Thursday, April 1, 2021

Vocal Vision On Patrol

(Another fun one for April Fool's Day: The LA Dream Team get a little help from a human walkman.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Buyer's Guide For Nick Wiz's Cellar

After Debonair P announced the shuttering of his label Gentleman's Relief Records this month, I wanted to make a post in commemoration.  But not a sappy farewell, something practical.  Well, I covered a couple of the early Nick Wiz Cellar Sound compilations that No Sleep started putting out in 2008 (Cellar Sounds Vol 1, Cellar Sounds Vol 2 & Cellar Selections Vol 1, and Cellar Selections Vol 3).  In that last post, written a full decade ago, I worried about the series coming to an end.  Lordy, if I only knew!  No Sleep continued the collections through 2017... in conjunction with GRR as of 2013, and they wound up practically taking over completely, continuing to release new volumes all the way through 2020.

And it's frickin' complicated to keep track of.  There are multiple numbered series running across dual formats at the same time, with missing tracks, exclusive bonus tracks and more.  I mean, it's great; but I bet even serious fans couldn't say with confidence whether or not you have all the songs if you have all of the CDs but none of the vinyls, right?  Or vice versa?  Or how about even tougher questions, like, do you need the vinyl or CD version of Cellar Extras Vol. 1 if you already owned all the Cellar Selections, but not the Cellar Sounds?  In fact, a big part of the motivation behind this post is that I wasn't sure myself, so I'm working this out for my benefit as much anybody's.  Allow me to share my work.

To start with, there were five double-CD sets of Cellar Sounds, while Cellar Selections was a series of double LPs, 10 in all, that essentially picked favorites to preserve on wax.  You may recall that SOME of the Cellar Selections EP had exclusive tracks.  At least at first.  Let's break all of those down:

Pudgee's "Get Down" was originally a vinyl exclusive on Cellar Selections Vol. 1, but it wound up on the third series, known as Cellar Extras (Vol. 1, the CD), and his "Swing It Like This" was an exclusive on Selections Vol 4, but wound up on Extras Vol. 2 Shabaam Sahdeeq's "My Words," Madhouse's "For the Hardcore," Ran Reed's "No Games" (w/ UG) and Native Assassins' "Act Like U Know" were all exclusives on Selections 5, but wound up on Extras 2Selections 6 had Dizaster's "Infiltrate" and Shadows In the Dark's "The Sequel" as exclusives, but they turned up on Extras 1Selections 7 had Emskee's "Bring It," which wound up on Extras 1 and Quannie's "Uplifted," Ran Reed's "Murderous Flow (First Remix)" and Shabaam Sahdeeq's "Knockin' Heads," which were all on Extras 2.  It also has Mad House's "I Know You Want It," which remains an exclusive to this day.

Now Selections 8 had a whole ton of exclusives, at least before the Extras CDs.  There was Shabaam Sahdeeq's "Currency," APB's "No More Games," the Cella Dwellas' "Rhyme No More," Ran Reed's "The Cellar Session," Imperial's "Mine Is Mine," Mad House's "How Deep" and Zoodizoo's "Theme" until they were brought back for Extras 1.  And Dizaster's "Hard Body" Donny Dizzle's "Put 'Em Up High," Emskee's "One By One," Martyse's This Is For the...," Zoodizoo's "Partners In Crime," Pryme Tyme's "Y'all Didn't Know" and LSD's "Flip the Script" were all featured on Extras 2.  Meanwhile, only one of Selections 9's exclusives, Ran Reed's "We Got the Raw," turned up on an Extras CD (vol 1). But it has Ran Reed's "Tell Me," which is still fully exclusive now (at least to the Cellar series).

 And Selections 10 had no exclusives.

