Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Gucci Xmas

(Wishing you all a very Gucci Xmas with this tough gangsta record by Gucci Steve. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Order To Kaos

Kaotic Style are the Brooklyn duo of Beat Scott and Grand who released a series of hot 12"s throughout the 90s, often on Beat Scott's own label, and often with notable guest spots.  A couple years ago, Dope Folks and Gentlemens Relief Records teamed up to release their sort of unreleased album, Diamond In the Ruff, on vinyl and CD.  I wrote about it here.  But more recently, Dope Folks have come back, this time in partnership with Hip Hop Enterprise, to release a second sort of unreleased Kaotic Style album on vinyl and CD, called Infinity.  It gets a little confusing, so I wanted to break it down here on my site.

The key phrase in that last paragraph is "sort of unreleased."  In the case of Diamond In the Ruff, there was an EP, which was rare but had definitely gotten a release.  But DF and GR doubled the size of it by including a bunch of previously unreleased demo tracks.  GR took the CD version a bit further by including their later 12" tracks on there, too.  And I'm going to the trouble of re-explaining what I already covered in 2018 again because that's sort of what's going on here as well.

In 1991, Kaotic Style released an EP that's generally known as Closer To Your Love, because it doesn't have an actual title printed on it and "Closer To Your Love" is the first song.  But "Infinity" is another song on that EP.  And that EP is kind of what this Infinity album is now.  The Dope Folks LP is ten tracks long, including some of the songs from that EP, including "Infinity" (obviously), "Flavor Freestyle" and "Close To Your Love."  Kaotic Style really come off on "Infinity," so you can see why they chose to make it the title track here; it's one of their greatest songs, and doesn't rely on the assistance of any more famous rappers.  So this EP's got those three songs, but it also leaves several tracks off, though fans might not mind too much, because that EP was packed with love songs, which weren't really Kaotic Style's strong suit.  So, no, we don't get "Love Letters," "Love the One You're With" or "Let's Get It On."

In their place, we get both tracks from their 1992 single "Check it Out" (which uses a striped down version of the "Inner City Blues" bassline in a funky, NY kind of way) b/w "We Got the Flavor," and "Whutcha Want" (here spelled "Whatcha Want") from their 1995 12".  So it gives this album an offbeat dichotomy, mashing together two separate eras, where the guys have two very distinct styles and sounds.  Because in addition to that one '95 track, the real jewels of this Infinity album are four previously unreleased tracks (the labels' official descriptions claim five and seven, but they're both wrong) from their '94-'96 era.  And one of those in particular really blew my mind.

"What We Came To Do" features guest verses by Big Scoob a.k.a. Scoob Lover, and The Headless Horsemen, the wickedest horrorcore group that never really got their proper shot.  What a brilliant but bonkers line-up!  As soon as I saw that in the track-listing, I knew I had to have Infinity, even though I was already a KS fan and would've wanted it anyway.  The Horsemen aren't really doing horrorcore per se here, so it basically plays as a super ill posse cut, where the mic is passed down the line twice, meaning everyone gets a satisfying second verse.  It's easily the best song after "Infinity."  "Get Down" is a grimy, dirty twist on UTFO's "SWAT" featuring The Jaz.  It works better than you'd think.  "Constantly" features a crew called the Krooks, who manage to be even more rugged and wild than Kaotic Style.  And the last song is called "The Realness."  It uses essentially the same instrumental - certainly the same sample chopped the same way - as Master Ace's "Brooklyn Battles" (and PreCISE MC's "Don't Even").

And like Gentlemens Relief before them, Hip Hop Enterprises has added a couple more 12" songs as bonus tracks for the CD version.  This time they've included "Bro for Bro" with Smoothe da Hustler and Trigga the Gambler, and "Mad Hardcore" featuring The Cella Dwellas, Heltah Skeltah and MOP.  Those are the two other songs from that 1995 12" single with "Whutcha Want," so it rounds that out.  And that works, because vinyl heads will probably already have the 12" (or can easily cop it), but it will be CD buyers' first opportunity to get these great posse cuts.

It's all been remastered and sounds great, except "The Realness," which sounds like its from a pretty dusty source.  It's still very listenable, but you'll definitely notice the noise in the track.  So Dope Folks has pressed up 300 copies of their LP, 50 on yellow (yellow) wax and 250 on classic black.  The Hip Hop Enterprise doesn't seem to be limited to a set run, but gives the album a cool picture cover by Spek the Architek.  Both are still available from their labels, so it's just up to you to decide which format suits you.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Return of Buck 65

(Like the title says, Buck 65 is back.  With three albums even.  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Time Culture Freedom Escaped To Philly

Today's record is a tight little Philly EP, notable for featuring the lone solo outing for Poor Righteous Teachers' Culture Freedom.  Obviously, Wise Intelligent is the famous front man of the crew who's gone on to release a whole line of solo projects.  But here on Nailah Records' Hand To Hand Combat Volume 1 we see that in 2003, Culture Freedom took a stab, too.  It's just this one song, but who knows, if this label had taken off (and the "Volume 1" of the title certainly suggests future intentions) perhaps it would have lead to a whole album and solo career.  If what we hear on this EP is any indication, it would've been pretty tight.  The only other release from that label was a 12" by NAME, their final one.  It's pretty dope, too, in no small part thanks to some impressive guests including Schoolly D, The Mountain Brothers and - oh, look at that - PRT.  So that explains this NJ/ PA connection.

If the name NAME[sorry; couldn't help myself] doesn't ring a bell, that's Grand Agent's old group before he went solo.  He has a song on this EP as well.  Another artist on this EP, Ozzie Jones, was in NAME, too, then known as Old Man.  NAME's Mr. Cisum also produced two of the tracks here.  So this EP and Nailah Records as a whole seems to be their thing.  But they let CF get on and do his own thing with "Get Ya Mind Right."

Although, strictly speaking, Culture Freedom isn't 100% solo on here.  He does the bulk of the rapping, the hook and his own production, but he has a guy named Devaughn Williams playing the Jay-Z to his Jaz.  He's pretty nice on the mic, too.  The instrumental is a smooth and slightly layered head-nodder, with a funky little sitar sound, but not a big attention getter.  It's perfect to support fun back-and-forth freestyle rhymes, but it's not hit record material.  Fortunately, CF and Devaughn are perfectly suited to the task this track lays down, and as you'd expect from a Poor Righteous Teacher, it's got a strong vibe of spirituality and positive self upliftment.  Though Devaughn mixes the Christian spiritual aspect with game spitting in a pretty unique way, "I done made the devil mad because he can't get me, but I'ma move this here weight like Freeway Ricky."  Ha ha  Okay.  Maybe he meant "weight" metaphorically?  Like the knowledge he's imparting is his kind of weight, but he doesn't actually say that.  Anyway, Culture Freedom is a little more consistent in his messaging:

"'Ey yo, peep this,
While we do this, I'm gonna freak this;
Blow the devil apart in one million pieces.
Where you lack, in fact, that's where the beast is.
Givin' food for thought, so all y'all can eat this."

One detail to point out: the track-listing on the label is a little incorrect.  Grand Agent's is actually the last song on side A, not B, and Mel Ink's second track is in its place.  More disappointing is that this EP is made up of Radio Edits, with all the curse words censored.  It doesn't matter on the Culture Freedom song where he doesn't curse anyway, but that Grand Agent track is full of 'em.  And no, these songs weren't released on any other albums or singles; so it's censored or nothing.

All the songs on here are solid.  Ozzie Jones' is catchy.  But the real surprise is actually Mel Ink and DJ Razor Ramon.  Their two songs here are both killers!  And googling around, it looks like Mel Ink has recorded a few guest spots here and there (including one for Ozzie Jones' EP and a 2016 Grand Agent mp3-only album).  But god damn, this material should have lead directly to a major label record deal.  Mel is killing it, the production is brilliant, and Razor goes wild on the turntables.  Somebody needs to find and release their unreleased demos immediately.

