - Comes from 2018's Beats, Bits & Bobs EP, which I made a video about here.

10) B-Line Business Remix - This is an unheard remix of the song originally released as a Tru-Tone 7" single (which I covered here), that was also included on the 2016 album Other Side (which I covered here).  Again produced by Specifik, it features the same strumming bassline, lyrics and cuts, but essentially lays some extra instrumentation on top of things, making it both busier (as you'd expect) and hyper (which you mightn't expect).  You can permanently replace the original with this superior version as far as I'm concerned.

11) Doin' It Again - This is a new remix of his 2019 7", "Doin' It," that I wrote about here.  This time Beattrix is reworking Djar One's work, keeping some of the fundamental elements, but slowing things slightly and making it a little funkier.  "Again"'s production fits the vocals a little more naturally and is probably the better version of the song in a vacuum, but the original has a more hectic energy that's still fun to go back to.

12) Written In Pen - This is an unreleased track from 2017, produced by Specifik.  It's another nostalgic homage to his recording history with his label ("B-Line history written in pen"), which feels like we've heard from him several times already.  But the rhythm rides nice and tight and Jabba the Kut creates a really fresh hook.

13) Creature - But if you want something more interesting lyrically, you only have to wait for the next number, another unreleased song, this one written as recently 2019.  Produced by Crease, this has a slow and murky beat as D literally takes on the persona of some kind of creepy swamp monster.  But we slowly begin to realize it's actually some kind of anthropomorphic metaphor for the rise of the alt right: "rising from the deep like a beast no longer asleep, scales and fish tails mark the menace from the keep.  Rising, thrashing, churning, churning.  A creature from the deep, that's what we're all observing.  The horror of the scene is complete capitulation, poshest ones' greed now scorched upon the nation.  Jingoistic, nationalistic attitudes reign.  Every politician has to fall in line and do the same."  I'd call the song great fun except the subject matter is a grim reality.

14) Falling Down - Finally, we have a song taken from his 2017 EP Falling, that I already covered here. A bit anticlimactic, but it is some really great, moody production and a grim exploration of modern times stood out as a highlight when it was first released.

So that's eight new songs or remixes (if you count "Butta Funk") and just five repeats.  Those five make this album a stronger, "greatest hits"-like listening experience, but fans who've been copping his releases all along would probably have preferred five more demos.  Still, if you're a big enough fan to have all those old, limited edition singles, then the unreleased material will make this a must-have anyway.

Original Breaks To B-Lines is a single LP on the German Britcore Rawmance label, limited to 200 copies.  100 are pressed on white (white) vinyl, the other on standard black; and both come in a stylish black & white picture cover.  It also comes with an insert, illustrating his entire discography and a Britcore Rawmance banner ad illustrating their own.  The sound quality is pretty bold and clean.  Only the demos are a little rough.  "Butta Funk" sounds like it's from a rough source and has a good deal of background noise, and even then, the vocals sound pretty clear on top of it.  "Brainwash" has some definite hiss behind it, but not enough to sap any of its energy.  Suffice to say, this is a high quality pressing of some high quality music.

Friday, September 18, 2020

4 Tracks, No Mics

I just received the latest release by SF MC QM.  Long time readers of this site will know him as one half of On Tilt, a group I've covered here several times before (and, spoiler: will be doing so again very soon).  But as I already explained in at least one of those entries I just linked, his career spans back a lot farther than his current partnership with Luke Sick.  But 4 Tracks & S 20's is a different sort of release even from his other solo albums; it's an entirely instrumental album... EP?  It's eleven songs, but each track averages under a minute and a half, so I'll let you work out that classification for yourselves.

QM has, I believe, had a hand in the production of some of his previous projects, but he's definitely better known as a MC than a producer.  So I guess this is him striking out a bit.  His brief description on bandcamp just tells us that, "[a]ll tracks were were played live and recorded in real time on the 4 track in one take."  And as you can see on the cover there, this is "hosted by Young Ivy," his young daughter.  If that sounds like it could be annoying, don't worry.  It's sweet, and she's used sparingly, not to mention pretty low in the mix.  If the cover hadn't clued me in, I would've thought it was just some movie sample occasionally getting sprinkled into the mix.  It's not like that time MC Shan put his wife and kid on his record.

Anyway, let's talk about the actual music.  This EP is more about creating a classic, Hip-Hop groove than breaking new ground.  It's packed with familiar samples, like a chunky loop of Salt-N-Pep... err, the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," or the opening track, which is 70% "Children's Story" with an extra little sample or two laced on top.  Things get less recognizable in the second half, and often I'd be thinking I recognize a bassline from, say, Positive K's "Shakin'," but not whatever new elements it's being mixed with.  It feels somewhat like it's taking us on a gentle tour from the late 80s and 90s through to a more modern, indie Hip-Hop sound.