Let's summarize, because that turned into more of an overwhelming list than I'd anticipated.  In short, most but not all of the Cellar Selections 2LPs had exclusive tracks not featured on the Cellar Sounds CDs.  But the Cellar Extras scooped most of those up, leaving only one exclusive song on Vol 7 and two on Vol 9.  Meanwhile, despite ten double LPs worth of Selections released over the course of a full decade, that still leaves a whopping 62(!) songs exclusive to the CDs.  Or 61 if you don't Kid Capri's brief intro to Vol 1.

Got it?  Nope, not so fast!  It gets even more complicated, because there's a completely different Cellar Extras vinyl version, with a completely different track-listing.  The official description reads, "10 more totally unreleased 90s gems featuring artists including the Cella Dwellas, Pudgee, Darc Mind and more."  But they're only "totally unreleased" if you don't count the CDs.  The idea is that it basically scoops up all of the additional songs from the two Cellar Extras CDs and puts them on wax, leaving just 54 songs still exclusive to the CDs.  But no, of course it isn't that simple either.  Because first, that still leaves three songs still exclusive to the Cellar Extras CDs, including two Rakims.  Everything on the Cellar Extras LP is on the Extras CDs.

But, it's less simple still!  Because many of those exclusive songs are exclusive to the many Cellar series releases, but have been released elsewhere.  For example, Ran Reed's "Tell Me" from Selections Vol 9 was on his Respect the Architect compilation, which is essentially a sister project No Sleep and GRR put out during all of this.  But Selections 7's Mad House song, "I Know You Want It," is really exclusive.  A lot of the CD exclusives are universal exclusives, but not all.  For example, Rakim's "Man With a Gun" was on No Sleep's Rakim vinyl EP The Cellar (where'd they come up with that title?) from 2008.  And because Sounds Vol. 1 focused on both rare (or even not so rare) and unreleased songs, a bunch of those had been previously available on past releases throughout the 90s.  But that still leaves anywhere from 5-14 exclusives on each Sounds CD, and 2 and 1 on the Extras CDs, respectively.

And oh!  Did I mention that there's even more??  GRR also put out a fourth series: Cellar Instrumentals, compilations of "timeless productions, including instrumental versions of classic 90s material by the likes of Ran Reed, Pudgee, Rakim and Shadowz In da Dark, plus tracks that were never recorded on back then."  There are two double CD volumes and one double LP volume (also in a picture cover), all of which are limited to 250 copies each.  The CDs have 40 tracks each, and the vinyl has 24, all of which are included in that first 80.  That's nine CD and twelve vinyl collections in total.

It's important to note that the Sounds CDs were a little more widely released, but most of the Selections albums, as well as the Extras record, were limited to just 300 copies.  Vol. 1 was even more limited at 250, and for Vol. 6, they did a thing where 100 were printed on purple and orange wax, while the other 200 were on black.  All came in full picture covers, except Selections 1, which was a sticker cover.

 At the end of the day, if you just want a copy of each song and don't care about format, you need all of the CD sets, plus Selections Vol 7 & 9 and the Extras LP.  If you're strictly a vinyl head, you're going to miss out on a lot, but we should be used to that by now.  It's a shame GRR is closing for many reasons, but one is that the Selections series could've continued for a couple more very welcome volumes.  Probably three, not even thinking about all the other instrumentals... and who knows if Nick Wiz has even more left in his vaults after all this?  After all, I doubt any of us envisioned this series ongoing all the way to 2020 when it started 13 years ago.  So the lesson is, you never know what the future still could hold.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Who Is Uncle Mic Nitro, and Why Did He Go?

So I just received something interesting in the mail.  A new LP called Vincent on Horseback by Uncle Mic Nitro, who I first heard on a Whirlwind D album a couple years ago.  So it's only natural that it'd come out on B-Line Records, but this particular album is a co-release with the mostly old school label Hip Hop Be Bop, which is intriguing.  And according to their press release, Vincent is Nitro's fourth and final album.  Not sure what that's about.  I guess I'm late to this party, but a grand farewell project does sound extra promising.  I mean, just given what I've gathered so far, I wouldn't have expected... nerdcore.