All told, this EP has five songs, all of which are worth your time.  Grand Agent's is probably the weakest, but maybe I'd be able to get into it more if it wasn't hacked to pieces.  Ozzie and CF's songs are both nice, and again, those Ink and Razor songs need to be rediscovered.  We also get three of the instrumentals, including "Get Ya Mind Right" and one of the Mel Inks.  But it's a little frustrating, because it leaves you pining for projects that might've been but never were.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

People Dedicated To Original Hip-Hop

P*D2 stands for People Dedicated To Original Hip-Hop is helpfully repeated throughout this album's intro.  I learned about these guys when interviewing The Brothers Of the Same Mind for the release of their long-lost album on Dust & Dope Records.  I didn't have a hand in this one; I didn't even know it was coming until it had already been out for several months.  But these guys were another Seattle group who not only came up around the same time and occasionally worked with the Brothers, and were on the same label in 1990, Conspiracy Records.

The group consists of two men: MC 3-D and DJ 2Smooth.  They released a single or two of their own before recording a full album, but as their booklet explains, they "began negotiating with major labels. Then, in July of 1990, MC 3-D had to take care of some personal business that removed him from the rap game for a while. The talks with labels immediately broke up, and the album was never released."  But thanks to Ever Rap Records (the small Hip-Hop division of the Seattle rock label Ever Rat Records), that original lost album is now available on vinyl and CD.  Here it's titled DopeMuzik4TheHead, though it was originally announced back in the day as (Situation) Out Of Hand.

And it lives up to its title.  It may not be a "holy grail," but it's genuinely dope music.  MC 3-D has consistently clever rhymes and a delivery in the style of Ecstasy from Whodini, where he suddenly pops the words he's stressing very high (think of "Freaks," where he's like, "I started to jet, man, I don't have to take this").  The production is consistently tough but funky, with a lot of nice samples.  The one drawback is that you've heard most of those samples on other Hip-Hop classics already.  It turns out it's actually very difficult to listen to the instrumental to Rodney O & Joe Cooley's "Get Ready To Roll" without your inner mind screaming for the hook, "Yeaaahhhhhhhhh... get ready to roll!"  But you'll have that experience with "Crack In the Box" (though to be fair, this would've come out first in 1990). "Surprize" uses the same Grover Washington loop Grand Daddy IU used for "The U Is Smooth" and King Tee rocked on "Jay Fay Dray."  The single "Movement" is rocking over "Play That Funky Music White Boy."

But other tracks feature less recognizable loops, and are all the more exciting for it.  And it's all immeasurably enhanced by the fact that they've got a talented DJ (2Smooth who also did all the production) cutting up on nearly every song.  The subtle way they bring in the Disco Four's "We're At the Party" on "This Groove Is Movin" is a slick touch on an already really tight dance track, and his work at the end of "Movement" raises the level of the whole song by several notches.  Those two tracks were the singles and pure dance songs, but this album is varied.  "Trash Environment" has a serious message and a hard rock, electric guitar-lead track.  "Batteries Not Included" has a wacky set-up where they're toys in a mall, but when you pull their strings they're super rappers.  "Crack In the Box" is an anti-drug song, with various characters ordering drugs from a Jack In the Box drive-through for a hook.

One slight element of disappointment I feel is that the singles off of this album included a couple B-sides, which are not on here, specifically "On a Roll" and "No Bass."  Now, I can assume and appreciate those songs were always intended to be exclusive B-sides and never meant for the album, so they're not missing here, per se.  This is the album as it would have been released back in the day.  But given that the album is fairly short at only nine tracks, including the brief intro, I feel like they should've slipped 'em on as bonus tracks, at least on the CD (squeezing too much music on an LP starts to eat into the sound quality).  Those songs are already available on the original singles, so it's no great tragedy, but it would've been nice.

This album's been remastered and sounds like 100% full quality major studio recordings.  The LP comes in a full picture cover, and the CD comes on a pressed disc in a proper jewel case.  The CD booklet and vinyl insert includes a nicely written history of the crew.  Both are apparently limited to 500 copies each.  I love that lost music like this can still come out, and not just digitally, in 2022.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Last Word On Lastrawze?

Lastrawze is an underground, 3-man group consisting of Mr. Vibe, Grand Phunk and D-Rhythm.  The name is short hand for Last Real Authors With the Element.  They released a rare, and now highly sought-after cassette only-album called Instrawmental in 1995.  There was a 12" single, too.  They didn't get on my radar, though, until Dope Folks released their album as a 2-part series of 12" EPs in 2012.  Later, in 2014, Dope Folks released their unreleased demos (under their previous group name School Dayze) and some of Mr. Vibe (now known as Sim-E)'s newer material on two of their Killed By Def EPs.  I reviewed one of 'em here.  And most recently, they released another Sim-E EP in 2018.  So I basically just know them as a group Dope Folks really got behind.  Heavy Jewelz also got in on the action, though, giving the Lastrawze album a CD release in 2018, with two exclusive songs tracks, upping the count to 15 tracks.  But that was limited to 200 copies, and is pretty much OOP now.

So it's back on CD as a new edition from P-Quest Records.  But this time it's a Special Edition CD with 22 tracks.  Plus, there's actually a version that comes in a wooden box, which is limited to just 10 copies.  As they describe it, "Laser Engraved Wood & Oil Treated Wood contains the Limited Special Edition Vinyl-CD (NO-CD-R), Sticker and a mini press photo of the Lastrawze crew."  It was pretty pricey and it's already sold out, so good luck getting your hands on that if you're an uber-collector who needs it.  But for most of us, I imagine the regular special edition will do just fine.

So let's start by clearing up a few basic points:  1) This album is called Instrawmental, but it's not an instrumental album.  All the songs have full vocals just like any other crew's album.  It's just a clever title.  2) These guys are from Miami, but this isn't bass music or anything along those lines.  It's very much pure, underground 90s Hip-Hop like what would've been signed to Rawkus or Nervous back in the day.  3) The Heavy Jewelz bonus tracks are not among the new P-Quest tracks.  So this CD adds nine tracks (none of which are on the HJ), but you'll still need to find the Heavy Jewelz CD for the full 24.  But as we'll see, some tracks are more essential than others.

It's easy to see why this album's still in demand in 2022; it's super dope.  The guys have smooth flows, clever rhymes, cool voices and the production is tight and catchy.  "Big Respect" was their single; and yes, all three songs from the 12" are on every version of the album.  It uses the same sample as Eminem's "No One's Iller" from his amazing Slim Shady EP, but this actually came out first and dare I say... might actually be better?  I guess Em still has the tightest verse on this beat, but Lawtrawze out-rap Bizarre, Swift and Fuzz; and they make nice use of an Erick Sermon line for their hook.  And the whole album is up to this par.  "When the Smoke Clears" is just as tight but with more of a Pete Rock & CL Smooth vibe.  Trust me, if you're just dismissing Lawtrawze because you've never heard of 'em, check Instrawmental out.  It's pretty great.

But which version?  Obviously, if you can find an OG copy, jump on it, if only for the resale value.  But let's break down the different editions.  Dope Folks is still the only way to go if you want this album on vinyl.  The original album was 13 tracks: 12 full songs plus an intro.  DF's two EPs have six songs each, giving you the full album minus said intro.

