Friday, February 3, 2023

Who the Heck Is Skitzo?

Here's a mystery I've been living with for almost 30 years now...

This is a split white label 12" by Skitzo and S.O.S..  I'll come back around to S.O.S., because they're interesting, too.  But for now I want to focus on the A-side.  For one thing, it's why I bought this record.  This record came out in '95, give or take, and I can't remember now if I spotted it at Beat St Records, or maybe Sound of Market in Philly.  But the whole reason I picked it up in the first place is because I thought it was a new release by Tony da Skitzo.  But as soon as brought it home and put it on the turntable, I heard that it was definitely not.  In fact, I have no idea who it actually is.  At least I was in a Hip-Hop-specific store, so I didn't wind up with a punk rock 12" or something.

Now, S.O.S. I know for certain is a Brooklyn group, better known as Science of Sound.  No great detective skills on my part, they make their name pretty clear in the song.  They had a four-song 12" in 1995, and A Tribe Called Quest was on one of the songs; Phife was on another.  There was an unreleased full-length album that was leaked around the internet, which HHV eventually gave a proper release in 2020.  Their song here, "No Diggety" is okay, but not their best.  It has a sappy sung R&B hook, and it's one of the four songs on their official 12", so if you're interested in them, there's no need to mess with this white label, just get the proper 4 tracker (or, now, the whole album).  I checked "No Diggety" on both releases, and this is not a rare alternate remix or anything.

So back to the two Skitzo songs.  These definitely sound east coast, and actually, it didn't make a very good impression, so I didn't play it much for many years.  But going back to it more recently, I appreciate it more, especially the first song.  And now, paying close attention to the lyrics ("meet me at the corner of Utica and Atlantic"), I can fairly confidently surmise that they're also from Brooklyn.  I use the word "they" because it sounds like two guys, although it's possible Skitzo is one guy with an uncredited guest.  As you can see above, there are no credits of any kind on the label except the main artist and song titles.

So who are these guys?  No, they're definitely not the Skitzofreniks.  I have a bunch of their records and you can easily tell the difference.  Discogs links their listing to an MC named Skitzo who did a guest verse on a 2009 Latin Gangsta Funk album by a west coast artist named JKnuckles, but I find that hard to believe.  Googling around, I stumbled on another rapper named Skitzo who had a record out in 1995, but he's from Atlanta and it's clearly not him either.

I actually talked to the Written On Your Psyche guys over Youtube (back when they had private messages, which YT has tragically gone and erased all trace of... but hey, it was worth it to get Google+, right?), and I asked if the Skitzo who appeared on a couple of their songs made this record.  They actually said yes, but I think there was some miscommunication, because comparing the Poet tracks that Skitzo is on doesn't sound like this 12" at all.  Plus, I think that guy's white, and they're throwing the N word around pretty freely on this single.  Not that I've never heard a white MC throw it around... but no.  I'd be really surprised to be assured this is the same Skitzo.  Very different styles.

The Skitzo here is definitely not on the underground, lyrical, backpacker or battle rap kind of tip.  This is street stuff.  The first and best song, "Livin' Life On da Edge" is all about dealing dope and street life.  It's got a really cool track, though, with a main sample sound I can barely describe.  It's maybe sort of like something DJ Spinna would put out in that era, but harder and more grating.  Like someone slowed down and looped a car alarm or something, but then with super deep bass notes and a real subtle, almost west coast keyboard sound behind it.  It actually sounds really cool, and some of the writing on this song is actually pretty interesting, too: "and we back to my buildin', steppin' over children 'cause these public housing bitches make babies by the billions. We walk into my crib, it's like another world: 52 inch screen on plush carpet colored pearl."

The second song has some nice production, too.  It's got great horns mixed with big drums, chunky piano notes and almost a DITC vibe going on.  But it has a shout chorus that doesn't work too great.  Worse still, though, are the lyrics.  "Need da Gees" is just what it sounds like, about wanting to get paid.  But it's not just the cliche subject matter that holds it back; there's a gimmick, where they also say they "need the cheese" and just make non-stop Kraft/ Velveeta puns through the whole song.  If you don't follow the lyrics, it's a dope song.  But when you listen closer, it's pretty corny.  "Livin' Life," on the other hand, works on both tiers, and now that I can see this as more than just the "not Tony da Skitzo" record I bought by mistake, I realize this Skitzo's alright.

