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.