If you've ever seen the OG cassette, though, it promised "Two Extra Tracks On CD."  Lastrawze themselves put out a CDR of the album in 2010, but there was still no sign of the two extra tracks.  Those are the two Heavy Jewelz found and included on their CD, "Down (4 Eva)" and "Sic Vs Fleet."  "Down" has some nice scratching, one element that you don't get a lot of on Instrawmental otherwise, but the sung chorus and production doesn't sound quite as polished as the rest of the album.  It's good, but you can see why it was demarcated as a bonus track for the CD.  "Sic Vs Fleet" is, as it says, just the guys trading verses with the Unknown Fleet (including the guy who was in School Dayze with them) over a dark track.  The production has a very grimy NY feel with freestyle flows, like something that could've come out on Fortress Records in their earliest days, which yes, is a big compliment.

Meanwhile, the 2022 P-Quest adds nine new tracks, but before you get too excited, several of these are radio freestyles.  One is basically just a radio soundbite that's more like a 30-second snippet.  But the freestyles are dope, and they choose compelling instrumentals, so fans will definitely enjoy them.  The Unknown Fleet guys come back on several of these, too.  It reminds me of the old Wake Up Show LPs, which, yes, is also a big compliment.

And to be clear, it's not all radio stuff.  There's also previously unreleased instrumental versions of "What U Deal With" and "When the Smoke Clears."  And most notably, they have another vintage, unreleased Lastrawze song called "Straze."  This one's produced by DJ Craze (every other Lastrawze song is produced by their own Mr. Vibe), hence the portmanteau.  Craze's production lives up to Vibe's, though the sound quality on this one's a little rougher.  Everything here's been remastered (and has been, going back to the Dope Folks records), but I'm guessing the source for this one was a little more rugged.  Same with the instrumentals, actually.

Oh, and this new booklet includes an 8-page reproduction of a vintage interview with the crew, too, which is a really nice touch.

At the end of the day, the original LP tracks are the greatest and most must-have tracks.  So any version you cop will be worth it.  But the bonus stuff is really good, too, especially if you're a serious Lastrawze fan.  If so, honestly, you'll probably need everything: the vinyl and both CDs.  But for many heads, especially those still introducing themselves to the crew, just getting the album back in print here will serve as satisfying and affordable way to get a physical copy, with some exclusives to boot.  ...Did I mention Instrawmental is a really dope album yet?  I'm sort of kicking myself for sleeping on it as long as I did, but mostly I'm just digging it now.  You all should, too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

UGSMag & Me

If you're a reader here, I hope you're also familiar with UGSMag.  They've been a great contributor to this online Hip-Hop game for ages, and one of the few remaining links on my Favorite Hip-Hop Sites widget after I just made another depressing cull of dead links.  They're supposedly based out of Austin, TX but always seem to be rooted in Canada, and started out posting great, original interviews beginning with SixToo back in 2000.  Then they switched to a steadier blog share format, but for underground Hip-Hop, sort of like if 2 Dope Boyz knew who Awol One was.  They also do podcast and radio stuff, but the blog has recently been put on "an indefinite hiatus, with our new focus being the UGSMAG print issues."

Yes, UGS is now a proper Magazine, coming out quarterly.  And I have a big feature in issue #2 that just came out.  It's a whopping nine pages!  And I got to interview Helixx C. Armageddon of The Anomolies, an interview I tried to make happen years ago for my blog, but couldn't get.  If you haven't heard, she's making a big comeback, and her - if you can believe it after all these years - debut solo album just came out last week.  So, as you can imagine, I had tons to ask about, and I think the piece turned out really well, if I don't say so myself.  Other pieces include interviews with Homebody Sandman, Fat Tony & LXVNDR, book reviews for Myka 9, Classified and DJ Screw, a piece on the 50th anniversary of the Technics SL-1200, and even a Canadian Hip-Hop crossword puzzle - it's not easy!  So check-a check-a check it out.  You can still cop issue #1 if you missed it, too.
Also, I know it's been a while since I've mentioned it, but that top secret, killer project with Dust & Dope Records is still coming.  There were issues with the test pressings and covers, and if you know anything about the quagmire currently going on with a very limited number of plants trying to press vinyl as the format makes a surprise comeback, you can imagine the nightmare delays.  This is why they didn't announce any street dates or take pre-orders.  But I understand we're close, and it's still definitely 100% on.  You're all gonna flip, and I don't say that lightly!  💪

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ice Scream for Halloween

It's time for another spooky Hip-Hop record for Halloween, this time by Ice MC.  Plus I go off on a tangent about Chubb Rock's "Lost In the Storm" remix, as one does.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Return Of Joejas

A couple years ago, I reviewed an album by a young, London-based MC named Joejas.  Well, he's back with his latest and fourth release, Gaps and Nomads, again entirely written, produced and otherwise assembled by himself.

My initial impression was that I dug this a little less than his previous outing, but it's been growing on me with each re-listen.  Certainly, if you're already a fan of Joejas, you've no need to worry, there's definitely still plenty you'll enjoy.  "Nomad" takes some especially bold production swings that really pay off, including electric guitar riffs and old school percussion.  And "Suedeflips!" is already one of the strongest, smoothest tracks, and then it springs to a whole second life in the last minute with the inclusion of some sweet Calypso steel drums.

My biggest complaint about the last album is still at play, though: a number of these songs feel too comfortable to just ride the rhythm of a repetitious hook.  I ran low on patience a couple of times just wanting him to keep it moving to the next rap portion.  For example, "Sally's Last Dance" could either use a second verse or a minute shaved off the running time.  And "Gappy's Overalls" starts to feel stuck in a rut, too.  Outside of that gripe, though, the album moves at a pretty quick pace.  It's just nine songs, with an average length of like 2:15, the last of which is a quirky instrumental.

And there are definitely moments when the thoughtful song-writing syncs up perfectly with the catchy, head-nodding production that harken back to the highlights of the last album.  "March 30th" is a touching tribute to his father without feeling sappy or overly sentimental.  And "Escape!" opens strong with a tight yet introspective verse, and keeps that energy flowing through the whole song:

"The picked on
But never the 'pick me.'
Since the age of 16,
Been making sick tees.
The young wizard
With the I times 3,
Chilling where the dogs sounds
With the I-N-G.
Do what I please, fuck critics.
Mid 20's blooming;
Fuck a limit.
'Cause you told to straighten up
When your path seem different,
Or they wanna feed you pills
When you hype and might fidget."

I hope he continues do what he pleases, despite us critics, because it works more often than it doesn't.  And a creative misstep trumps a cynical attempt to cash in on a trend every time.  But I really would appreciate a heavier raps-to-hooks ratio on the next outing.

Gaps and Nomads is once again available on CD in a colorful digipack with an illustrated lyrics booklet.  If you are interested in this album, I definitely recommend the physical format - I mean, above and beyond how I always recommend physical formats - because the artwork and presentation are big parts of the experience that you'd miss out on just casually clicking over to this on Spotify.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


1993 is the year Father MC dropped the MC from his name and switched up is image from a lover to a player with his third album, Sex Is Law.  That came out on June 15th.  But just before he could switch it up, like right before, Uptown Records needed him in his R&B lover mode one last time, for their big Uptown MTV Unplugged special.  The special aired on May 31st, and Father MC was featured performing one of his hits from his second album, "One Nite Stand."  Or, as it was titled when Uptown released the album version on June 1st, "One Night Stand."

I remember at the time Uptown making a big deal that this was the first time MTV made an Unplugged special for a label rather than a specific artist.  But I was mostly just disappointed that it was like 90% R&B and 10% rap.  In fact, I didn't buy the album version when it first came out because of that.  I only picked up a cheap used copy years later because I found out it had a bonus studio track tacked on at the end.  But we'll come back to that.

If you don't know, the gimmick of the Unplugged specials is that they were all live with no electric instruments, so we could hear their "pure" talents or whatever.  As you can imagine, that meant little difference for some folksy-type artists, but for Hip-Hoppers, that meant no turntables, which is just the very core of Hip-Hop music, but oh well.  Only a bunch of old rock fan executives would think we should be excited to not give DJ Eddie F the opportunity to get busy live on stage.

