Monday, December 25, 2023


(Santa Claus takes the D train to Brooklyn this year to help Stetsasonic give the gift of music. Happy holidays, everybody! Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Finally! Children Of the Corn

(Okay, forces were definitely conspiring against me getting this particular video to you guys, but it's here now - the Children Of the Corn's Welcome To the Danger Zone 2LP from Dust & Dope!  Also a run-down of some other releases and interviews I've worked on, including an upcoming indie Philly restoration.  Oh, and yes, I know it's almost Christmas and I am still planning to get a holiday video up in time for that, too.  🙂  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Whodini's Greatest Beginning

I've written before about how some artists have had exclusive, original songs on their greatest hits albums, like UTFO's Hits and Kool Moe Dee's Greatest Hits.  It's a good way to get the fans who already own all their albums to have to buy the hits compilation, too.  Well, Whodini also did it.  There's a song on their 1990 Greatest Hits album that isn't available on any of their other albums, 12" singles, etc.

This is kind of an interesting greatest hits album, because usually they come at the end of an artist's run on a label, like a summary at the end of a story (and it can also be a slick way for a label to finish out a contract if they don't want to continue budgeting albums for them).  But this one came out in 1990, before their final album with Jive, let alone their comeback album and other great recordings that would merit inclusion on a true greatest hits collection (I mean, come on, if you're being objective, you'd have to include "It All Comes Down To Money").  And indeed, Jive wound up releasing two more, largely redundant Whodini greatest hits albums years later, neither of which include this exclusive song.

It's also interesting that this album lists "Magic's Wand" and "Freaks Come Out At Night" as Bonus Tracks, just because it's crazy to imagine Whodini's greatest hits without those two classics.  Something like "I'm a Ho," "Tricky Trick" or "Anyway I Gotta Swing It" are cool, too; but those I could see saying, well, these are just some more good songs we're sticking on as extras.  But "Freaks Come Out At Night" is an absolute Whodini essential!

Anyway, enough beating around the bush.  The exclusive song is called "In the Beginning" and yes, it's a full proper song... not a skit or half-assed freestyle.  And thankfully, it's produced by Larry Smith, so it's totally in keeping with the rest of Whodini's oeuvre, especially in that period.  Deep beats, electric bass notes and drawn out, spacey keys with just some very delicate use of sparse electric guitar in the back half.  It's essentially an Ecstasy solo song, although Jalil has the writing credit and I'm guessing the trio sings the hook (the credits don't specify), where he looks back at their rise to fame.  Again, it feels like a farewell, but Bag-A-Trix was about to come out on the same label with all the same personnel just one year later.

The one down-side is that it's very slowed down, giving it a properly sombre, retrospective feel.  But also stripping away Whodini's usually reliable upbeat, dance energy.  The gang makes sure it sounds like a true Whodini song, but not one that would be released as a single.  Still, Ecstasy brings his personality to the lyrics as he documents his journey, "we've come a long way, baby, we've suffered through thick and thin.  And if I had to do it over again, it would be with you, my friend."  And yeah, he still can't resist throwing in the odd cheese-ball line: "a good education did for me what Lipton did for tea."

Like all these songs recorded specifically to be added to the Greatest Hits albums, it isn't quite a greatest hit itself.  But it doesn't deserve to be forgotten either.  "In the Beginning" is really well done, and definitely designed to appeal to serious Whodini fans.  So if that's you, and you missed this the first time around (because after all, having to buy a whole other album just for one song really was a con), be sure to track it down.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

On the Mic: Luke Sick, Controlled By Gamma Light

Aw yeah, it's about that time of year again, and Luke Sick is back with a new solo album on Megakut Records.  It's called Tacked Out In the Gamma Light, and produced entirely by the homey QM.  I have to confess, even after listening closely to the album, which uses the phrase in the opening track, I'm not exactly sure what he means by the gamma light.  Stage lights maybe?  Or he does have a line that goes, "convulse, turn into the Hulk."  I mean, I feel like it's an Ultramagnetic MCs reference.  "Technic twelve hundreds are combined to rotate swiftly left to right.  On the mix: Red Alert, controlled by gamma light" is famously from "Bait."  But I'm not sure what Kool Keith meant by it either.  Maybe nobody really does, and maybe that's all part of the charm.

