Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Father MC UNPLUGGED!!!

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: bornillness.com, 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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Duology of Whirlwind D

You might be surprised when "Lucky Number" kicks off with a slow, somber instrumental.  The latest single from Whirlwind D is really nothing like "The Magic Number," the happy jingle this title evokes about the number 3 because the crew had three MCs.  This song seems more to be about an unlucky number and the misfortunate who suffer under incredible odds.  "It's that one in a million moment in a billion, where trillions of voices are all silenced in an instant.  ...Lucky number is a death like a bullet to the head."  The back cover reveals that this single is dedicated to Del Soulcondor [slight correction: just the B-side is dedicated to Del], a Scottish artist who we tragically lost after a long bout with cancer.  But I wouldn't say it's a song about him or his troubles specifically; it feels more like a bleak commentary on the state of humanity as a whole.  "Love for mother nature, but for humans: an erasure. Death and destruction, malfunction is our nature."

The cover also describes this song as featuring Lewis Parker and Specifik, but that could be a little misleading.  D is the only guy rapping on this song; Parker produced it (and is possibly doing the hook?) and Specifik provides the cuts.  Said hook is a riff on BDP's "Stop the Violence," which could feel like it's operating at cross-purposes with the tone of the song.  But it's tastefully downplayed in a nice bit of subtly, keeping the emphasis on D's dark imagery.  Specifik's cuts don't come in until the end of the song, but when they do, they serve as an expert denouement, breathing extra life into the music, which feels like a suspense scene in a blaxploitation flick... real Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em vibes.

The B-side (or "AA-side" as they label it), on the other hand, is a real catchy, upbeat track with a beautiful funk/ soul hook and a bouncy bassline.  There's even more of a 70s energy to this beat.  And D flexes a more playful delivery, like he couldn't hit us with the nihilism of "Lucky Number" without also leaving us the antidote.  "Throw back your troubles, emerge from the rubble, beat back the monster, rise from the struggle."  Producer Smoove's rich use of samples makes this one feel even richer instrumentally, but I prefer D's lyrics and concepts on the A-side.  There's something a little perfunctory about the positive, self-help messaging here, though it would be tough for any song to follow the creative heights D already reached with the poetic imagery on the flip.  And I really like the yin and yang double-header of this single as a whole.

"Lucky Number" arrives this summer from... no, not B-Line Recordings but AE Productions.  Though that's not totally out of left field; he's done one release with them before.  It's a 7" single and comes in an impressive, full color picture cover.  It's already sold out on Whirlwind D's bandcamp, but don't panic; it's still available at Juno, HipHopBeBop and a number of other online retailers.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Rappers' Nightmare!

(I just wanted to raise awareness of a killer NY record from 1990 that’s criminally obscure: “Rapper’s Nightmare” by Boss ‘K’. Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Living Legacy of Sacred Hoop

(Updating you guys on this saga has become a sort of tradition here at Werner's. But there's something extra special at the end of this year's video. Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Kick the Tires and Light the Fires with Unagi

Here's a fun little surprise that arrived in the mail this week: Optimum Altitude, the upcoming CD by Unagi on his own 442 Records.  Who?  Unagi's a former Bay area producer now situated in Massachusetts who regularly works with Infinito 2017 of UPS and did Motion Man's Adult Situations album.  Looking him up on discogs, I see he's put out a bunch of albums over the years, primarily instrumentals, but usually with a few guests sporadically providing vocals.  Well, Optimum Altitude is a new one of those, but there are no guests this time around, it's all beats.

With that said, though, he does pepper in an awful lot of vocal samples, which help keep things jumping.  And don't get me wrong, this isn't just a beat tape cycling loops for two or three minutes per track.  This is a proper instrumental album, where each song is full of ever-changing samples and movements.  If you remember that Motion Man album, Optimum Altitude actually has a very similar tone.  There's a lot of creative choices.  Jazzy horns and a few instruments that are hard to place.  You won't recognize many of these samples, apart from the vocal ones.  For example, a fun short track called "Yo Wasteoid" pairs a classic Super Lover Cee line with a famous quote from The Breakfast Club, plus more familiar snippets from Kurtis Blow, Public Enemy (both the Bumrush the Show "Yo!" and the "Yeah, boy!"), Run DMC, Biz Markie, etc.  And there is a little bit of Schoolly D's "P.S.K." drums in that one.  But it's mostly a chunky piano loop and staccato horn stabs.