To give you a quick idea, try a few of these lines on for size:
"get the party jumpin' like girls with hop scotch," "my rhymes are big bullies kickin' like the Cobra Kai," "jumpin' in like I'm Jango Fett," "I think you best get to know I kept the flow cold like Eskimos so get to know, bro, who's next to blow," or "venomous, no known antidote, Cobra Kai kickin' all the clowns in the throat."  Yeah, overall it's fairly precious (and yes, those Cobra Kai kickin' lines are from two different songs... he has a "wax on, wax off" gag, too).  Let's dig into a particularly egregious sample.  Now to be fair, before we do, please bear in mind that I've cherry-picked this bit because it stood out to me on the first listen as one of the most annoying moments, not the most typically representative.  So okay:

"Stumble drunkard,

Bump a crowd if they have the hunger;

Smuggle drugs in

Just in case they're a bunch of dumb cunts.

No offense,

But if you took it then you're just admittin'
That you're a dumb cunt,
So touché!
Just forget it or you'll regret it,
'Cause trust me, I'll fuckin' shred it.
The mic is Thor's hammer
Bringin' Armageddon on
Any starry-eyed rapper in a pair of jeggin's.
You're less fly than Mr. Popper's fuckin' penguins!
Give me a pencil and my tendons fill with tension,
Like Dr. Jekyll having a water fight with ten gremlins.
I have to mention,
That after I wrote that last line,
I realized technically it should be ten mogwai.

Nerd disclaimer!
Attention to every detail is vital
On every track you listen to by Mic Nitro."

^That is some straight up Cartoon Network rap, although I guess it's more Hot Karl than MC Frontalot.  Like, remember Wordburglar would do a song about Transformers or Doctor Who... or a whole album about GI Joe?  Here, it's not a concept so much as just scattershot references spread throughout freestyle rhymes.  After that quote, Dr. Jekyll is never brought up again; he's not part of a running theme.  It's all just punchlines.

Either way though, Vincent is reaching out to a particular demographic I don't seem to relate to.  Like, I'm a fan of Gremlins.  I'm old enough to have grown up on it; I know perfectly well why a "water fight" would be a particularly volatile reflection of Jekyll's own plight.  I even recognized Gizmo's tune when they subtly whistled it behind that mogwai line.  On paper, I'm the ideal market for this material.  Except I presume the target audience must get some kind of little thrill every time they catch one of these references, whereas to me they're groaners, evidence of too much TV finally rotting someone's brain.  I just wanna "nope" right out of that twee Mr. Popper's Penguins stuff.

But hey, a country song isn't a bad country song just because you're not a fan of country music.  Having different sensibilities doesn't dictate quality.  Rhymes like "every time I write a bar, I smash through your pi-llar like Princess Diana's car" aren't for me, but somebody out there thinks that's a real humdinger.
  ...Okay, I admit that was sarcastic.  But seriously, it's clear that I'm just not picking up whatever Nitro's putting down here.  I've been spinning it over and over and I couldn't even figure out what the heck the title "Vincent On Horseback" is supposed to mean.

Plus, now that I'm past grouching over this one (admittedly dominant) aspect that irritates me, I've got to tell you, this album has a lot of strong positives going for it.  There are reasons I was able to keep this on rotation all week without going crazy.  "Write" has a lush disco instrumental and somebody named Greg Blackman sings his heart out on it.  You'd have to be made of stone not to bob along to it.  And sure, I have no idea who Blackman is, but there's one guest-spot sure to raise eyebrows: Ced Gee.  He appears on a track called "Bod Gets Slapped Up (Krash Slaughta Remix)" (the original version is available on a separate 7") with a verse that hearkens back to his Critical Beatdown days, and the whole track is a fun homage to those classic Ultra records.  He's still got it!