So the album is just the live performance as aired in the special straight-through, no funky edits or anything.  Jodeci's up first and they do several songs for the first twenty or so minutes.  Then they introduce, "another member of the family.  We had the pleasure of doing a song with him on his first album.  And second.  His name is... give it up for Father... MC!"

And like I said, Father just gets the one 3-4 minute song.  I've already written about "One Nite Stand" extensively here, so go ahead and refresh yourself.  And lyrically, he just does it pretty straight.  No verses from the 12" remix or anything.  He improvises a little "just throw your hands in the air" and stuff, but that's about it.  Instrumentally, it's mostly just a watered down version of the studio mix, with more echoey mics and live guitar re-interpolating the funky bassline and "Microphone Fiend" riff.  The horns sound nice (though no, they don't do the "Ruler's Back" bit) but the piano sounds clunky.  They break it down for the third verse, though, and the percussion sounds really dope and that's where this version finally clicks into something interesting.  But then it's over.

After that, Father MC introduces "the queen of soul, the ultimate Mecca queen, the Mecca of soul," Mary J Blige, who performs for another twenty-plus minutes.  And that's interesting, because why didn't they use the opportunity to have Mary kill it on the chorus of "One Nite Stand," when she supposedly sang on the album version?  I always said their was something sus about that supposed collaboration.  For the live version they have four generic background sisters, who to be fair, sound as good as the retail version.  But come on, Father's on the stage with Jodeci and Mary, both of whom he's famous for blowing up by starting them off on his records, and they didn't have them to anything together?  Pffft.

Anyway, the live show wraps up with Christopher Williams and Heavy D.  Father's the only dude to just get one song.  But there's one more track on the album... not a live song but a proper studio production of an all-original, exclusive posse cut called "Next Stop Uptown."  It's like the sequel to "Uptown Is Kickin' It," and features everybody from the Unplugged show, which means yes, it's still a majority R&B instead of Hip-Hop, but at least this time Jodeci and Mary don't get five times the stage time.

DJ Clark Kent produced it using a ton of funky breaks and samples like "Keep Risin' To the Top," the song BDP used for the remix of "You Must Learn" (also the "Buddy" remix) and that crazy horn loop from Showbiz & AG's "Party Groove."  Mary J does a mini cover of DeBarge's "Stay With Me," and Christoper Williams does "Keep Risin' To the Top."  Heavy D does a ragga version of "The Overweight Lover's In the House."  And Father MC actually rhymes first, over Show & AG's "Soul Clap" groove.  Lyrically, it's pretty generic, but the whole experience is hype.  Yes, all this stuff is all mashed together into one five minute song, and it works.  It's like those NY party megamix 12"s DJs used to release in the early 2000s, except with all new vocal performances, too.

So the whole Unplugged performance is alright but pretty skippable.  But for the Father MC fan who's gotta have everything, you've definitely got to have "Next Stop Uptown." And the good news is, today, this album can be found on vinyl, CD and cassette for peanuts.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Soundscapes Of DJ Raw B

And today we wrap up our Hoop Legacy Week Month with a look at DJ Raw B.  Of course, he produced an entire album with Luke Sick in 2019 called Born Illness, which I covered in this video.  And he's also been providing sporadic cuts and beats on some of his more recent projects... you've seen his name pop up in my write-ups once or twice.  But Raw B's legacy actually goes back much further than I realized.  He was the DJ for Double Life, L'Roneous Da'Versifier's old group.  I've had his feature on the classic Cue's Hip Hop Shop compilation for decades, but I never made the connection.  And his recorded relationship to The Hoop goes back to the 2001 DJ album Turntables By the Bay and an Amoeba Records compilation which they gave a killer exclusive song called "Proto-ghost Groove."

Now, in the three years since Born Illness, he's been releasing solo albums.  One a year, and I've got all three here.  So let's have a listen to what he's been getting up to on his own.

Uncorrupted is a kind of a split album: half beat-tape, half full vocals.  It's more or less every alternating song.  So even if you're just in it for full vocal tracks, you can take it as a killer EP with a bunch of bonus instrumentals.  We've got appearances from a couple of the usual suspects, specifically two (or three?) by Luke Sick, Z-Man (with a fun song about having "the sex drive of a 22 year-old college student"), and then a song apiece by Emcee Infinite and Dan Wolf, both of the group Felonious.  That's a crew that's been around for a really long time, but I've only heard one or two of their songs.  Anyway, their stuff's a little corny, but Infinite has an impressive flow and Raw B gave him a really slick instrumental with some nice cuts as well.  The last vocal track features Curtis Spicoli, which I assume is a pseudonym (it's the name of Sean Penn's kid brother in Fast Times At Ridgemont High).  He sounds like Luke Sick doing a Buck 65 impression, which is as entertaining as it sounds.  And the instrumental is hype, with big horn stabs and a variety of samples.  The real jewel is "Kill Zone," though.  Luke Sick gets wicked over a crazy beat with a choice EPMD vocal sample for a hook.

The next two albums are strictly beat-tape style.  The Caution Tape was first in 2021.  No scratching, no vocals (except for samples), just some dope beats and a recurring "Raw... B!!" tag.  There's a lot of creative choices being made, sample sounds you wouldn't expect but that blend well together.  And every track is proper song length, as opposed to those 45 King 7"s, where they'd just be like thirty seconds each, because once you heard the loop, you'd heard everything.  These songs are richer than that, with change-ups and layers coming in and out.  But not so much that they don't cry out for more.  All of these would be hot songs with a decent MC on them (with the possible exception of "Promise I'm Not Drunk," which gets a little weird); but they're a bit of a slog bare.  Raw B certainly proves his talents as a producer, which was possibly the whole point in making this, but I want to hear this music with MC Madness going off on it!  ...Or somebody.  It doesn't have to be MC Madness.

2022's The Low Key is next, and it's more of the same.  Maybe one or two of these songs are busy enough to stand without MCs, like "Mission To Mexicali."  And it includes a Christmas track, which is fun for anyone, but especially me since I specifically collect Holiday Hip-Hop.  But otherwise...  Well, I guess there's a market for instrumental albums, so maybe it's just me.  I need more or I get bored.  After the beat has looped three or four times, I just want to skip ahead to vocals or something more complex.  In this case that means skipping all the way to very end, a short track opened with a famous Egyptian Lover quote, "what is a DJ if he can't scratch?"  And then Raw B gets busy on the turntables, begging the question: why wasn't he doing this the whole time??

So at the end of the day, Born Illness and Uncorrupted are solid recommendations from me.  The other two show a lot of promise, but you have to specifically be in the market for beat tapes to spring for a purchase.  The Uncorrupted CD lists 15 tracks on the back cover, 14 on the back of the booklet, and 16 inside the booklet.  I'm happy to report, we get the full sixteen on the booklet.  That's more than the 11 on the digital release, because the CD has exclusive instrumental versions of 5 of the vocal tracks, so that's a nice reward for anyone copping a physical release.

And speaking of rewards for copping a physical release, The Caution Tape is available on CD and yellow (yellow) cassette, but the tape release features an exclusive bonus track, not on the CD or any digital release, called "Junkyard Dog" with cacophonous percussion that is genuinely reminiscent of a junkyard.  The Low Key is limited to 100 CDs.  Uncorrupted was available through Amazon, but now seems to be OOP.  And Born Illness is still available on CD, all from his website:, or his bandcamp.