But who is/ are they?  The only other clue I have is that the run-out groove says "Tommy."  Was this released as radio/ DJ service for some acts Tommy Boy was planning to release?  Or maybe S.O.S.'s DJ Beetle's real first name is Tommy and he did the beats for both groups?  Who knows?  These are just shots in the dark.  Maybe this 12" is just a total bootleg made by a random college kid named Tommy.  But the fact that both groups on this 12" are from Brooklyn makes me wonder if they have more of a connection, leading to them being on a split 12" together.  If anybody has any ideas, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Don't Sleep On Your No Limit Brother

Bumping this twelve year-old post in honor of a legend. R.I.P.

It's not easy to explain my affinity for Dangerous Dame, but I think a lot of us who were there at the time share it. He's an Oakland rapper and producer who spent a long time in the game. He started putting out records way back in '88, got signed to Atlantic Records in 1990, and kept putting out indie albums all the way to 1999. During that time, he never had a hit record, and his duration can probably be explained by his more undercover career as a ghostwriter. We'll probably know most of the songs he had a hand in, but he was writing for Too $hort in his peak, even getting writing credit for his single, "Short But Funky."

And somewhere, in the middle of all that, he signed very briefly to New Orleans' infamous label, No Limit Records. He contributed to West Coast Bad Boyz the same year, 1994; and I'm guessing that's what lead to his signing with the label. But maybe it was the other way around. Regardless, he put out one EP (which in itself is a little odd for No Limit, who tended towards very long, often double albums... can you name another No Limit EP?), and then was quickly gone from their roster. His next album, also in '94, was already on another label.

It's titled Escape From the Mental Ward, and for some reason I felt compelled to pick this up on both cassette and CD back in the day. There's vinyl, too... but that uses clean Radio Versions. :P Anyway, all three formats feature the same six songs, written and produced almost entirely by Dame himself. I guess it vaguely fits into No Limit's sound in that it's very keyboard driven (mostly by a guy named Larry D), and famous musical riffs are replayed rather than sampled. Again, the appeal might not be readily apparent - in many ways this exemplifies everything people hated about No Limit... the music is cheesy and tinny, including that overused gangsta rap slide whistle sound that everybody used after The Chronic.

But a close, appreciative listen reveals something sincere and assured about the writing of it, especially the best track, "I'm Your Brother." It features a beautifully sung hook by Simply Dre, recreating a famous Isley Brothers lyric, which goes a long way to providing additional resonance to this surprising and touching life story that deals with strife and mental illness in a way only rivaled by Bushwick Bill's "Ever So Clear." And this one's even more relatable, absent the over-the-top aspects of Bill's character.

The lyrics don't seem to be available anywhere online, unfortunately, but I'm going to rectify that right now because they're worth it:

"I was a youngster, fresh out The Castle
Fools didn't wanna battle, 'cause Dame was a natural.
Straight comin' up, got a deal with Atlantic,
But then I got dropped, and I still didn't panic.
'They can't keep a good man down!' That's what I thought;
Believe me when it was all said and done, boy, I was taught.
But at the present time, I thought I had it all in control.
I done took one fall, I can't be fallin' no mo'.
And then the money went low, and then my hoe became my foe.
And she still is. But let me tell ya how real this is:
I didn't come home at night...
'Cause we would argue and fight, 'cause the cash-flow was tight.
That's when my so-called homies became my family.
But underneath? Them niggas couldn't stand me.
And like a fool, I let 'em know my problems,
And all the dank and drank I used that could solve 'em.
Soon as my back was turned, somebody slipped me a mickey...
That's when my mind went tricky.
So I stayed up for days trying to regain my saneness.
Now why they wanna do Dangerous?"

The second verse is even more personal, and we start to understand the title of this EP:

"I'm walkin' in a coma, imagination gone to the boonies.
Never did I think that I would lose me, but man I was lost,
Lost like a kidnapped kid.
I done sipped that shit, so I guess I got no get-back, bitch.
Split personality, I got a double.
It's time to see some casualties; I'm startin' trouble.
Mean muggin' all my folks,
Talkin' hella shit on every tape like I was tryin' to get myself smoked.
But deep inside I was cryin' for help.
But them niggas wanted to watch me just clown myself.
But that's alright, though, because my mama got the scoop.
She took me to the house, now I'm no longer on the loose.
But I was flashin', puttin' on a show.
She called the po-po to drag me out the do'.
I got my ass whupped for resistin' arrest;
One step away from the Smith and the Wess.
Saw my neighbors in my midst, they didn't wanna stop it;
They just wanted to peep some game so they could gossip.
Thinkin' I was going to jail, this is Hell; so help me, Lord.
Then came the ambulance to take me to the mental ward.
All because of envy, I'm in a mental penitentiary;
I know it's not meant for me.
But I'ma stay strong and let 'em hang 'till they stink.
They put a mickey in my drink."