Actually, though, I found myself drawn more to the smoother tracks.  "Carver High" is a stand-out with some choice R&B vocal loops and stylish horn riffs.  "Prom Night" and "Waterfront Dining" have the kind of vibes to lull you in despite yourself.  "Say Yeah" is a good time, too, with a bouncy disco-era vibe to it.  But you know me, I really wish a lot of these tracks had some rapping on them.  Or even some scratching.  Otherwise, instrumental albums tend to leave me feeling like I've read a screenplay rather than watched a movie, even when they are more fleshed out like this one.  Personally, listening to this gets me more excited to check out a vocal album Usagi produced, because this proves he's got the chops - there's a lot of great material here.

And hey, there's obviously a solid audience for instrumental albums.  For a lot of people, something like Endtroducing is an all-time classic.  Me, honestly, I listened to it once and put it away.  So, from that you can tell if you're in that instrumental camp or not.  And if you are, keep an ear out for this.  Unagi's been posting some Optimum Altitude tracks on his socmed already, but the full album won't be out until July.  Fifteen tracks in a full-color sleeve; I reckon it'll be available on his bandcamp in a few more weeks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Learn Along With Werner, part 10: Ko Lute & LSD

When I interviewed Mytee G Poetic not too long ago, he was surprised I was a fellow Jerseyan.  In fact, people often assume, based on my Hip-Hop moniker, that I'm actually an Austrian or German, if not Latverian, who grew up loving Hip-Hop culture from far afield.  In fact, what I don't know about German Hip-Hop, to use an NJ expression*, can just about fit in the Grand Canyon.  But when the opportunity came along, learning more sure sounded like fun.  If you think so, too, why don't you join me?

Up until now, I was only vaguely familiar with LSD, a long-running group that got their start all the way back in the 80s, existing.  I think I heard one or two songs... I used to have a compilation of Hip-Hop from around the world, with one song from each country, where the USA's crew was De La Soul Does anybody remember this?  I looked and it's not on discogs.  Anyway, I think LSD might've been on there.  I've definitely heard one or two of their early songs, but that's it.

So LSD stands for Legally Spread Dope, it's a 4-man group consisting of lead MC (and later producer) V.O.C. Ko Lute, producer Future Rock, DJs Rick Ski a.k.a. Black Vinyl Master and Defcon.  They released their first 12" in 1989, "Competent," and the full-length Watch For the Third Rail followed in 1991.

A major potential concern right off the bat with exploring any German rap is the language barrier, but happily everything we're about to look at, apart from the rare vocal sample, is entirely English-friendly.  With that said, though, I should probably give a quick warning about accents.  Ko Lute and co. aren't hard to understand... or, well sometimes actually yes, but less so once you've trained your ear to recognize words even when they don't stress the expected syllable.  And no, our guy doesn't sound like Colonel Klink or anything; but I've had enough schoolyard debates about rap music to know that a lot of state-side listeners would tune out as soon as they heard the non-native voice.  So to the stubborn stick-in-the-mud traditionalists - it's cool; you know who you are - just bear that in mind before I talk you into investing in a ton of these records.  But there's no way even the staunchest of you could deny this incredible production.

The projects I'm looking at today can be pretty cleanly divided into three eras, starting with Third Rail that contains most of their late 80s and early 90s material.  It has exactly the kind of sound you hope for when discovering something new from that time period.  You'll recognize a couple samples on this one... "Change the System" uses the same main loop as 2nd II None's classic "Be True To Yourself."  And "Watch This Event" uses the Soul Searchers sample made famous in TDS Mob's "Dope For the Folks," though in this case they add some extra spice with new sax.  Yeah, one really interesting note is that several of the songs feature live saxophone, you know, like Mix Master Spade's "Sexy Lady."  Most of it's done by their own guy, Martin "Junkie" Adrian, but "Watch" features Maceo Parker!  But most samples you won't recognize, or if you do, they'll just be little pieces or classic vocal samples used to concoct tight, original compositions.