It is strictly instrumental, so there's less to hang your hat on in a way.  I'd be interested in a couple of these being turned into full songs down the road, although for the most part, I think these work best as they are.  But you know, I can't imagine getting in the running to become anybody's favorite album or anything.  This is more of a mood; something to nod your head to as you work in your office only to be surprised how much time flew by.  Keeping the tracks short prevents it from slipping into the "and it just goes on like that" sand-trap that plagues a lot of instrumental Hip-Hop, where a basic loop gets run into the ground quick without anyone flowing on top of it.  In fact, it almost feels like one, long song with a lot of change-ups than an EP or LP.  I suppose the single take recording plays a part in that as well. 

4 Tracks & S 20's was originally released in July with a very limited production of just 50 copies, which yes, has already sold out.  But there's a second batch now, that's still available as of this writing from I Had an Accident Records.  The cover is slightly altered (red border = 1st printing, green = 2nd), but it's the same track-listing on both tapes, with the same cool Fostex/ Akai print on the tape itself.  It's a very inexpensive little release; just something to cop when you're looking to catch a relaxing vibe.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Unforgotten Heard

(Some groups are revered as much now as in their hey-day: BlackStar, The Fugees, Tic and Toc... But for whatever undeserved reason, Unspoken Heard seem to have faded somewhat from the conversation.  Well, maybe we can give 'em a little nudge back into the popular discourse.  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Crazy Story of 1979's Other Hip-Hop Lady

You all already know that 1979 is a critically important year for Hip-Hop since it's the first year rappers started to actually release records... Fatback and King Tim III kicked open the door, and suddenly everybody from The Sugarhill Gang to Kurtis Blow came pouring out.  This is real basic, 101 stuff.  And for historical first female rappers on wax, everybody names the obvious ladies: The Sequence, Paulette & Tanya Winley, and of course Lady B.  Lady B's the radio DJ from Philly who released the classic "To the Beat Y'all;" but there's another Lady who rarely gets talked about: Lady D.  We all know those other ladies' stories, but what about Lady D?

She came out with her first and only record in, yes, 1979: the self titled "Lady D" on Reflection Records, a disco label that dipped into Hip-Hop a few times.  In fact, it's a split 12" with "Nu Sounds" by MC Tee, who actually went on to have the longer, more notable career.  No, this isn't the same MC Tee as the guy from Mantronix.  In fact, as a kid, I knew him best as that guy who disappointed me when I bought his record and he wasn't the rapper from Mantronix.  But in retrospect, this MC Tee was alright, too.  He developed a soft, whispery style, signed to Profile Records and put out several indie singles throughout the 80s, some better than others.  Here, though, he doesn't really have the whisper thing going, sounding younger and more fresh-voiced.

But what's notable about this pairing is that they're both rapping over the same funky disco groove with a deep, catchy bassline and a lot of funk guitar.  So it's sort of like that Psycho vs. Iriscience 12", where it's two different artists' take on a single instrumental, although nothing on this record suggests they're trying to make it a competition like those guys were.

Lady D has the A-side and is my preferred version overall.  It's a fun narrative rap that turns into a little message about being wary of guys only out for one thing.  She meets a guy named Eddie (which I assume is a reference to Eddie Andre, who produced this record for his own E.A. Productions) who drives a Mercedes and quickly charms her.  It's mostly just a fun rap about their date... they go to Studio 54 and watch a kung-fu flick ("we saw kung-fu fighters fighting to the end - one fell down and got up again!").  But at the end of the night, he makes a move and she kicks him to the curb, when a chorus of male voices join in for a chorus, "don't try to see her ever no more!"

MC Tee's isn't really a conceptual song like Lady D's; he's just freestyling on the mic.  He's introducing himself and rapping about rapping at first, but it slowly evolves into a rap for the ladies Big Bank Hank style, explaining his love-making skills.  And though he never veers off into Blowfly territory, he takes it surprisingly far: "You hide your pride, you take a ride, you put the grease on the meat, that means I slide your hide."

MC Tee has writing credit for his song, but Lady D's is written by King Ronnie Gee, a rapper with his own singles on Reflection Records who went on to form the group G-Force and contribute to the epic legacy of "Roxanne, Roxanne" answer records.  His single "A Corona Jam" is particularly noteworthy because, besides also coming out in 1979, he's rapping over the same instrumental as Lady D and MC Tee!  In fact, looking at the catalog numbers, his single came out first.  So, really Lady D and MC Tee are using his "Corona Jam" instrumental, that's also of course produced to Eddie Andre.  And did I mention that it's also a split 12"?  The other side is "Spiderap" by an MC named Ron Hunt, and you guessed it... he's also rapping to the same instrumental!