Outside of a few mysterious phrases like this, Tacked Out is an otherwise utterly uncomplicated album.  Ten short vocal tracks and a final instrumental, all solo songs except for one quick guest verse by QM, which immediately recalls the energy of their past On Tilt tapes.  Otherwise, Luke's basically just going off on loose topics of MCing, smoking and kicking it with the crew to create attitude and atmosphere: "arrived at the spot with a crispy-ass twenty, '89 mentality, got 'em pinchin' like a penny.  But hand me the overweight fluffy for a good custy, Buddhahead Buckethead with the bud leaf.  Before I spark it, 'cause the market's hella dangerous, gotta smell check and make sure it ain't angel dust. Suckaz can't hang wit us, lames is just ridin' on the tails of the coat, 'bout to get kicked in the throat."  Hell, the song titles alone tell you all you'll need to know: "The Beer Is Cold," "Blunts Upon a Time," "The Mess Is Yours (The Rest Is Ours)."

And the production shares the same mentality: simple yet deceptively effective, short loops over tight beats using samples you won't recognize.  Two tracks feature live bass played by someone named Joe Nobriga, which does give them a little more of an organic feel when you really pay attention, but you wouldn't know it was live instrumentation if it wasn't in the liner notes.  If it wasn't clear, that's a compliment.  It's all tightly calculated to keep you nodding along to Luke's words, although there are a couple extra-catchy tracks at the end of the album that'll steal your attention.  "Bust Y'all" has some extra heavy bass and a fun mash-up of Big Daddy Kane and Joeski Love quotes for the hook.  "Troopin' Thru the Venue" features a wild, religious-sounding vocal sample looped through the whole song.  And "All the Hustlers" is an especially smooth way to close out the show.

Tacked Out is available on cassette only, limited to 100 copies, and comes as a cool looking orange tape with a full-color fold-out J-card.  It's already sold out on Megakut's bandcamp page, but as of this writing, there are still a few available on QM's.

Now if you're reading this thinking, gee, just one album?  Hasn't Luke come out with like, four or five albums every other time you've posted about him in the last couple years?  Oh yeah.  Since we last checked in, he's also released a new album with Bad Shane (their second after Rogue Titan) called Woofer Crust on cassette, limited to 100 copies, as well as a new vinyl EP (limited to 250 copies) called P.O.A., due out later this month.  There's also an all new, second LP with Wolfagram called Garshas available from Iron Lung, 350 on traditional black and 150 on lime green vinyl.  And there's a new CCCRRCCSSLLRRKKRRSSS album, which is a largely instrumental project Luke is part of, but does also feature some vocals by him, on limited edition CD (apparently only 25 copies), plus a shorter EP version on cassette, limited to just 20 copies.  So don't worry; he's not showing any signs of slowing down.  I do wish some of these limited editions weren't quite so limited, though.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Why Not To Name Your Group The "Verbal Assassins"

So, I have this rare CD single I've been thinking about writing about.  It's from 1998, not on discogs or mentioned anywhere else online that I can find.  And I really don't know anything about it except what's printed on the front and what I can hear on the disc.  It's by a group called the Verbal Assassins, so I decided to look them up to see if I could find anything out, and sheesh.

First of all, I'm highly confident that these are not the same Verbal Assassins as in Crazy Sam and da Verbal Assassins, the Video Music Box "Nervous Thursdays" VJ and his crew who put out one weird, little album in 1994.  For one thing, these guys are from Virginia, as they point out in one of their songs.  But that barely narrows it down, because "Verbal Assassins" seems to be a very popular rap group name, even though none of them ever had a hit song.  So it might be a bit of a cursed choice.

Let's see.  If they're from VA, they're surely not these Verbal Assassins, who helpfully point out that they're from NJ, probably because they've gotten notes from people looking for info on one of the other Verbal Assassin crews.  And these Verbal Assassins are from South Africa.  These Verbal Assassins are from Australia.  These Verbal Assassinz are from Alabama and don't even spell the name right.  I don't know where these Verbal Assassins are from, but they sound way too young and new.  Same with these Verbal AssassinsThese Verbal Assassins are too new and from the wrong place.  This guy was in a group called Verbal Assassins, but that was in Baltimore.  This other guy formed a group called the Verbal Assassins, and he's from Virginia, but it was just a duo, and there's more cats in my group.  These Verbal Assassins are white, and from the lyrics here, that rules them out.  Here's an interesting Verbal Assassins group, but they sound nothing like the ones on my CD.

