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!  💪