Crazy, right?  Well, Reflection Records put out more rap singles in the early 1980s, but they only had one other in 1979.  It's a novelty record called "Take My Rap... Please" by Steve Gordon and the Kosher Five.  It's basically the same gimmick as The 2 Live Jews and M.O.T. but decades earlier, where the joke is that they're rapping while being Jewish, and stringing along exaggerated stereotypes to sell the premise ("let's boogie until we plotz!").  But that's not the most ridiculous part once you know the whole story.  The most ridiculous part is that he's doing his joke raps over the same instrumental, too!  They use a different series of catalog numbers for this one, but I'm pretty sure, chronologically, this came after the Ron Hunt and Lady D records.  And by 1980, the other Hip-Hop singles on Reflection had new, unique instrumentals.  But it's crazy that for a whole year, this label just kept on releasing rap songs over that one, damn track!

So I guess that's why we don't hear about Lady D these days... she was just one in a long line of rappers hired to record alternate versions of the same record.  But she was pretty cool, and hers was better than most - or even arguably all - of the other guys' who got to take their rap careers further.  Why not her?  Just another indication of how it's always harder for women in the industry, I suppose.  But I wish we could at least find out what the D stood for.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Original Goodfella Gangster Rapper

I have a bit of a fascination with The Unit, by which I mean the third iteration of The Flavor Unit, where Queen Latifah finally and truly ran the classic legacy into the ground.  You know the deal already I'm sure; I've written about it before: first you had the 80s, with DJ Mark the 45 King producing a seemingly endless series of records, mostly on Tuff City, with a whole pack of strong MCs, which included Latifah as the "Princess Of the Posse."  Then, generation two in the 90s, when Mark's drug problems drove him out and Latifah took over with manager Shakim, forgoing most of the original members, letting only a handful hang on as she made deals with all sorts of big, established names like Heavy D, D-Nice and The Almighty RSO, all of whom were also quickly forgotten after the explosive debut of Naughty By Nature (not counting The New Style).  It was definitely way more commercial, but still a lot of good stuff.  Finally, there was the third wave in the 2000s, where she dropped the "Flavor" and signed a whole pack of new jacks and the whole thing was a corny disaster where they dressed in matching outfits and danced around imitating Bad Boy (they even made a "Benjamins 2002").  That disaster is what's fascinated me.

Partially because, after all, it wasn't 100% garbage.  They had DR Period producing for them, and several of those artists were perfectly average, not terrible, and might've even made a few notable records under completely different circumstances.  Storm P went on to put out a single on Fully Blown, a label I like, though I've never actually heard that one; and Rowdy Rahz actually had a couple 12"s under his belt before joining The Unit.  But then you had these other guys really diving headfirst into every early 2000s cliche with corny lines and no impressive bars between them.  And weirdest of all, you had this group called Confidential.

If you remember The Unit's only video and single, The Confidential guys are split up.  First is the rowdy DMX-sounding dude who looks like a pro wrestler.  Apparently, he's from Body Count and went on to play in other rock bands after this stint in his career?  And then best/ worst of all, is this utterly wild final verse where the song stops so they can do a skit where one of the supporting cast members from The Sopranos, and always played a gangster in movies like Carlito's Way and The Jerky Boys - he was a bit player in Goodfellas - to introduce the final MC, this white guy who raps essentially about being a Martin Scorsese character, full mafia cliche.  In fact, it turns out his name is G Fella (get it?), and the 100% Hater Proof liner notes explain their whole schtick as venturing "into mafia territory, where no rap artist has dared to go."  He has lines like, "Leave 'em sleepin' with the fishes like Hanks in the Splash."  And on the album they go even further with it on their song "Calzone."  Oh boy.

And being so fascinated, I've of course googled these guys.  Confidential as a group (which also apparently included other members Chiqui Tin, E Que and Lou E. Fingaz) didn't last longer than The Unit project.  But look on Youtube, and G Fella's never stopped making mafia-style music.  He even has another video with that guy from The Sopranos made, like, then years later.  He's got songs like "Guido Christmas," "Guido Wonderland," "Guido," "G Thing," "12 Days Of Guido Christmas," "G Fella's Christmas," "G'd Up," "Mobbed Up," "Mob Wives" and "10 Mob Commandments."  Sensing a theme?  And yeah, of course that last song's rapped over Biggie's classic beat.  He also has a bunch of tribute songs, including more with Biggie, Big Pun, 2Pac and Derek Jeter.  He has "official" songs for The Yankees, The Jets and The Rangers.  It's not just over a decade of stuff on his channel, he's got multiple collaborations and a super group called The Vintage Dons with a couple other mafia-themed gangster rappers, calling themselves, "THE PIONEERS OF THIS ITALIAN HIP HOP!!"  Guys, I have dived so deep into this rabbit hole.