So yeah, in the next post we'll be moving on to the work of completely different artists.  Not that this has been everybody in the Hoop extended family.  Even excluding the handful I've previously covered like QM and Z-Man (the latter in spades), I still have yet to really pierce the mystery of Thug E. Fresh.  And did you know Eddie K was the original MC for the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters/ Space Travelers?  There's Doug Surreal from the S-Brothers, Koba Dera, Damien of Strike the Clutch...  I could probably keep this running until the end of the year.  But we've gotta give other folks a chance.  So I'll see you all next time with something different.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Gurp City's Emo Artist? BigSammy

Okay, I imagine BigSammy might bristle at the "emo" label; and no, his music isn't mumblecore, or sing-songy auto-tune vocals over beats that sound like they were made with GarageBand stock loops.  Musically, he's got his own producers (mostly Mon$rock and E.C), but it's a sample-based boom-bap style that fits in fine with the Gurp aesthetic.  But lyrically, he's got to be their most sensitive soul.  Instead of libations and aggressive hedonism, he's the only member talking about mental health, relationship regrets and finding your happy place(s).

"Feelin' like I'm walkin' on broken legs;
I ain't left my room in a couple days.
I ain't been outside in like a week.
I just lay in my bed, waitin' to fall asleep.
I get online to make it look like I'm good."

BigSammy is also one of the guys I'm least familiar with.  This album, and his last couple, don't really feature any of the usual gang, nor does he appear much on their projects.  You'll notice, his name's never come up in any of my reviews before.  In fact, Cold Twelvers seems to be the main label behind his recent projects.  But he does shout out Gurp plenty on here, and digging around, he has popped up here and there.  He has a song on a mostly digital 2-disc compilation called Fresh Out Gurp City, which mostly consisted of songs already released on other projects, but also had two or three exclusive, including a BigSammy solo joint.  And he appears frequently on a 2018 compilation called Rap Camp Vol. 1: The Flood, where he does several songs with the likes of Luke Sick, Eddie K and Z-Man.  So he's a legitimate... well, I was tempted to say "junior member," but googling around, I was able to find music of his dating at least as far back as 2011, so I don't want to give the impression that he's a kid or anything.  His most recent album titles refer to high school, but don't get the wrong idea.

"I try to look in the mirror,
All I see is pain.
All I wanna do is die;
I'm out here feelin' lame."

Summer School
is his latest album, following 2020's Woodland High.  The production's consistently engrossing with only a couple of recognizable samples.  "Do You Juana" makes heavy use of Rick James' "Mary Jane," but chops it up in a fun and original way.  The only guest here is fellow Cold Twelver LB on "Summertime," their ode to past summer anthems by Nocera and Jazzy Jeff.  But he doesn't need any more help.  The album's pretty strongly focused, so more voices would just be a distraction.  Lyrically, Sammy's got a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style that sometimes feels a little clunky.  For instance, "Whydowedo" is a seemingly straight-forward song about questioning why two people hurt each other in a relationship, but some of the phrasings and digressions lose me:

"We fight the feelin'; I don't even know why we play.
Connection's strong, I know you feel it, think it's cliche.
You can't stay mad, even though we try to stay away.
The path's the true way. Yeah, Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay.
It's a cold world, the same way her heart works.
She sees the pain in my eyes, they're like fireworks.
I try to kill it, so I'm up poppin' hella Percs.
The foundation's strong, you can go and test the framework.
Teamwork makes the dream work. What are you installin'?
All the good habits got me out here ballin'
A lot harder than I would if I was out here solo.
I'm used to bein' Han, Chewey doin' for the promo.
It's a new day, same world, new life.
Dudley death drop, yeah, every time we ignite.
You run off to cop when I dive inside her box;
Swimmin' in her water, good thing I wore my fuckin' Crocs."

I did learn what a Dudley death drop is, but there are still multiple points there where I wanted to raise my hand and ask a question.  Whether you get exactly what he's saying or not, though, it's endlessly listenable.  BigSammy proves a likeable guy you'll want to spend time with across 11 full tracks and a couple "Hood Weather Report" skits.  Summer School is available on CD in a colorful cardboard gatefold sleeve from Cold Twelvers' website.  I don't think this'll be anybody's favorite album of the year, but if you get it, you'll like it.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Brougham and Yole Boys Are Back

So, would you believe I'm not even through my Legacy of the Hoop Week thing, it's only been a month since my annual recap of all the Luke Sick projects he's released since my last video, and... dude's already released two more full-length albums?!  Well, alright, let's hit it.

First is a follow-up album I never would've imagined coming in a hundred years.  Brougham was a seemingly short-lived collaboration between Luke and 3rd Eye Blind (a 90s rock band even I've heard of)'s Jason Slater.  They started with a song for the Can't Hardly Wait soundtrack in 1998, which was sort of the peak of that Limp Bizkit/ Bloodhound Gang rap/ rock hybrid period, and Elektra wound up signing them for a full album with a couple of singles.  At the time, I remember thinking they were just another one of those MTV tween-bait groups that happened to get super lucky in tapping the credibility and talents of Sacred Hoop's own, and even up until this year, their album is one of the Luke projects I've been least likely to revisit.  But having just gone back to it now to discuss the new album, I have to say it holds up surprisingly well.  They had a music video full of guitars, motor cycles and porn stars, but unsurprisingly they didn't crossover to mainstream popstar success, and Elektra ended the experiment in 2000.

And in 2020, Jason sadly passed away from liver failure.

But apparently, as Luke told HipOnline in a 2008 interview, he and Jason grew up together and were lifelong friends.  So now Megakut Records has released a second Brougham album, Bateh Bros.  If you're worried you've failed to keep up with California slang because you don't even know what a bateh brother is, don't beat yourself up.  Bateh Bros. was a family-owned Cupertino liquor store that closed in 2020; that's not a cute 'shopped photo on their cover.  I believe we're paying tribute to two losses here, and more so the representative passing of their era on a larger scale.  As Slater said in that same interview, even their first album was "pretty literal.  It’s about how no one ever looks at the underside of Palo Alto.  Either you’re rich or you’re broke.”  You'll hear "the PA" on this tape a gazillion times, and they're not talking about Pennsylvania.

Bateh Bros. is a full length album at ten tracks, though one is essentially a skit, albeit a powerfully ironic one: a snippet of an interview with Slater lamenting the notion of people issuing his unreleased music after he dies.  And it really isn't a "rap rock" album.  Only one song, "Hemet," sounds like that, with electric guitars grinding behind Luke and Jay (I'm assuming that's him doing the hook) spitting about how they've "got a bad girl to keep me right."  Honestly, a lot of their 2000 album really didn't fall into that style either, though their "Murked Out" single certainly sold that image.  "Doin' It With the Ham" (as in Brough-Ham) is a play on the classic Eric B & Rakim record, using essentially the same instrumental, even cutting up one of its most famous lines for the hook.  "Unfadeable" even features a fun throwback to "Rappin' Blow"-style background voices.  "Motel Room" rocks a slow, dark reggae groove until it flips it up mid-song with a Too $hort vocal sample and slides into the infamous "A Thing Named Kim" bassline as he declares he's "all alone, holdin' a grenade with the pin pulled out... plottin' on yo' bitch ass!"  "Everybody Keed" closes things out with the kind of subversively mellow production that would occasionally pop on classic Sacred Hoop albums.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, The Yole Boys are back!  The Yole Boys, if you'll recall, are a more loosely defined group.  Luke, producer Fatees "and friends" might be the best way to put it.  Their first instrumental tape was the debut release of Megakut Records, but their 2011 album was the prize.  That's also been their last release until now, eleven years later, as they've returned with a new full-length entitled Saran Twister Bump Tape.