The bio in their first CD booklet cites The Bomb Squad and Ced Gee as key inspirations, but I've been around too long to get excited over that kind of thing.  Too many artists wind up just duplicating superficial trademarks or make sloppy sound-alike tracks.  But these guys have their own sound, that's at once polished and raw, an action-packed collage of top choice samples and killer scratching, intricate and carefully constructed.

So Watch For the Third Rail was released on CD and LP on Rhythm Attack Productions in 1991, but I referred to it containing "most of their late 80s/ early 90s material" because the version I've got is a 2008 reissue called The Dope Beat Edition 2CD and 2LP on Melting Pot Music.  It adds all the instrumentals, and a bunch of bonus tracks, including several that were originally exclusive to their vinyl singles: the original version of "Competent," their 1991 single "Mind Expansion," "Offense Of the Dope Overlords" from their I Don't Care a Rap EP, etc.

And actually, technically, that '91 EP was their last record.  But they kept making musically separately, and Ko Lute and DJ Defcon continued to work together as LSD Proton.  They had an EP in '93 followed by a sci-fi themed instrumental album in 1998 entitled The Galactic Adventures of Captain Kolute, surely inspired by Dr. Octagon and the like... though it's worth pointing out this preceded Deltron 3030.  Yeah, Ko Lute's not rapping here, but he's taken up the main production duties.  And there's not much cutting on this one, though Defcon is credited with mixing.  If the cosmic vibes of the production don't sell you enough on the concept, there's a track-by-track story you can read along with in the booklet.  So, when songs like "808 Lightyears From Home" or "Virgins of Zephyr" don't sound as spacey as you might expect, you can read up that it's because Zephyr is the planet Captain Kolute and the crew of his ship, the Heart of Wisdom, stop to look explore where beautiful virgins bask in the suns and ensnare men.  It's like a little opera, apparently made with a comic artist named Tatsuya Sekimoto?  The credits are pretty vague, though they do cite an "Asian story-translation" in the booklet.

Tying the old and new together we get "Relaxation '97," an expansion of a short instrumental track from Watch For the Third Rail.  And to tie that to the even newer, we got a "Relaxation '98" on their next album, Flash Back: The Return Of the Allschool, where Ko Lute is back on the mic, and Defcon gets full co-production and credit.  Most importantly, he's back on the turntables; the cuts on these albums are one of the strongest elements and were sorely missed on Galactic Adventures, so this is an extremely welcome return.  Even Adrian is back to blow some more sax.  And my favorite song on Galactic Adventures wound up getting vocals here (though they don't tie into the story of The Heart of Wisdom).  The tracks are a little slower and calmer compared to Third Rail, you can absolutely feel the later 90s influence, but it does make Lute's rhymes easier to track, though I'm not sure if that's the tempo or just him relaxing into his skills.

There's still a slightly offbeat feel to the rhymes, though, betraying that English probably isn't Lute's first language.  Like "Keepers Of the Funk" starts out, "Yes, I'm in a gumbo, when I see Defcon deliverin' his new rare grooves with a jumbo to feed my power tool called the TX, which I depose on any 4 the 5 the rex - with the flavor the Ko put in for those who chew our wax."  And okay, I get that the TX is a sampler (I think!) and the gist of what he's saying about Defcon laying down the dope grooves for Ko to rhyme over.  And making gumbo is the metaphorical aspect where Defcon's combining musical elements and Ko's adding the lyrical flavor.  But when you're just sitting there listening to the album, it's hard to parse the syntax without seeing it written out like this.  Is he just saying "the rex" like he's the king, or...?  I'm still not sure.  Fortunately, they print out all the lyrics in the booklet, so that really helps.  It always sounds good, but I'd often pause like, waitaminute, what is he saying?  And quickly look it up.  I wish Third Rail's booklet had that.