But this got me thinking, are they really the pioneers of this?  Has no rap artist dared to go here before?  If you readers know me at all, you know that's just the sort of thing I can't leave called out.  Of course, Italian Hip-Hop has existed before, but that's fine.  We all know they don't mean actual Italian artists in Italy rapping in Italian, which there's a whole packed scene of going all the way back to the 80s.  They mean this heavy-handed mafia guido stereotype stuff, and this 2002 debuting G Fella definitely didn't start that either.

That's right, this was all just a crazily round-about intro for me to talk about Goodfella Mike G, who's absolutely been in the same lane years earlier, first appearing on wax in 1996.  And even he wasn't really the pioneer.  We had Tony D digging deep into all that on a couple of songs, most notably 1993's "La Cosa Nostra," who packs the song with cheesy references to famous Italians from Joe Buttafuoco to Body By Jake and drops lines like, "it's only right for me to say 'mama mia papa pia;' you suckers get tossed like dough at a pizzeria!  Holy-moly ravioli roly-poly, I'm not Mr. Hand and of course I'm not Spicoli. Fags at the coffee wearing wigs and mascara while I'm home eatin' mama's mussels marinara.  I like Italian hoagies but I don't call it a hero; I'm down with Joe Pesci and his boy Robert DeNiro."  And speaking of Joe Pesci, he made his own Italian mafia rap record (no, honestly, he did) called "Wiseguy" under the alias Vincent Laguardia Gambini, his character name from Goodfellas.  That was in the 90s, too (1998).

Hell, there was actually a group called The Guido MC's (Matt "The Horse" Wiseguy and Franky Flash) who made a record called "Guido Rap" in 1987, which sampled the famous Godfather riff.  They changed their name to Organized Rhyme and continued to drop all the Italian guido references with the one and only DJ Doc on production.  Even earlier than that you had Sir Rapsalot featuring The Mobsta Three, with members Edward G, Humphrey B and Jimmy C mixing old school mafia cliches with Hip-Hop references while doing silly old timey impressions of Robinson, Bogart and Cagney, respectively.  Though in their case, I'm pretty sure they weren't actually Italian; in fact I rather suspect it was The Urban Lord Posse clowning around.  So not even considering the myriad of MCs dressing up like mafia dons for the music videos like Eric B and Rakim, or naming themselves after Al Capone, John Gotti, etc; or tellers of old school mafia tales from Kool G Rap to Scarface, or the bajillion and one gangsta punchlines referencing The Godfather and Goodfellas everybody and their uncle has made...  Even discounting all the songs like "Good Fellas" by Jake the Flake or "Good Dwellas," or groups like The Untouchable Goodfellas and The Notorious Goodfellas, and just strictly limiting it specifically to Italian Americans who built their entire rap personas around stringing along every guido/ mafia cliche in the book...  Even then, this was tired, old territory. 

But it was at least a little fresher when Mike G got to it.  Mike got his start as part of The Soul Kid Klik, appearing on their first single in 1996, the dope posse cut "Mortal Kombat."  Mike's doing his mobster character even on that, though nobody else is, which is interesting.  He stands out because he kinda sounds like a cartoon character with his exaggerated accent talking about how "the flow's mafioso."  But that didn't stop him from putting out the second record on Soul Kid Records as his solo single, "Strictly Dago."  If you don't know, "dago" is an old school Italian slur.  Klik producer G-Clef, an in-house producer at Tuff City who's made dozens of those sample compilation" LPs they used to produce like crazy, slowed things downed and added some more classic gangster movie music to create a silly but genuinely funky track.  And it's just an endless stream of guido mafia references, "making you an offer you can't refuse, like Don Corleone," "since I'm a slow guinea I'll take the chicken tetrazzini," "I'm hard hitting the Mean Streets like Martin Scorsese," "I'm the spaghetti eatin', wine drinkin', ill dago man," "you better go pull your guns, trooper, because when I swing by, I'm like Pesci, super" and so on.