This time, they helpfully list out the personnel on the back cover: Luke Sick, Brandon B, Eddie K, QM, Wayne & Wonda (are they putting us on with a Muppet Show reference?), D-Styles & DJ Hypnotize.  And of course "Slaps by Fatees."  And it feels somewhat like a hybrid between the two previous Yole releases.  It's definitely got that old school Miami-style programmed drums and handclaps feel to the production, and a lot of it is instrumental, although there are definitely vocal tracks as well.  "7 Bellos" is a play on As Nasty As They Wanna Be's "My 7  Bizzos."  "Supernova Bassdrop" is like an 80's club DJ remake of "Jam On It" with nothing but adlibs and scratches over the track, until finally two and a half minutes in, Brandon B jumps on the mic for a verse.  There's a sparse feel to the album, almost feeling unfinished.  "Cru Jones" is a catchy Luke Sick track that just suddenly ends on a broken loop.  "Owe Mega" starts out as a hype vocal track for the first minute, but then just winds up letting the beat ride for the next two and a half.

So yeah, the album could probably stand to be trimmed.  It often lets loops cycle on their own for pretty long, which can be a bit of a patience and endurance test to get all the way through.  I find it hard not to just skip through to the highlights.  But that was the style of the music they're paying homage to, too.  I can remember copping my first Boyz Wit da Bass tape, or any of the Dynamix II albums, and thinking: it just goes on like this?  You know, sometimes Magic Mike and the Royal Posse were going nuts cutting, scratching and passing the mic down the line, and sometimes they were taking a break and letting the speaker shaking bass rumbling speak for itself.  For better or worse, this album captures that, too.

But it's sixteen tracks long, with no skits or interludes, so if you feel at all short-shrifted by any of the more barren tracks, like "Nettie Pot" or "Beat On the Drum," don't worry, there's still plenty more music around every corner, with big samples and your favorite Gurp City MCs.  There's even some 80's freestyle singing on "Maybe In My Dreams" and funky vocoder effects on "The Reep."  Casual listeners might prefer a cut-down EP to this hour-long LP, but hey, kids today know how to program a playlist.

Because, yeah, despite having Tape in the title, Saran Twister Bump is on CD.  Bateh Bros. is limited to 100 red cassettes and as of this writing is still available from Megakut's bandcamp.  The Yole Boys is more elusive so far, but will probably pop up for sale online soon.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

DJ Eons One Rocks and Rolls In Stere-Ere-Oh

So this is going to be a rather breezy entry, primarily because I feel uniquely unqualified to review this one: Sell Your Soul Pt. II by DJ Eons One on his own Tinted Windows label.  Eons One, of course, is the producer/ DJ half of Grand Invincible and Underbucket.  And this is a pretty limited CDR rock mixtape release.  It was originally limited to just 43 copies in 2017, but trusting discogs' info, it was repressed in 2019.  I don't even know which one I have... it has the catalog number of the 2017 release, but for all I know, the 2019s could easily have the same number.  My copy didn't come in a cover, so it's a mystery to me.  I got it as a freebie with something else I ordered from Megakut, and I was going to cover it at the time, but then I put it in, listened to it and kinda figured, well, I don't really know what to say about this.  But as I'm going through this "Week" of the extended Sacred Hoop fam, it's now or never.

Regular readers will know, I'm a lifelong fan and reasonably well-informed when it comes to Hip-Hop music.  And I've casually listened to plenty of R&B, reggae, funk and other Hip-Hop adjacent-genres over the years.  But really, I'm a strictly Hip-Hop guy.  I don't know any songs by The Rolling Stones outside whatever I might've heard in car commercials, I can't name all The Beatles, I wouldn't recognize a single song if you played it for me by groups like Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, The Sex Pistols, Pearl Jam or whoever else.  Schoolly D & Code Money perfectly summed up how I feel about rock & roll all the way back in 1985.  And again in 1988.  That's where I'm coming from.

And  notice I said this is a "rock mixtape," as in a DJ Eons One mix of rock & roll records.  I think that makes this a pretty rare and novel venture, right?  I don't think rock mixtapes are really a thing, at least in the sense of a proper turntablist making a creative, original work, as opposed to just fans recording their favorite songs onto a tape.  ...Or maybe it's not, and there's a whole tradition of this I've just never encountered.  Like I said, I'm not qualified.

More to the point, I don't know if these are rare or choice songs he's selecting... I like to imagine this is the result of some serious crate digging, and these deep cuts would be a real treat for a true rock fan, but hell, I don't actually know that for a fact.  Alls I know is I don't recognize this stuff from any car commercial I've ever heard. 🤷

I can tell you this exists, though, so if you think you might be the audience for this, check it out.  It might be a challenge to find even the 2019 CD, but Eons One is still hosting the mix itself online on mixcloud.  There was also a Vol. I in 2017, only released via super rare cassette, and it's online, too.  I'll hang onto my copy as a collectors' item, but this could really be somebody else's jam.  Maybe.  I don't know.  I've already started writing another Father MC post in a second tab.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Earthling Top.R

It's time to talk about Top.R.  I primarily know him from being on a whole bunch of Luke Sick projects, but the first time I heard him was all the way back in 1999 on the Persuasion of Art compilation.  That was a wild album featuring original songs from artists like Animal Pharm, The Shape Shifters and Abstract Rude.  Back then Top.R was going by the unabbreviated name Top Ramen, one of The Earthlings.  Then he had a catchy solo song on another must-have comp called Strictly Indee in 2000, and he's worked with Granola Funk Express, too.  So even outside of his recordings with The Earthlings and many guest spots over the years, 2017's Afterlife Of the Party is far from his first time out, with a whole bunch of solo albums and EPs to his name over the years.  But this is still his most recent actual physical release.

Top.R's got a tougher flow than most of the MCs we've looked at before, but still has a thing for punchlines... he's sort of the Xzibit to Gurp City's Likwit Crew.  Some of the lines are cornier than others ("I don't like people. I stay paranoid like a black dude going camping with white people"), but he keeps it moving fast enough that you've already heard ten more before any have had the time to rub you the wrong way.  It's tempting to fill this whole page quoting a million of them ("I leave pinheads puzzled like the Hellraiser box.  My pen game?  Sutter Cane out this world when I face off.  That's an 80's movie reference you probably don't get.  If you did, go ahead, show the proper respect"), but he slides pretty effortlessly between jokey braggadocio material like that to classic Gurp City hedonism:

"Pour me another shot,
Straight up on the rocks, fuck the cops.
'Cause the po-po pulled me over drivin' so slow,
Asked how much I had to drink, I said I honestly don't know.
Some drink to remember,
Others drink to forget.
I'll just drink the next day to cover up the regret."

Actually, that quote's from a guest verse by an MC named Philo on his song "Gone Off the Jamison," but Top.R's right there with him, "another shot to the stomach like Johnny Quid.  They said I threw up in her purse, well I probably did."  And that's when the material really comes alive.  Those earlier battle raps come off as a little overwritten and schticky, like that Vincent On Horseback album I covered last year, but when he combines the two styles ("my eyes are glazed drinking my life away, check 'em, they look like gremlins in the microwave"), the characterization becomes engagingly delirious and the humor really sings.

Speaking of guests, I'm not overly familiar with that Philo dude (he was on Mutual Daps and a couple other projects I've got, and also receives co-production credit on several songs), and there are one or two other names I don't recognize; but we've got some welcome appearances by the regulars, too, including Luke, Z-Man and Eddie KDJ Quest and a couple others drop by to add some nice scratches throughout the album, and the production is primarily split between Cutty Bang and Otayo Dubb, who keep the energy nice and high.  Honestly, this album could stand to trim the fat a little.  The cuts, beats and flows all really compliment each other most of the time, but there are a couple verses that hold the project back from reaching its maximum potential.  And I've found myself stopping the disc before the last two songs, where things get slower and self-serious.  I appreciate the experimentation with styles and injecting a message, but like Xzibit's albums, you just want to skip to your faves.

