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.