Tuesday, February 25, 2020

File Under NJ Deep Cuts: Scott Lark Meets PRT

Okay, I was feeling lazy today.  I wanted to go back and listen to a Poor Righteous Teachers song without actually getting up and fetching the record.  So I searched it up online, and it doesn't appear to be anywhere on the 'net.  I mean, there's a listing for it on discogs, the 12" is for sale on a few online shops, and of course it's listed on my PRT page.  But not only does the music not seem to be available anywhere, but there's virtually no information out there about it, including the fact that it's a rare Scott Lark guest spot.  Well, I guess this is the exact kind of situation I started the site for, so hey world, let me tell you about this record.

"Save Me" b/w "Dangerous" is PRT's last record together (Wise Intelligent is, of course, still very active solo), having come out in 2001 on Fully Blown.  Or maybe that should be "Dangerous" b/w "Save Me," since if you look closely at the label scanned above, the "Save Me" side is marked both Side A (on the left) and Side B (at the top).  That's not the only error on the label either (the also list the Street version as Clean and vice versa).  Anyway, "Save Me" / "Dangerous" is the Teachers' only record for them, but Fully Blown was a nice, albeit short lived little label, having put out collectible singles by artists like Chubb Rock, Paula Perry, Prince Po and was responsible for pretty much Scoob Lover's entire post-Big Daddy Kane career.  Throw in the fact that I like this substantially more than PRT's previous indie single on Exit 7A, and yeah, Fully Blown was good stuff.

One thing that might be helping this rise above their 7A stuff is that it's entirely written and produced by PRT, whereas their previous indie material was often credited to unknowns like Mr. Mims and Masada.  Admittedly, you might've spotted The Almighty Scratch Devastator Lyvio G.'s name on the label, but he's just listed as an Executive Producer, which I think just relates his connection to the label overall rather than any musical involvement in the song itself.  Besides the main "Produced and Written by Poor Righteous Teachers" credit, those proper names under the song title are the three members of PRT.  Of course, one would assume that Scott Lark wrote his own verse, so who knows.  I doubt anybody's getting screwed out of bajillions in royalties here no matter how it breaks down.

So yeah, "Save Me."  This definitely sounds like it's from 2001 alright, with this kind of smooth studio pop sound and Culture Freedom's verse especially sounding rather Bad Boy inspired.  And I know, that probably sounds like the last thing you want to hear about a PRT record.  On paper, it's a left-handed compliment, but as a one-off, they make it work for them surprisingly well.  They way each verse rides the rhythm is super catchy, and everybody's wordplay is clever without being saddled with dated punchlines.  Plus, the hook is this brilliant vocal sample loop of Olive Oyl from the Popeye cartoons crying out for help that adds a real, classic/ quirky 45 King element to the song. No, it's not as great as their classic Profile singles, but it's honestly pretty dope.

And Scott Lark has the freshest verse of all, which is saying something, because Wise Intelligent very rarely gets shown up by anybody on a record.  It's all silly lyric bending, with the focus on sounding good rather than saying anything particularly witty or insightful: "bananas, I kick ill stanzas in my pajamas."  That's just the playful nature of the song, and it's hard to be mad at hearing the Teachers cut loose and having a little fun for once.  There's also an uncredited female MC on here (I mean, both guests are uncredited, but I know Scott Lark when I hear him), who probably comes weakest of the bunch, but she still holds up her portion of the song well enough.  If anybody has any idea who that is, please comment; I'd love to know.

Anyway, flip this over and we get another nice one: "Dangerous," which lets them bring back their reggae side.  It's got a more natural sounding instrumental, a sung chorus, and Wise Intelligent deftly bouncing billions of syllables.  If "Save Me" was an amusing excursion, this feels more comfortably at home in the Teachers' wheelhouse.  Who else could reference Amadou Diallo while spitting game to a girl?  It all makes you wish they'd managed to get that Declaration of Independence album they'd been working on out there (were these two songs meant to have been on it, or were they recorded exclusively for Fully Blown? I have no idea), if only to prove they could still do it even without Profile's backing.  And maybe Scott would've received some more shine if his name was actually printed on the jacket credits of an album that made its way into peoples' homes.  Oh well.  That's indie record collecting for ya.  At least this neat little 12" is out there and inexpensive.

Monday, February 10, 2020

It's Already February and I Haven't Written About Father MC Yet?!

Sure, I've already made a post for every single Father MC 12" single there is - all seventeen(!) of 'em.  But that doesn't mean there aren't more 12" singles out there that dedicated Father MC fans ("fathns?" We're still work-shopping it) need in our collections.  In fact, here's one from 1993, which would place it right in Father's final stage as an MCA/ Uptown artist, when he was in his "player" mode, though this particular record's on Ruffhouse/ Columbia and he's actually rhyming more from the perspective of his previous albums, as an earnest lover.  The song is called "Innocent Girl" by Four Sure, the lead single off of their sole album, We Can Swing It.