So this album was available on CD from Gurp's bigcartel, but it's been a few years and is long sold out now.  Of course, the digital's still available, but if you want a proper copy, you'll have to go on a hunt.  In the meantime, I'd recommend at least checking out some of the highlights, like "My GMC," "Gone Off the Jamison" and "O.G.s On Gurp" on his bandcamp.  And let's see what he creates next.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

We've Gotta Stop Sleeping On Brandon B, Guys

Now Brandon B's a guy who's been on my radar for ages and ages.  Often billed as one half of Trunk Drank with Eddie K, he's been a perpetual guests on tapes and CDs I've been copping for decades.  Naturally, these include Sacred Hoop's Go Hogwild, Mutual Daps and several On Tilt albums.  But I've also got him on releases by Young Joseph, Rap Camp, Grand Invincible, Z-Man... in fact, he was actually an official member of the Arizona-based crew Supermarket, who made the underground classic album Dump Koch in '96.  Clearly, at some point after that he made his way to San Francisco to work with all these Gurp City guys.  But despite his extensive track record appearing in my collection, this is actually my first proper Brandon B album: 2021's Expensive Habit.

There's a healthy and welcome supply of guests on hand, including most of the dudes you'd expect: Luke Sick (on three songs), Z-Man, Eddie K, QM, TopR (who's going to be the topic of a future post in this little run) and Dev Rambis, who made an album called West Club Binge with him a couple years ago.  Equipto from yesterday's post is on here, too; and it's all produced by The Bootleg Friday team, which I'm pretty sure is mainly Brandon himself (especially since he mentions "I produce my own shit" on the opening track) with another guy named Elliott Lanam.  And if you're ready for somebody you didn't expect... the cuts are provided by DJ Pause, of Cold Comin' Up/ The APG Crew(!).

It's all super slick, stylish production and hedonistic rhymes.  "Lately I've been thinkin' 'bout gettin' more bent.  Ain't givin' up shit because I don't do Lent," as Dev opens up "Thursday Night."  Every track bumps and every verse is a smooth ride over it.  "Cherry Spades" has a crazy "(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin'" loop mixed with a funky electro vibe.  "We Control the Dice" has Pause scratching up a bunch of classic vocal samples (including, of course, Mantronix) on the hook, while "That's a Fact" takes chances with big 80s electric guitars, but they make it all fit.  It took me back to "Rock De La Stet," even with that subtle Miami Vice vibe running through this whole album.  It's sometimes funny, like "Whatever With Your Church" or "Over Under," about being taken for a cop:

"'Ey yo, check this out:
Your criminal behavior I could give a shit about.
Your concern with my career?
What the Hell is that about?
I'm only here for a couple a' beers, and then I'm out.
What gave you the impression that I was a fed, bro?
Some of you degenerates are so judgemental.
You're an unarmed male who tried to sell some D.
If anyone's going to jail, it's gone be me.
If I was undercover, why the fuck would I play
'Fuck the Police' by NWA?
It's like this dark-ass bar; I know you're thinkin' I'm sketch,
But my name ain't Jake and it sure ain't Fletch.
Callin' me a cop is a bit of a stretch,
As a matter of fact, you kinda match the compository sketch.
I don't give a damn about your scam, bro,
And who I am, you don't need to know."

And the hook goes, "if I was a fed, I'd be in shape."  It never gets deep or introspective.  Drinking is forever celebrated here with no thought given to the risk of alcoholism.  This is Friday night at your favorite spot, let another rapper tackle the hangover.  Even the title track, which seems to hint at one downside of excessive drinking, actually cheerfully handwaves how it's not a problem at all since he's so successful with his music.  "Costs a little somethin'?  But you know I have it.  No chance of rehab for my expensive habit."

This is just an endlessly relistenable album I feel like I could pop on in any company any they'd enjoy it.  Only "Time Is Too $hort" drags the album a bit by featuring extended skit-like dialogue where Brandon plays a strip club DJ riffing on the track before finally rapping on it for the last minute.  Oh, and "Mel's For a Beer," which is a straight up skit/ jokey commercial for a local bar.  Those two joints are gonna have me reaching for the skip button anytime I'm with company.  And there are one or two weird technical glitches, like on TopR's guest verse, he starts to say a word and then it clips and instead he says a new line, "I'm more like Bobcat 'cause I talk different.  Ev -- -- Any dude in a shirt that says 'Stop Snitchin' is the first one to talk if he gets caught slippin'."  Like, what was that?  A broken punch-in maybe?  I don't think I've ever heard one on a finished record before.  Edit: Or maybe it's just my copy?  See the comments!

But apart from those little flaws, it's a downright perfect album.  Expensive Habit is a very limited edition CD; apparently they made a run of just 50.  But there are still four available at his bandcamp as of this writing.  I guess I haven't been alone in sleeping on Brandon B, but damn this one is fresh!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Grand Killa Brycon

This is the first in a series of posts I considered calling LLoSH 2, or The Living Legacy of Sacred Hoop 2, Week, referring to this recent video, but which will not be focusing on anymore works of Luke Sick and/ or Vrse Murphy, per se.  I've certainly been doing that a lot here over the years.  Instead, this time, I want to explore the many other interesting artists within their Bay area collective.  I decided against the title, though, because it doesn't feel right to imply these guys necessarily owe so much to SH for their own musical existence.  After all, one of the MCs we're going to be examining today actually predates even the earliest Hoop tapes.  ...Plus, we all know there's no way I'm going to get this wrapped up in anywhere near a week's time.  🤣

Now for Day 1, we're going to be looking at five recent albums by Brycon, who regular readers should recognize as the production half of Grand Killa Con.  Yes, there's a lot more to his body of work than his collaborations with Luke that I've been narrowly focusing on.  In fact, while I had first heard of Brycon when the debut Grand Killa Con album came out in 2013, he's been around for way longer than that, working with North Carolina's GFE (Granola Funk Express), and putting out his own albums at least as early as 2003's Grainy Music with DJ Equal.  This dude goes way back with a storied career (I've previously covered a single of his with rapper J-Eazy in 2014), so the following is by no means the complete catalog, just a sampling of his latest releases.

Brutalism is an entirely instrumental EP released in November, 2020.  Yes, entirely... even though you'll see several guests featured in the track-listing, like Chris Keys, Adeyemi & The Genie, these are musicians, not rappers or singers.  The only voices you'll here are well-placed vocal samples (if you're paying attention, track five actually proves to be a humorous send up of Jennifer Schulte).  And now I'm not a big sample spotter guy, but I've been listening to Hip-Hop long enough to be able to tell you when we're listening to the "Before I Let Go" or "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" basslines for the millionth time.  And apart from the opening track, which utilizes the same breakbeat as Gangstarr's "Beyond Comprehension," every sound on here was fresh to me.  Besides, you could do a lot worse than reusing a little bit of classic Gangstarr; and I think the fun here is how he slowly transforms that beat into new things throughout the track, because by the end of the under two minute track, we couldn't be any further removed from the original groove.

As you guys know, I'm not a huge instrumental head, but this is calm, smooth album that manages to never get stagnant, mixing chunky samples with subtle live instrumentation ("Only Child" features some live sax, for example, but he never goes for a blistering spotlight-stealing solo) proving Brycon an undeniable talent.  So, if you're like me, that means you want to hurry up now and hear him with some vocalists.