Anyway, "Mad Scientist" is a stand-out track with fresh samples, smooth cuts and some of Ko Lute's most engaging deliveries, and the title track has one of the nastiest instrumentals, cutting up the "Slaaaaaaaave" scream from DJ Chuck Chillout and Kool Chip's classic single.  The DJing is super proficient on all these projects ("Competent" was always selling themselves a little short,  haha), but he really steals the show on this album.  "Defcon Goes Excalibur" is a sick DJ cut in the tradition of "Behold the Detonator" and "Premier In Deep Concentration."  But some of the other songs on here drag a little.  90s enthusiasts may prefer this whole album, but I'm not sure it quite reaches the hyper heights of their first era.  The slower pace of songs like "The Forgotten Poet" don't do him any favors in my opinion, although it does introduce a kind of cool, west coast jazzier element to their sound.  I don't know, it's probably just a matter of personal preference; I like the earlier, more kinetic stuff.

The Galactic Adventures is CD only, but Flash Back is available on both CD and double LP, the latter of which includes some bonus remixes on the fourth side.

Happily, though, this isn't the all too common tale of a slow decline, because I think the third era might be the best yet.  We Came To Dominate is a brand new, 2022 Ko Lute EP on Sounds Dope Records, this time in collaboration with Maze and DJ NAT.  The previous booklets really helped you out with detailed credits, but the label here leaves us guessing.  Ko Lute and Maze seem to be sharing MC duties, and NAT is presumably doing all the cuts, but as for the production, is it all Ko Lute, or...?  Who knows.  But it's all great, whoever actually did what.  "Slay Ride" is the most hardcore and yet impressively able to make use of its holiday-themed titular pun without coming off corny.  It's actually a great Christmas rap record!  My favorite track, though, is "1,2,3... Forget It," which has a dark, ominous UBC-style instrumental, but makes great subtle usage of the guitar samples from Magic Mike and MC Madness's "Dynamic Duo" and Professor Griff's "Pawns In the Game," plus a ton of hype cuts and some of the most energetic deliveries by both MCs.  I loved every second of it.

This 12" EP is comprised of four songs, plus two instrumentals, though two of the songs are shorter, mostly instrumental tracks anyway.  There are actually additional instrumentals and acapellas on their digital version, but the full version of "Our World of Hip-Hop" is only available on the vinyl.  If this is your first introduction to Ko Lute and Co. and you want to jump in (which I recommend!), I'd suggest this EP or The Dope Beat Edition of Third Rail.  But it's probably going to make you want to collect all the rest of their stuff regardless.  It has for me - at least whatever else is in English.  I'm glad I took this educational dive, but I fear for my wallet whenever I do this.


*I don't know; I heard Kevin Smith use it in Chasing Amy or something.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

What, You Thought Natural Elements Would Release a New Record and I Wouldn't Cover It?

Natural Elements are back with a new album.  Even though they first came out in 1994, this is almost kind of their first full-length album, if you want to get kind of arbitrary and pedantic about how you count 'em.  You know, if you were super strict about discarding EPs and compilations.  My point is: we don't get nearly enough from these incredibly talented guys, especially all working together, so it's a big deal when this happens.  A full-length album of all new music by the full crew on vinyl (and CD).

That also puts them in a tough spot.  By releasing just the rare killer 12" every once in a while, and continually re-releasing their best known songs, it kind of puts them in competition with their greatest hits.  Your average artist may release an project every year or two, and we look at it and say, okay, this one's a little better than their last one, or maybe a slight step backwards or whatever.  But when I first put this one on the turntable I'm asking myself how it's going to hold up against "Paper Chase" and "Magnetic."  It's not a deliberate challenge I'm posing; you just can't help it.

So honestly my first listen was just a relief that the magic is still here.  The slick way they ride the rhythm, the clever way they pack complex and original series of rhymes into their bars.  The same way they got you geeking off of their style on tracks like "Lyrical Tactics" and "2 Tons" they do here.