And there's plenty more.  Specifik provides some hot cuts on the finale of a hyper track called "Zasa," and a producer I'm not familiar with named Ollie Knight provides some fresh, catchy production on tracks like "Where the Monster Is" - an interesting song where Nitro takes on the persona of an expectant mother trapped in an unhealthy relationship - and "Keep Drinking," where he laments his alcoholism.  "New Planet Goons" has a funky track and killer cuts by Jabbathakut, while "Hills Are Alive" switches to some more creative "A Day Like Any Other"-style verbal imagery... though its darker subject matter may be a bit tainted by flippant references to Rambo, Mad Max 3 and Patch Adams.  Finally, "Fuck You" turns a fun, classical sample into a combative attitude-driven anthem for anyone better able to sync with Nitro's wavelength.  Honestly, the only song I dislike in totality and utterly fail to see the appeal of is "Lemonade," which ironically is the lead single.

And no matter where you fall on the spectrum of nerdcore appreciation, one thing you'll definitely be impressed by is the physical release itself.  The vinyl is a shocking neon yellow (neon yellow) in a bright picture/ sticker cover with a stylish inner sleeve.  Theoretically, the sound quality of colored vinyl can be a fraction off, but this is a solid slab that sounds clear and robust.  And if you're really ready to kick it up a notch, there's a limited edition tin that includes the LP, the "Slapped Up" 7" I mentioned earlier (you can also get it separately), a t-shirt you might recognize, a lyrics sheet, face mask(!), prints, stickers and one random copy includes Nitro's personal belt buckle.  Everything about this album feels lush, carefully polished and high budget, in terms of both the production and the presentation.  It's obvious this is a passion project that real care was poured into on every level.  It kinda makes me feel guilty, like my reaction to his rapping is somehow what made the poor guy retire.

I dug his verse for Whirlwind D... Oh well.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

There Might Be a Million Outsidaz

(The Outsidaz are back in the spotlight, I guess, but I'm a little more interested in some of their forgotten history and another member who doesn't get enough notice. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

It's Still Father MC All Day, Ain't a Damn Thing Changed

Wow, looking back, I've only averaged one Father MC post a year since the Trump presidency.  Clearly, there's a direct correlation.  But now it's 2021, time to get back to what I was unquestionably put on this Earth to do: teach the world about Father MC songs.  And I've got a couple obscure ones for you today, I can promise you.  Tell me, gang, are you familiar with Mexican Swedish singer/ DJ Dede?

Dede's real name is Denise Lopez (not to be confused with the American Denise Lopez who was on the Cool As Ice soundtrack), and she's put out a couple albums more recently under that name.  But throughout the early 90s and 2000s, she was signed to Sony and put out four five albums under the name Dede.  The second of which was called I Do and it features not one, but two feature appearances by our man Father MC.

Now, I've got the Japanese CD here.  It's got a couple of bonus tracks not included on the original Swedish or other European pressings of her album.  But none of those feature Father MC or any other rappers, so for our purposes, it doesn't matter which version you get.  Because, I suppose I should point out, she has worked with others besides Father.  In 2018, she did a big music video with MC Lyte.  And if you clicked that link, you just learned that she's not just your standard pop singer who seems to be a big deal overseas but never made a splash here: she also raps.  She raps in 2018 and she raps in 1997.  She definitely sings, too; but rapping is a substantial part of her musical output.  You know, when I first got this of course I skipped right to the Father MC songs and waited to get to the rap portion.  So I was surprised to hear Dede actually rap first.

Apart from that, though, it's largely what you'd expect.  Syrupy but pop R&B songs with sporadic rap verses.  The production, mostly done by two guys named David Kreuger and Per Magnusson, actually isn't too bad, with some smooth samples and crisp drum elements.  It's also the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear Father MC on, catching him right around the time of his dalliances with Luke Records and his various Echo R&B projects.  This album being on Epic/ Sony Records was probably a big check for him.

The first song we find him on is "Make It Right."  Production-wise, this is unfortunately one of the more boring songs on the album.  It helps to have Father's voice come in and add some variety to the proceedings, but I would've much rather heard him on some of the other songs instead.  Clearly, the vibe they were going for here was sexy and smooth.  But it is a strictly Hip-Hop song, with only an anonymous male vocalist crooning very softly in the background near the end of the song.  It's mostly a back and forth between Dede and Father, kicking very whispery raps.

