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.