Not that it's a total surprise.  They have been releasing dope music online and various side/ solo projects.  So it's not like we haven't heard from these guys since their heyday and we're wondering what they were capable of now.  In fact, that's largely how this album came about.  The title is Death Comes In 3s, well partially 'cause there's three of them, but really because they've been releasing a series of 3-song digital EPs.  Three EPs.  And now that they've put them all out, they gathered them together into one complete LP.

Another thing that makes a great Elements record, of course, is their production.  They're brilliant MCs, but the fact that they keep marrying their flows to the seemingly perfect tracks is essential.  And thank goodness, that's back, too.  About half of it is, yes, produced by Charlemagne, who's been behind them for so long, so consistently, for all their greatest hits that I honestly feel he's the fourth member.  So I would've been pretty bummed if he wasn't on board here.  In fact, it's a slight disappoint that he only produced half of these tracks, leaving the rest to be handled by relative unknowns J. Armz, Haydn3000, Joe Nights and GxBxT.  But it's only slight, because these guys manage to live up to the expectations Charlemagne set for them.  Joe Night's "Royalty" feels like a traditional NE track, and while Haydn3000's "We All Kings" and his Wu-Tangy "Feel" do have a different vibe to them, they're still really good, and bring a slightly less polished, street energy back to the crew that they used to have back when KA was a member.  Though I'm glad they let Charlemagne close it out with "Cream Of the Crop," which even with an R&B-sung hook really brings back their pure sound.

Not that it's all pure perfection.  There's the occasional creaky punchline like, "she treated me like a Garbage Pail Kid.  (How's that?)  She blew my head off."  "#Tribevibes," a track dedicated to A Tribe Called Quest, using some of their famous instrumentals, is a cool, fun track.  But they don't do Tribe as well as Tribe did Tribe, so it makes you just want to go back and listen to their originals.  So it's an amusing experiment, and fine as album filler, but comes off a little neutered compared to NE doing their own thing on all cylinders.  Honestly, that's one they could've left on Youtube and given us a crack at something like "Competition is NoNE" on vinyl instead.  But oh well.  It's still a good song, I can't really complain.

So this is a nine track album, but the physical versions include bonus tracks.  Both the vinyl and CD include the most exciting one, "Vroom (NEMix)."  "Vroom" is a Swigga solo track he released back in 2017, and just included it on his latest solo album, Sunset Mindset (which Hip Hop Enterprises has also released on both CD and vinyl).  It's a heavy Charlemagne track, and this remix uses the same beat, but turns it into a posse cut with all three Elements getting busy on there now.  I remember being excited by it when they first put it out online, and I'm excited to finally have it on vinyl now.

Then the CD also has one more bonus track, "DroNEs."  This one has them spitting over "Clones," one of The Roots' hardest hitting instrumentals that proved they were more than just a short-lived flash in the pan back in '96.  When I first heard about it, I thought it might be another dedication song like "#Tribevibes."  Then A-Butta starts it off sounding like it's going to be a topical song about paranoia and surveillance.  but in the end, it breaks down into just three freestyle verses.  That's okay, though, because these guys flexing skills over a great Hip-Hop track is more than enough.  But it's one of those where you also don't feel like you've missed the boat if you copped the vinyl instead of the CD.

Hip Hop Enterprises is behind the two versions, both of which are limited.  There's only 350 copies of the CD and 500 copies of the LP, which is split into 150 split black and white (white) vinyl, 150 black and white (white) splatter vinyl (exclusive to HHV.de) and 200 classic black.  All three come in a full picture covers with hand-numbered stickers.  Mine is #94/200.  Overall, it might not quite reach the peaks of its singles, but I'd say Death is even stronger than their unreleased Tommy Boy album, and as much of a must-have for any proper Elements fan.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Kowebunga! The Original Ninja Turtle Dance Rap