So you can't take it too seriously, but it's genuinely pretty smooth and a bit of an ear-worm, making great use of a fun Biz Markie "Goin' Off" sample for the hook ("and I don't eat spaghetti without the meat sauce").  You can't hate it; it's a cool track and Mike G rides it well.  Also on this 12" is a remix of "Mortal Kombat," which doesn't improve much on the original; but is probably there more to lend Mike G the credibility of his crew.  And there's another track called "Two Guinnies With Soul" where Clef, who's also Italian American, takes the mic up to duet with Mike.  It's sort of more of the same with plenty of "fuhgedaboudit"s and references to guys like Pacino and DeNiro.  But it's more of a straight, raw Hip-Hop track with some references dropped into more traditional battle rhymes.  And Clef has a more straight-forward delivery.

You know, it's a weird thing.  They're selling an over-the-top unreal persona on the one hand, but both Mike G and G-Fella are clearly interested in making quality music and showing off their genuine rap skills for us.  I'm half Italian myself; I'm definitely not trying to suggest there's anything foolish about people with Italian ancestry including that in their lyrics, but to some degree at least, they're playing it for laughs.  Mike G's bars are a series of punchlines where the stereotyped references are the joke ("they call me Grande Provolone, a.k.a. The Big Cheese" isn't a serious gangsta rap flex); and the lines get very fuzzy between these guys and acts like Chingo Blingo or The 2 Live Jews - at what point exactly are we meant to regard them as legitimate artists, as opposed to novelty acts?  Even Rappin' Duke or Sheep Doggy Dogg clearly tried to make their music as good as possible, but I wouldn't say they were trying to pass themselves off as credible acts to be taken seriously beyond the initial joke of their personas.  But The Soul Kid Klik and The Unit weren't pushing their guys for laughs.  I guess it's just meant to be lightly tongue in cheek, like that Tony D song.

I'd say it works as a single.  "Strictly Dago" is humorous, the other two songs are less (if not 0%) gimmick.  But then Mike G went on to release a whole album.  It's called Time To Make the Pasta, and with songs like "Wise Guyz," "Fredo's Dead" and "Looking For Mr. Goodfella's," it's just blown way overboard.  I'm fine with not taking things too seriously and rocking with "Strictly Dago," but this is like when Rappin' Duke made two comeback singles and an entire LP.  The gag doesn't stretch that far.  And it's not like this is just his honest-to-god, natural persona and I'm giving him a hard time for innocently being himself.  Before he was Goodfella Mike G, he was just regular Mike G, a member of the new jack swing rap group 4PM on Reprise Records that Farley Flex was producing.  He had that deep voice and smoother flow even then, but he definitely wasn't this character he created on Soul Kid Records.

Anyway, his career didn't end there.  He had a recurring role on the first season of HBO's Oz in 1997, and he continued to appear on Soul Kid Klik records as a full-fledged member where he still maintained the Goodfella persona ("yo, I want him dead, face down in manicotti").  And if you're a fan, here's a real treat: somebody's uploaded a music video he made for an unreleased song called "Fuggedaboutit" onto Youtube.  He feels a little more in on the joke than G-Fella.  At the end of the day, I'm glad to have this record in my crates; I do like Mike G.  In small doses.

Update 8/17/20: Major thanks are due to rlydoe on Twitter for this update, for rightfully pointing out a key absentee in this discussion: a Bronx rapper called The Shark.  Now, I was vaguely familiar with him, basically just for a couple records he made with with Raekwon and Fat Joe in the late 90s and early 2000s.  And I even came across him during my latest dive, because he's also a part of that Vintage Dons group.  But I initially thought I was doing him a favor by leaving him out.  Because like I said, I'm not trying to suggest there's something wrong with Italians including their heritage in their music, like The Lordz of Brookyn (though even their debut record cover, if you'll recall, was a mock pizza box with the cartoon chef), and this guy really wasn't putting on that "Oh-a boy-a, At'sa spicy meatball" tone with his music.  He was doing more serious, hardcore gangster rap, much like Kool G Rap's Giancana stuff, except genuinely Italian.  But after giving The Shark a second look now, I see that I really can't make up a title like The Original Goodfella Gangster Rapper without mentioning someone who has a strong claim on such a crown.  Honestly, I didn't realize how far he went back.  His first record was in 1996, too, and if you weren't sure if his inclusion was worth making such a fuss over, let me tell ya: it was called "Italiano" on Italiano Records.

It's produced by some guy named Wize Guy (because of course) and Terror Squad affiliate Rated R who've actually crafted a terrific, dark track.  Lyrically, it's the long stream of references you should expect by now if you've read this far: "when we go to war, hit the mattress, or I'll be sippin' Saki with Gus Farace.  Pullin' drive-bys on a Kawasaki; chillin' on my jet ski up in Orchard Beach.  Yo, my peeps got it locked for San Gennaro Feast: we own Italian restaurants, fine wine and veal.  One love to Fat Joe; the shit is real.  This goes out for the fans, for all my racketeers in the can and my cousins on the lam.  For crime, I take a stand with a mic in my hand.  'Bout time the industry heard a real white man."  He's got a respectable hardcore flow, though, that lives up to the track, and at least he isn't lifting all of his rhymes from a pizzeria menu.  I read a comment labeling all this stuff a subgenre called "Pasta Rap."  Anyway, "Italian" was just his debut; The Shark's gone one to put out a whole grip of 12"s, a full-length album, including "Forget About It," "It's Over" and "Country Club" with JoJo Pellegrino.