Yeah, the main motivator for me to buy their tape back in the day was Father MC's appearance, but there's a good chance I would've come around to it anyway, because in 1993, I was eating all that new jack swing R&B stuff up.  And Four Sure were pretty good.  It's funny, if you look 'em up on discogs (they're not even on wikipedia), they only list three members, but obviously they're a four-man group.  Look at their covers, look at their name, come on.  So the complete line-up is actually Joey Elias, Carlos "Budd" Ford, Livio "Anthony" Harris and Rudy Rude, and what's interesting about these guys is that they actually wrote and produced most of their own stuff.

So, real quick about the rest of their album.  Not bad.  They definitely excelled more at the upbeat new jack swing material than the sappier, pure R&B ballad stuff, which just played a little dull.  Like "Try and Find a Way," their only other single, just lacks the passion to get off the ground.  But their ragga intro track "Rough and Wicked" and their title track, which features the only other guest rapper, Def Jef, are pretty fresh.  These guys were at their best singing over hard breakbeats not smoothed out synths.

And "Innocent Girl?"  Well, it's kinda both.  Nice beats and Casio keyboards.  The riff on the chorus is both catchy and cheesy at the same time.  The breakdown's dope, but it was probably too middle-of-the-road to be their introduction to the world.  I mean, I was interested in it as another Father MC vehicle, but it makes the group feel pretty forgettable.  Budd takes the lead vocals, which are nice but unexciting, and the group comes together for the chorus, but they never get the chance to really belt it out or show off any particularly impressive vocal talents.

The song's just about compelling a girl who's "innocent" to take a chance on love.  The music video had a hot model in a bathing suit on a beach wearing glasses and reading a book.  For some reason, the hook said "she wants to rock my world," despite the whole point of the rest of the song seemingly being the exact opposite.  She won't rock Budd's world but he really wants her to.  I'm guessing I've already thought more about this than they ever did.  But then the beat breaks down and Father comes in over tougher part of the track with a contrarian view:

"Well, I'm the love daddy, Father MC,
Here to speak about this L-A-D-I-E.
You wanna know: do I kiss on the thigh?
I said yes I do, but you, hmm, I pass by.
You try to play innocent but I know ya flavor,
I know your whole style and your gimmick as a player.
You wanna seem to be Ms. Nice, but ya fallin',
Your day is here, so prepare to start crawlin'.

What you to do others ain't funny.
I know you ain't pleasin', to me you're teasin', my money.

My sista, can I get a witness?
Strictly for the business, playin' innocent is a sickness."

Now, okay, I know the line "your day is here, so prepare to start crawlin'" is a little too hostile to fall under "romantic."  But that aside, seeing Father come from the PoV as a victim of a woman who's dishonest with his feelings, rather than the uber-pimp fantasy of the ultimate player of women, definitely feels like a return to the more interesting 1991 Father MC.  Of course, the ideal would be a return to the 1988 Stupid Fresh Father MC, but 1991 Father is my second choice.  Not that I'm holding this up as some great verse, don't get me wrong.  It's full of flavor-of-the-month pop slang that sounded dated even when they were current, a cowardly attempt to reference oral sex without actually saying it, and that embarrassing spelling error could rival Warren G's infamous "What's next, what's N-X-E-T?"  But it's still the best part of the song, where it finally wakes up from aits saccharine slumber.

But fortunately, this isn't the whole story.  The 12" has remixes, including one that yes, is superior to the main one in the video and on the album.  Specifically, there are five mixes.  The A-side is your basic stuff: Album, Radio and Instrumental.  The B-side is where it gets interesting.  There's the "Somethin' 4 the People (Innocent Girl Club Mix)" and the "Hip-Hop Mellow Mix."  Well, it says "Mellow Mix" on the sleeve, and "Yellow Mix" on the label, but I assume "Mellow Mix" is correct.  Anyway, the "Mellow/ Yellow" mix is just a shorter edit of the Club Mix that removes Father MC's verse, so we can forget all about that one.

Somethin' For the People were an R&B/ New Jack Swing group that actually have had a much longer career than Four Sure did, and they produced a couple of songs on We Can Swing It (though Four Sure produced the original version of "Innocent Girl" themselves).  And this mix is much funkier, using the classic JB's bassline from "Soul Clap," "Fudge Pudge" and plenty of other bangers ...though for some reason, the example that always pops first into my mind is The Redhead Kingpin's "Dave and Kwamé."  It's more of a genuinely Hip-Hop track than the very 90's R&B original, with the R&B verses spaced further out over the longer, sparser track.  And yes, Father sounds better over it.  There's even a cool piano solo at the end.  I only wish Four Sure had changed up their vocals to go with the track - maybe even tried their hand at rapping - since their parts clash.  But if you just play the second half of the song, it sounds like a proper Father MC record; and in the end, isn't that what we really want?