Now, as a die-hard Hip-Hop fan, I do prefer Dede rapping to singing just because that's more up my alley, but I'm not at all reluctant to admit that she's not a particularly good or interesting MC at all.  She's adept at sounding American, which is probably valuable to a certain market, but this is the worst kind of forgettably bland affectation over substance that 90s crossover rap had to offer.  "How you like me now?  I know what's on your mind: dirty thoughts, but I ain't the one to get done.  Fit, I pop five-six, long hair, straight, Chanel jeans on my derriere ... When you was hittin' jack, I'll be spendin' your loochie, pop, 'cause I'm on my payback.  you gets nuthin', frontin' like you hit somethin'."  This was the kind of thing Video LP would air because it was too soft for Rap City but still too rappy for Video Soul.  But it wouldn't even play long on Video LP, because the songs they played tended to be catchier.

It does come alive a little bit when Father MC gets on.  We already heard his voice on the hook and the back-up adlibs, but his verse comes with a bit more energy to it.  Still, he's too caught up in that laid back playa character of that period to impress.  But you can still see there's more creativity put into the words than just strictly dropping cliches. "Now Dede, you dissin' papi, that's a no-no.  I brought you up, I showed you love, bought you mink gloves.  My fur makes you purr, I gave you it all."  He also steers the subject matter further into the tastelessly explicit than I was expecting, "and I don't like the fact that you say I'm lyin' on mine, and if I did, I woulda pimped you with dick."  Anyway, the concept is that they keep accusing each other of lying, but ultimately they will "make it right" by making sweet love or whatever. I think they're hoping if they keep it silky and quiet enough you won't notice how corny it gets.

Anyway, the other song is livelier and more engaging, with a lot of jazzy little horn snippets.  It starts again with that male vocalist (if I could read Japanese characters, I could probably find his name in the booklet) and this time Dede is the the expected, conventional R&B crooning mode.  Well, she does have a short rap hook: "oh baby please, pa, you can call me Dedes, get up from your knees, no need to please.  I freeze as I look at your face, locked up for days; I'm stuck in your place."  But it's essentially a very 90's R&B song with brief rap interjections.  I think the concept is that Dede feels stuck in "the friend zone," but it's a little unclear.  I'm mostly just distracted by how she pluralizes her name to rhyme with "please," "knees" and "please" again.  It's so contrived it's wraps back around to charming.

Anyway, it all comes to a happy ending when Father tells Dede he's been secretly in love with her the whole time, too.  "Dede, let's politic.  Yo, I can't take it no more.  I got a thing for ya ... When ya needed advice, it hurted me to give.  Deep down inside I was your secret love fugitive.  I was ashamed, caught up in the game.  You was my best friend.  All I saw was me and you in the game.  But I got heart, got smart, took a chance to tell."  How sweet can you get?  They both love torturing grammar and rhyming the same words with themselves.  It's actually not so bad until he ramps up the corniness for his big finish: "I could be your lover friend, your homey lover, your hubby who is butter. I say word to my mother."  If you're not editing those closing lines into your wedding vows right now, what are you doing?

But cringey lines aside, "Best Friend" is a more than passable R&B tune of its time.  It sounds better than plenty of records that became legit hits back then.  And the whole album's okay if this is the kind of thing you go for.  Songs like "You're Fine" with the jazzier elements hold up the best, while other tracks like "Get To You" are definitely striving for more of a breakout pop audience.  "Come On Out" borrows from Naughty By Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" in a cute but clumsy way.  I mean, I certainly don't recommend it to anyone reading this blog - I just scored a copy when I found it cheap because I was curious about the Father MC verses because that's the crusade I'm on.  But I can certainly see why Dede has her following.  I wonder if any Swedish fans sought out Father's records after hearing him on I Do.