Yeah, if I'm going to reach back and pick up The Shark for this post, I also absolutely have to talk about JoJo, who's another member of The Vintage Dons.  I pretty much only know him as the guy who did "Bah Dah Bing, Bah Dah Boom" on Skribble's album, but he actually dates back to 1996, too!  Having all these guys come out the same year makes it nearly impossible to judge who came first, although I don't think it's a case of anyone ripping the other off.  I'm sure it's absolutely no coincidence that they all immediately follow Raekwon's wave-making Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album, when the whole Wu -Tang Clan adopted their "Wu Gambino" names, and even Nas felt compelled to add Escobar to his moniker.  In fact, The Shark sampled the hook for "Italiano" directly from "Knowledge God."  So to try and say Mike G got it from The Shark or The Shark got it from JoJo is to miss the fact that they're all the sons of Lou Diamonds.

So now anyway, JoJo didn't actually have any records of his own until years later, although he did briefly sign to Loud Records in the early 2000s for one single called, predictably, "FoGedAboudDid."  But in 1996 he was a part of a little known group called Mafioso Chapter who put out a 12" called "Crime Family," with fellow members Pino Pesci and Casablanca.  Despite those names, though, this is another credible track, more akin to "Italiano" than "Strictly Dago."  Lyrically, it's a little weaker, but basically more of the same: "Pesci, I be the one in the mix.  Catch me chillin' with the honeys and the tricks.  Sippin' champagne in my private air-o-plane, Gucci Lucci while I'm rubbin' on your coochie.  Luciano, Capone-type of fellow, I'm mellow, Italian bitches screamin' hello.  Wanna take a ride in my limousine?"  That was the Chapter's only single before they split up, and JoJo didn't go on to build an extensive vinyl catalog like The Shark, but he's continued to make new music online, too.  Just last month he posted his latest video, a remake of Fat Joe's "Flow Joe," where he's still rhyming "Sinatra" with "pasta."  Gotta love it.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Wordburglar Vs The Grouch

Wordburglar's one of those artists who's always pinged just on the outermost edges of my radar.  For example, The Bassments of Badmen was a must-have late 90s compilation album I eagerly hunted down for its early appearances by underground Canadian artists like The Sebutones, Jorun and others.  Wordburglar was on Bassments Volume 2, which I never actually copped.  And he's done a bunch of guests spots with artists I've listened to over the years; he just somehow never quite landed on a project I bought.  He's always been a "yeah, I know who he is" guy, though I've never actually heard any of his music until now.

If you haven't heard him either, well, I've got his two latest albums on CD here and he's really dug his heels into the style of 90s punchline raps.  Personally, I'm glad we've moved beyond the constant dad joke similes and arbitrary pop culture references, but if you've been pining for that era, boy, have I found the guy for you.  So how much of that is a criticism depends on you.  For me, he's way too jokey.  Humor's always played a critical role in Hip-Hop, all the way back to DJ Hollywood rapping poon-tang before Hip-Hop had even been committed to vinyl.  It's just a question of degree.

And to Wordburglar's credit, he doesn't sacrifice his rhythm and flow just to stuff in as much superficial cleverness as possible, like some rappers I could name.  Nor does he come with that too familiar, self-satisfied tone pointing out that how he's better than conventional rappers who always rap about bling, hos, and whatever other stereotypes.  He just presents himself as an affable guy rapping about whatever nerdy content he likes, and has more of a classic B-boy sound to his music.  His bars are carefully written and he's clearly mastered all the fundamentals long ago.  Like, the thing about most of those rappers in that Nerdcore For Life documentary is that they were mostly terrible amateurs with no ear for, or interest in, music, who were just trying to sell us on the novelty of their subject matter being comic books and after school cartoons.  Wordburglar's actually a adept MC who just happens to also be rhyming about comic books and after school cartoons.