So next, let's take a look at Can't Stay Perched All the Time, a full length LP by Equipto and Brycon, released this past January.  Equipto's the guy I mentioned above who predates The Hoop, famously as a member of San Francisco's Bored Stiff (along with another MC I've covered here a couple of times, White Mic).  And he flows like a long established, calm cat with nothing to prove; there's nothing more west coast OG than him literally rapping lessons on "the never endin' journey" of rolling a proper spliff, which proceeds to seamlessly drift in and out of tangents, angrily indicting weed culture. "Folks that never smoked tryin' to brand it.  Cannabis is big business, so I wiggle with my spliff lit, mad at this industry, too; there ain't no difference.  Can't enjoy it, the culture get exploited, and they act like it's a favor when they offer you employment.  Split the crutch and crumble up the ball paper.  Put some tobacco with that weed, man, stop hatin'.  It's all about the taste of the blend sativa, and then it's exports what I recommend. If you're smokin' with a friend, then don't rush 'em.  Too many spliffs in one day can feel like a concussion.  But keep rollin' 'till you master it."

But it's not all smokers' talk.  This album, both lyrically and instrumentally, is a rich tapestry of life's regrets and stubborn optimism.  "I live my life different now.  My old buddy asked me if I still be gettin' down, funny but I didn't smile."  Brycon's samples and Equipto's voice share the creaky, world-weary tone of veterans who know all to well how to kill, but have nothing left to prove.  Though there are still surprises.  Often, love songs and Hip-Hop's energy winds up pulling in opposite directions, but despite a send-up to the corny, staple love raps of the 80s as an intro, "Take the Hint" proves to be one of the rare relationship raps that really works as a Hip-Hop head-nodder in the tradition of "Looking At the Front Door," "Bonita Applebum" and "Passing Me By," albeit with a modern day, internet culture twist.  There are a couple interludes on the album, but they're kinda dope, too.  The title track is one that has Brycon playing with an LP for training your parakeet to speak, which reminded me of the great "Sons of 3rd Bass" finale, where Sam Sever mixes up those instructional ventriloquism records... "throw that weak joke, throw that weak joke, throw that weak joke OUT!"  Guests include fellow members of The Watershed, who we'll come to in a moment, and Phesto of Souls of Mischief, which isn't too surprising, since he's collab'd with members of Hiero a number of times, including recording a full-length album with Opio.  And everybody involved pulls together and winds up speaking with one voice in the end.

Okay, now let's about those Watershed guys I mentioned.  The Watershed is more of a broader collective than a particular group, Brycon's larger Hip-Hop family, a la The Gang Starr Posse with Group Home and all those other satellite rappers included.  In this case, the crew consists of Brycon, Equipto, Monk HTS & Old Soul Kollective (MC Pauze, Professa Gabel, & producer Baghead).  And Don't Forget You're Welcome is their second and latest album together, released in January, 2021.  "Been Here Before" is a stand-out track that feels like a prequel to "Take the Hint" in all the best ways.  And "Wants & Needs" lays a driving horn loop under some strong, socially conscious verses: "what's the difference between your wants and the shit you need?  How much self indulgence 'till it gets to greed?  What's the difference between me and you?"

Other songs have interesting premises - like "Green Room" about all the things we don't get to see our artists go through before they get on stage, or "Broken Promises" about (amongst other things) meeting and being let disappointed by your favorite rappers - but lay a little too flat to draw you back for repeat listens.  There are also a surprising amount of sung choruses, which sometimes work and sometimes (particularly on "Pieces") feel overwrought and excessive.  Having a group of MCs spices things up with a variety of voices, but also makes this album feel a little slapped together with less focus than, say, the last two albums we just looked at.  For the most part this album rises and falls based on how catchy each track is, reminding me very much of the mid 90's west coast 4-track era where artists were putting out a whole ton of tapes, which was a treat for serious fans, but probably too much to sift through for casual listeners.

By the way, the last track, "Juana's Outro" is missing from the cassette's track-listing.  But don't worry, it is on the tape.

Now, sticking with The Watershed, Brycon has recently produced a solo album with Professa Gabel (not his first either) called Corner Booth just this February.  Gabel has the most distinctive voice in the Watershed; you were immediately alerted whenever it was his turn on the mic.  On his own, it might be a bit much... or maybe it's just that a lot of the lyrical content here leaves me nonplussed.  There's some kind of food-related theme running through this album I can't quite put my finger on, and Gabel's just kind of lazing around in this hackneyed rap character: "In seclusion I ponder, I don't really fear nothin' but removal of honor.  Coulda been a doctor but I think I'd rather be a movie star.  Smokin' weed from Cali while I'm strollin' by Juilliard.  I could spend money but I'd rather use true regard."  Like, okay.  "Shit, I said this before but you were doubtin' the man: we ain't livin' in the moment; it's reality planned.  But never mind that.  Out of town, waitin' on my ride back.  Bad one driving said she think of me and climax.  Is that right?  Think you might've told me that last night."  Actually, I'm finding this second example more amusing now that I'm typing it out.  But it all just comes off as too immature to ask me to sit and vibe with. 

That said, some of the production is really cooking.  "Mom & Pop's" is the kind of track you want to start over just as soon as it ends.  Guest MC Cyph4 really rides the rhythm smoothly on "Too Late."  In fact, there's an impressively slick feel to the whole album, but I just don't know what's going on with the lyrics.  Just look at his opening verse on the title track, "Sonic the Hedgehog.  If I ain't in the lab than I'm probably in restaurants.  My pen's sharp.  Baby wanna show me her stretch marks, and she ain't one to chat; she's just hoping the sex starts."  And no, there is no context for the Sonic reference; he just starts his verse cold like that.  There's something slightly Kaufmanesque about the whole project.  Are they having us on with this one?

Finally, we have Jeweler's Loop, the second album from Diamond Lung, the pairing of Brycon and Lightbulb, released in July, 2021.  Light's appeared on several projects I've covered here over the years, including Mutual Daps and a couple On Tilt tapes, but was probably most prominent for releasing a couple of EPs with DJ Eons One in 2015.  Jeweler's Loop opens strong with the Brycon's already anthemic instrumental "From the End of My Rope" being carried even further by Lightbulb's high energy and dynamic voice.  It's a momentum that can't possibly last for an entire album, but they try with consistently lush production and appearances by Dregs One and several of The Watershed guys.  And the last song, "Shoot 'Em All Down," ends things just as fresh as they started.

Things tend to get most interesting between those poles when Lightbulb talks about class, like on "Together Pt. 2" (part 1 was on their first album, When Did Everybody Learn To Fly?, though there "Together" seemed to be in reference to music keeping people together, and here it's about people struggling to keep their shit together economically) and "History," "Yo, y'all missed the signs that you solidly been knew: high rent and homelessness tied at the hip.  What's obvious is y'all are as sorry as shit, so we paid off your doorman and robbed ya.  Oh, this incongruous world gets harder yet to hide from.  They called for more cops and less fuckin' crime.  ...Hey, we should make rich folk pay for our doctors, and if they hold out, throw they ass in the stocks."  Songs where he's just rapping about rapping or spitting fantasy "printin' out money like an oil baron"-type game come off more as album filler, and maybe we would've better served with a killer EP than this perfectly respectable LP.  But hey, you can't really be mad at getting more songs for the same price, right?  And speaking of which, the CD and cassette (as opposed to what's available digitally) also feature an uncredited bonus track called "To the Front."

So Can't Stay Perched is the gem I'd recommend for pretty much anyone, followed by Jeweler's Loop, with Don't Forget Your Welcome and Brutalism reserved as second courses for those who fully enjoyed the first two and are eager for more.  And Corner Booth is certainly interesting, so if you're at all curious, it's at least worth giving it an investigative listen online.  All five were released as limited editions of 100 cassettes and a larger, unspecified run of CDs... plus, of course, digital.  There's also an extra-limited edition of 50 copies of Jeweler's Loop Instrumentals cassettes and 25 7"s.  And in the case of Brutalism, there's also a limited edition (150 copies) 7" single, which comes in a picture cover and features three of the songs from the EP.  As of this writing, almost all of these are still available, even the 7", though you might have to scour a dozen or so different Bandcamps to find 'em all.