If you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, you're more than familiar with the smash hit "Turtle Power" Hip-Hop theme song to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.  And, of course, Vanilla Ice scored one of his few post-"Ice, Ice Baby" hits with "Ninja Rap" from the sequel.  The third one had a song called "Turtle Jam" by house rapper Loose Bruce.  More recently, Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign recorded "Shell Shocked" for the Michael Bay reboot.  Oh, and one of the animated movies also had a rap song called "Shell Shock" by the NY band Gym Class Heroes.  But before all of that, there was an earlier ninja turtle rap, an unauthorized entry into the canon: Jonny Chingas' "Kowebunga."  Yes, this is an April Fool's Day post, and yes this is a silly record, but this is real.

Jonny Chingas is behind half a billion records or so over the decades out in California.  Most of them were self-released on his own label(s), but they were occasionally picked up by CBS, UA or Columbia.  He started out in the 60's, releasing stuff under his real name, Rulie Garcia and a variety of band names.  As you can safely surmise, none of this was Hip-Hop.  But for the 1980s, and into the 90s, he came up with a new persona: Jonny Chingas.  As Chingas, he started releasing a lot of disco/ techno music, and he slowly worked his way towards actual rap.  He had an LP in 1984 called Break Pop Lock, which is obviously leaning into breakdance and street music, but he still wasn't really rapping much.  "Hey Mother F*****r" is sort of a proto-rap about getting pulled over by the police, and he was using vocoders and everything.  So it was only a matter of time.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention, A lot of his material is dirty, humorous stuff (even his earlier material consists of songs like "Horny Lover," "Hairy Situation" and "I'm Horny"), so it all kind of dovetailed into a natural fit by the mid 80's when many of his records had become definitively Hip-Hop.  He had a song in 1986 called "Night Stalker" where he was rapping pretty slick about, you guessed it, Richard Ramirez.  1988's "Mini Truck Lover" is a Miami bass-influenced sex rap with lines like, "she pulled down my khakis down past my ass, and by that time I had to pass a little gas."  His 12" "I Wish" has "A COMEDY RAP" handily printed right on the label and features a (hopefully!) ironically intended litany of extremely racist lyrics like, "I wish my skin was black, so I could make a lot of money, honey, selling crack."  That's not even one of the most offensive lines.  So you get the idea: sort of a cross between early Arabian Prince music and Blowfly shock-value humor.

And now you know I had to jump on it when I discovered one of his final records was, as the sticker cover boldly proclaims, a "NINJA TURTLE DANCE."  Actually, 1990's "Kowebunga," featuring The Turtle Soup Company, is surprisingly tame.  The joke, if there is one, is that the bold TMNT quotes shouted out for the hook "Cow-ca-ca-ca-ca-cowabunga!  Hey dude, what's happening, compadre?" are all so inauthentic-sounding and glibly betray their Mexican accent.  Or maybe it's just meant to be an earnest dance track (as are many of his recordings).  It's certainly a funky, high energy track with a cool bassline and an enthusiastic electric guitar solo at the end.  The raps are strictly perfunctory, straight-forward urges to dance, "shake your body and make your move; pump it up, baby, get in the groove."  The fact that there are rap verses at all feels like an afterthought, which is a little disappointing if you went in expecting rude rhymes about Donatello fingering April O'Neil.  But it's a catchy, low-fi dance tune in its own right, and certainly a novelty just by virtue of its existence.

The concept is credited to Ray Mejia, who executive produced one or two of Chingos' other records, but otherwise I believe all the music and everything is by Garcia, and Billionaire Records is his own label.  The few artists they've had that weren't him, like The Unbelievables, seem to have been at least working for him, if they weren't just aliases.  The 12" has three versions of the song: the Long Version on the A-side and then the Short Version - Vocal and Instrumental on the flip.  The B-side is practically the Long version with a fade out/ in halfway through.  If the next Ninja Turtles movie wants to impress me, they'll pay the (surely nominal) licensing fee and include this on their next soundtrack.  And if they really want to make some waves, they could find a way to work "I Wish" in there, too.