So Rhyme Your Business is the first and his sixth album, and after a silly opening skit reminiscent of De La Soul's first album, the punchlines are flying right from the very start, "saying I don't fire fully? That's like Melania claiming to stop cyberbullies."  Every line is another simile.  "The rap addict, mad rabid Cujo, we're not the same dog, like Goofy to Pluto."  Or "[i]f you're not on my page, please, make like a tree on maternity... leave!"  Oy vey.  And that's just from the first song; it goes on like that, "something's afoot, and it's not the thing on my leg, so let me mix it to this beat like an omelette egg."  For his next album, I'd like to see him tackle a few self-imposed challenges, like not to use the word "like" once.  I think it might really help.

Not that it's all Catskills Rap.  Battle and skill flexing punchlines are one thing, but we dive into real nerdcore content as well.  I grew up with the cartoon and toys, and I still had to google to understand the title "Wrong Ralph Pulaski."  Wordburglar, we learn, has a serious dedication to GI Joe raps.  He already made an entire album of it, in fact, called Welcome To Cobra Island.  But silly as it is, committing to a narrative makes the song more engaging.  The same goes for another album highlight, "Verbserker," where he dons the persona of a Conan-like berserker in a Dungeons & Dragons-style world ("in times of brawls and war, I'm the guy you send a giant falcon for.  And if dying's your wish, I got a hungry pet that's a dinosaur fish"), incorporating cinematically atmospheric production and using the humor more creatively.

There are a few noteworthy guests as well.  "Used Crate of Mind" features Peanuts & Corn's Birdapres, and about half his Backburner crew show up for the posse cut "The 2nd Last Song."  The one that'll draw the most attention is surely Esoteric on "Damage Control."  It features some killer LL Cool J samples being cut up Uncle Fes (Fes and DJ Irate's turntablism contribute to the consistently impressive production on both albums).  I just wish they didn't waste the opportunity by doing nothing but name-dropping Marvel characters.  Recognizing a string of references just isn't all that engaging on its own... I thought we all learned that from that terrible Ready Player One movie.  The last song on the album, "Barter In Nostalgia," tells us he's at least self aware.

It's easy to be put off by all this.  I was.  But I have to say, what is probably Rhyme Your Business's best song, "Make Fun Not Bore," makes a strong case for everything he's doing here: "In the discog, nothing is boring.  Never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of snoring.  Buzz a beat like Kyle Lowry.  In an audio medium, you can hear me smile loudly.  Rowdy, Roddy Piper, kinda troublesome.  Styles so fresh I get ID'd buying bubblegum.  (How do you stay so young?)  Well, probably because mentally I believe I'm twenty-three and dress like I'm seventeen.  And by any means put fun number one, by (w)rapping all around you like a cummerbund."  How mad can you really be at his good natured attitude, just opening up about what he likes and trying to spread joy?

Album #7, SpaceVerse, is more singularly focused on sci-fi IP raps.  The opening cut drops endless Star Wars references over a loop of the official score, like that Walkmen record.  "From Earth" stands out as a more original concept, where he inverts the tradition of telling us extraterrestrial rhymes to instead explain our planet to space aliens.  There are Transformers and Star Trek songs... and I think one is Dr. Who (I recognize the term "Sonic Screwdriver," but I haven't seen the show enough to be sure that's what the whole song's about).  Star Wars comes back for songs called "The Mos Eisley Rap Show," "Remember the Hoojibs" and "Dude Where's My At-At At?"  Kool Keith appears on a song called "Space Defense Force" because of course he does.

Several of the songs on here (five, to be specific) are remixes of older songs.  For example, the original "Angels and Monsters" was on More Or Les's 2013 album Bigger On the Inside, which the liner notes helpfully point out each time.  I guess one goal of this album is for Wordburglar to collect a bunch of guest spots he's done in recent years, though also giving them a new spin for the completists who'd already had them all.

Speaking of the liner notes, this album also gives you a helpful statement about each song.  Well, they're more fun than helpful, I suppose.  For "Torontaun," it says, "[g]rowing weary of the constant galactic battles being waged on his frosty homeworld, Torontaun packed up and moved to Toronto in search of life, love and warmer temperatures!"  If you don't already know that a tauntaun is the camel-like creature from The Empire Strikes Back, though, you're still left in the dark.  And tauntaun's one of the easy ones.  Like I said, I grew up on all this Transformers/ Star Trek stuff, and a number of these songs still have me feeling like I have no idea what the heck this guy is on about.  So, I'd say Rhyme Your Business is the more accessible album, and SpaceVerse is for the more dedicated fan looking for deeper cuts.

Also, fans who also respect Hip-Hop's vinyl legacy - or those who just want an easy way to add the biggest marquee guest appearances without springing for two whole albums - will want to look out for his latest 7" single, too.  It takes from both albums with his Esoteric collaboration on side A, and the song with Kool Keith and Mega Ran on the B-side.  It's on Black Buffalo Records, the same label that did Buck 65's latest LP, and comes in a colorful picture cover.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Please Do Not Disturb Werner... He Already Is!