See, it's as honest and revealing as Bill's song - the way he even brings in his issues with his neighbors? That's just good writing - and it all keeps coming back to a possible delusion (someone slipping a drug that makes you go insane is a classic paranoiac fantasy) that's as tragically disturbing as Bill's.

"Weeks went by, even months;
The word on the street is Dangerous Dame is out to lunch... with the psycho bunch.
I'm thinkin' about my baby.
Amd 'will she ever see her daddy again's a big maybe.
I'm an Oakland rap master.
But see the doctors don't give a fuck, they wanna send me to Napa.
I couldn't see that route,
So I gots to get up on my feet so I could be up out.
Yeah, that's when my folks came to see me.
I got a visit from my grand mama, $hort, Pooh and King Tee.
Now I know I got love...
'Cause my grand mama's hug was a message from the man up above.
I took it day by day until the doctors said okay,
And sent me on my way, and now I'm on my way
Back up on the mic.
But I gots to take these pills for the rest of my life.
It coulda been worse, so I thank you, my Lord.

I'm never looking back; I'm only looking forward.
I learned to love myself before I loved somebody else,
They slipped me a mickey but now I'm back up on the shelf."

The rest of Escape doesn't come as strong as the opening track - how could it? But it's still a nice, tightly packed little EP. The opening song features the best, and also the most upbeat, production; plus guest raps by Holy Quran, from the group Off da Hook who were signed to LOUD Records before their career was cut tragically short when Holy was shot and killed in the street. "Street Stars" makes nice use of a looped vocal sample paired with a funky horn riff and has the perfunctory Master P appearance to mark this an official No Limit venture.

But even as a tight EP, it probably should've been cut a little tighter, because after those three songs, it starts to fall off a bit. The embarrassingly misspelled "Be Their" is the only song Dame didn't produce. It's still not by a No Limit regular, though, but by Oakland's Al Eaton; and he's crafted an ill-advised musical remake of The Manhattan's "Shining Star." I mean, it's listenable... after all, it's blatantly lifting it's music from an old R&B classic, but it feels sappy and as corny as all those other, low budget west coast remakes of R&B songs, like The World Class Wreckin' Cru's "I'll Be Around" or something The Fila Fresh Crew would've done after D.O.C. left.

Things pick up a little with "Def, Dumb and Blind," starting off with a rousing speech sample before kicking some more militantly minded lyrics. But the music and especially the hook sound pretty rough, and the lyrics don't quite rise to the level I think they were shooting for. It features another appearance by Holy Quran and a female MC named Spoonie T. You have to give them props for putting a serious, sociopolitical piece on the album, but it just comes off as rushed and too low quality to be anything you'll want to revisit over the years. A strong remix could have really transformed this one.

Finally, it concludes with "If You Got It You Got It," which is pretty unremarkable. It's alright, and Dame feels like he's serious with his statements ("I know you cannot take this, but you must and you will"), but it's nothing special. Again, a better instrumental track would've gone a long way here, but as it is, it's album filler. I could take or leave it.

But despite the flaws and weak points, this is something rewarding and unexpected. There's nothing actually skip-worthy, and the highlights are inarguable. "I'm Your Brother" is a masterpiece. The whole EP's a cool, overlooked moment in Dame's career and a nice little gem in No Limit's golden tank.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Rogue Player Remixed

So we're just two weeks into the new year - or more importantly, three months since my my last post about Luke Sick - and dude's already released two more brand new albums?  And a vinyl single?  We've already wasted too much time - let's get into it!