Last year, I made a video trying to cover all of the recent Luke Sick albums... there's been a bunch since; I haven't even been able to get my hands on all of them, and I'm pretty damned dogged.  You see, they press so few copies (in this case: 50), they sometimes sell out now in a matter hours, and before you even learn they exist, you've missed out on them for good.  It's like a maddening attempt to shake us loose, a high speed chase where they cut across traffic and race down blind alleys to leave their fans in the dust.

But I am dogged. You may remember a brief moment in that video where I mentioned a rare, limited cassette of a fourth Disturbers album called Infidel Producer.  I flashed a small photo of the cover I grabbed online and figured I'd have to leave it at that.  But I never actually let go of the bumper, and well, I finally found a copy.  Turns out there's a vinyl single, too.

Here's the story.  This isn't a new Disturbers album, except in the sense that it wasn't released until last year.  But according to the liner notes, it was recorded in the "early 2000s."  And this time the line-up's a little different.  It's still Luke Sick as the front-man of course.  But this time Curator only produced one song out of the twenty-one tracks included here.  This time the music man is Son Tiff, who produced a lot of Hoop Legg.  He also produced a little of Negusa Negast and Go Hogwild under the name Tiff Cox.

So I think the first question that pops up with any Disturbers album is what it's like?  Is it more rock than Hip-Hop?  Is it a junk drawer collection of demo scraps?  Well, my first impression is that this has a more polished feel than previous Disturbers projects.  Maybe credit for that should go to master Bay producer Deeskee, who freshly mastered all this music.  Nineteen is a lot of songs for a single album, and as you can guess, you've got some short ones and strictly instrumental stuff mixed in, though no skits.  Tiff plays a lot of guitar and stuff on here, but it does have a smoother than previous Disturbers albums.  And yeah, as a strict head, this is satisfyingly Hip-Hop, with lots of tight breaks, some classic samples and Luke is killing it on the mic.

But there is still a raw, first draft quality to the album.  "Money To Burn" has a funky beat, but it feels like they're just playing around laying different vocal samples (particularly a Stetsasonic line they keep repeating) and bits over the track rather than turning it into a proper song.  The opening song sounds dope once Luke finally raps on it, but he just has one short verse at the end of a four minute track.  The last song, "Pre-Party (Swamp Boogie Remix)" is credited to Jason Slater of 3rd Eye Blind, and more pertinently, Brougham.  But Swamp Boogie is a producer who's been credited on Negusa Negast and even Retired.  So, has SB always been an alias of Jason Slater?  That's a fun bit of trivia to discover if it's true.  Anyway, the remix isn't very far removed from the original; it just feels like the same beat remastered with more bass and reverb.  Throwing two very similar versions of the same song definitely contributes to Infidel Producer's "and the kitchen sink" attitude.

But apart from two country-ish songs that feel tacked on at the end, I'd say this is the most accessibly Hip-Hop and easily listenable Disturbers album of them all.  Whatever ideas Luke is trying to communicate on "Daydreamin'," if any, are utterly mystifying, but it sure sounds fresh.  There's a ton of fun throwback and homages to the old school inextricably mixed with Luke's defiantly grimy, Bay area bar-stool aesthetic.
And then we come to the single, a 7" lathe cut limited initially to just 26 copies.  Then there was a second pressing, which I think was another 26?  I'm not even sure which pressing I have.  Like I said, it's like they're trying to sneak everything past us.

Anyway, the two songs here aren't actually produced by Son Tiff, but by AC415N a.k.a. Alex 75 of the legendary San Francisco Street Music.  And I don't think these two songs are from the same early 2000s recording sessions.  The first song is "Creep Player (Indian Summer Remix)," and "Creep Player," if you'll recall, is from Luke's 2019 album with DJ Raw B.  This remix slows and calms it down, giving it that kind of vibe for when you're splayed out on the couch and don't wanna get up.  I thought he gave it new lyrics at first, because the feeling is so different, but when you go back and compare, no it's the same content, just totally transformed.  And the B-side, "Cold Clutch," is some ultra-smooth west coast player shit.  The "Creep Player" remix is cool, but this song really steals the show.

Both of these tracks are also mastered by Deeskee, but otherwise I'd say this is more of just a new Luke Sick single than anything Disturbers specific.  But maybe Son Tiff had a hand in the instrumentation?  Definitely nab a copy if you can find one.  Who knows, maybe they'll do a third pressing, or they'll quickly throw up a few extra copies on one of their many bandcamps.  You just have to watch 'em like a hawk.