We can start out with Rival Dealer by Creep Player, a.k.a. Luke and producer AC, with DJ Raw B on the cuts for one track near the end.  This is the first album by this particular pairing, but not their first project together.  AC is also known as AC415n, or even better known as Alex 75 of San Francisco Street Music, a major underground crew that've been releasing dope tapes since the 90s.  You might remember he released a vinyl single with Luke in 2000 called, wait for it... "Street Player" (I wrote about it here).  Actually, it was the "Indian Summer Remix" (Indian Summer being the title of AC's 2017 solo instrumental album), as the original version was from Luke & Raw B's album, Born Illness (I vlogged about that one here).  I described the difference between AC's remix and Raw B's original, how it, "slows and calms it down, giving it that kind of vibe for when you're splayed out on the couch and don't wanna get up."  And after the brief, higher energy intro, that's pretty much the vibe of the whole Creep Player album.

By the way, no version of "Creep Player" appears on Creep Player, this is 100% all brand new material ("chapter two in the saga of the creep player" as they declare on one of the tracks).  But it's an old vibe, that very much reaches back to sounds of G-funk, with deep piano notes, filtered handclaps, slow electro sounds and hard beats.  I mean, there's a song on here called "Pager Blowin Up."  How much you dig this album depends entirely on how interested you are in being transported to the late night left coast mid-90s.  It might've seemed a little backpacker-ish to put a lot of turntables on your gangsta tapes in those days, which is why I guess they don't utilize Raw B too much on here, but his slick handiwork of a choice vocal sample from The Click's "Out My Body" on "Strikin On the Freeway" only had me aching for more.  He definitely enhances the music without detracting from the spirit.

Next up is Rogue Titan, an album by Luke and producer Bad Shane.  I initially thought I wasn't familiar with Bad Shane except for seeing that he released another album just a couple weeks before this one with DJ Eons One called 41st and El Camino.  Eons One and another DJ named Ando do the cuts here.  But it turns out "Bad Shane" is an alias for Kegs One, the Bay area producer who's been making a ton of music with all those Highground artists like Megabusive and Spex.  He had a bunch of his own tapes, too, and he used to do those mixes with P-Minus.  I don't know if he ever actually produced a track with Luke before, like maybe on one of those FTA albums or something; but they've been in the same circles for a long time, so this pairing makes a lot of sense.

The album starts out with an intro cutting up Saafir's "Watch How Daddy Ball" over some super slow horns.  Unfortunately they don't credit which DJ is one which songs.  This album doesn't reach back to those old G-funk elements again, but it's definitely another mood piece.  Dark, slow, menacing.  "Yeah, peace to the hardrocks, death to the never-doers. A broken smoker and my folks were the bad influence. We don't have to like you. Me and my crew is mutants. Them greedy cops just jealous 'cause our spots was boomin'. We're youngsters, like to stay high and act inhuman."  Several of these tracks are instrumentals, but it's never too long before Luke comes back to the mic to lead us further down his black alleyway.  Songs like "Park With a Payphone" read like a confessional street crime novel, and even the straight flexing song "The Mic Menace From Mayfield" keeps landing on lines like, "die paying bills, fuck it."

Finally, the vinyl single is something you don't see often: a flex-disc.  It's by On Tilt, the pairing of Luke and QM that I've covered here quite often, "Beers With My Friends (Remix)."  "Beers With My Friends," if you don't recall, was on their last tape, The Fifth Album.  On my first listen, I was thinking gee, this doesn't sound all that different from the album version at all.  In fact, it's exactly the same beat by producer Banknotes.  But when I reached the end of the song, I caught on.  The original was a three-verse drinking song featuring TopR closing out the show.  On this version, he's replaced by QM's fellow Rec-League veteran Richie Cunning.  So two thirds of the song are exactly the same, but it's got a new finale.  Not that there was anything wrong with TopR's bars; they were full of the playful kind of punchlines perfectly suited for a mini-posse cut.  But Richie's verse is really smooth and syllabically dexterous, definitely a fun alternative to the original.  Plus it's the only way to own any version of this song on vinyl.

As of this writing, the Creep Player cassette and "Beers With My Friends" 7" flexi are both still available from Megakut.  "Beers" is just $3(!), so you should definitely jump on that while you still can.  The Rogue Titan cassette sold out on Megakut in a nanosecond, because they only got 15 copies in the first place.  It's primarily being sold through Throwdown Records, which up to now has just been a store (in Bellmont, CA) that sells old rap tapes and stuff.  But Kegs One actually owns it, so I guess that makes Throwdown the official label/ distributor now, too.  Maybe it's be the start of a whole, dope venture.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Year, Old Record

(It's 2023!  So let's celebrate, not with some crummy new music, but something wonderfully old, yet 4-Ever Fresh.  Youtube version is here.)