I was really starting to think it was actually these Verbal Assassins: black with several members, from VA and around the same time period.  But this unflattering review of their album lists member names (Elsagandoe, Supreme, K-Otic, Erupt, Lowe Digga and producer Styles da Grinch) that I don't hear on this CD and talks about club tracks, which doesn't sound like this crew's style.  Plus, their imprint was Unshakeable Visions, and my group's is Hocus Pocus Records.  Of course, that's not to say and up and coming rap group couldn't have switched indie labels in the course of two years, but taken all together, all these indicators are reading a big "mmm... probably not" to me.  And I think groups named Verbal Assassins might just be more prevalent in Virginia because their state code is V.A.

These Verbal Assassins are five MCs, one seems to be saying his name is Sean Don, another is Baby Boy and a third might be Murder I.  And they mention "Shakim on the wheels," though unfortunately none of these three songs feature any turntablism.  They basically blur the line between lyrical freestyle rhymes and street talk, with a bit of a Natural Elements influence, though they don't quite have Charlemagne's classic production.  "Open Mic" is just a non-stop freestyle with each MC taking a turn to flex his skills over a simple battle rap loop and no hook.  "Rush Hour" is a little more street and does have a hook, and "Adolescence" turns even further, with a more musical sample and some serious warnings for the young bloods.  All three beats are serviceable, but the selling point is definitely the MCing, with writing styles veering from creative metaphors to punchlines.  A couple of the lines are stale even for their time ("fuck with more women than a lesbian," "make 'em scream 'uhhh' like Master P"), but they're mostly pretty slick, with distinctive voices and vocal styles to boot.  One guy will be fast and smooth, then the next dude sounds like Vooodu, saying:

"Comin' from the underground, ambush this industry.
Catch it from all angles: physically, mentally.
Y'all niggas feel me; and if you don't understand:
My crew secretes verses, touchin' every gland.
Storm troopin' in your sanctuary,
See the views of a young, black visionary
With murderous vocabulary.
Seein' through your crew like lace panties;
Guzzle 'em down like E&J brandy
Liq-uor.  Feel the script-ure,
But not visible.  Verses: they rip through your physical,
Battles: they injure you.  I enter this rap
Domain and give 'em all my thesis,
My opinions; speeches crush the opposition.
Leave a trail of shattered craniums on my mission.
Give me that mic and ball up in fetal position.
Feel the illness all up in your mom's uterus,
'Cause I move swiftly, usin' assassin tactics.
The new school of Hip-Hop, yes, I'm born again.
Break out the germ in this[? maybe "German-ness?"], cast into this world of sin.
It's like I'm torn between Heaven and Hell,
Neither wants me:
The fallen angel, enter the Elm Street."

Honestly, the more I listen, the more it continues to grow on me.  I'd love to discover more from these guys, but it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack where each straw is another rap group also calling themselves Verbal Assassins.  Seriously, I wish more up and coming artists respected when a name is already taken.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Def Semetery

(A legit horrorcore group that for some reason never gets mentioned.  Youtube version is here.  Happy Halloween!)

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Lost Deep Puddle Dynamics Interview

I did not do this interview; I can take no credit for it except that I (sort of) commissioned it and got The Source to post it online back in 1999.  And I think I minimally copy-edited it, because I was doing that for everything that got posted there in those days; but as I recall, it didn't need much at all.  I never posted this on my blog ("necro'd" it) because, again, it's not my writing.  You can tell; all that expository text really isn't my style.  But this vintage Deep Puddle Dynamics interview is no longer online, and hasn't been for decades.  I'm pretty sure if I don't share it, it will be forever lost to the ages, so I'm posting it for you all to enjoy now in 2023 as a tiny bit of Hip-Hop history.  Enjoy!

"Yeah is Del - I mean Jel - there?"
"Yeah, Del's here."
"No, I mean Jel.
"Yeah, Del. Catch a Bad One. I'll go get him."
"Which one?"
"Which word?"
"Um - chicken."
"Cool. I'll go get him."

I'll probably never know which member of Deep Puddle Dynamics (besides Jel) answered the phone that afternoon. The smart money is on Slug, but whoever it was, I doubt he even remembers the interaction. Regardless, it pretty much reflects the dichotomy of the entire crew: For a bunch of guys who're trying to take hip-hop to the next, mind-expanding level, the members of Deep Puddle Dynamics are a bunch of goofballs.

Deep Puddle Dynamics didn't come together like most groups do. All of the MCs (Slug, Dose, Sole and Alias) had distinct musical careers before they assembled as a group and have continued to work on their solo projects all along. And, even though Deep Puddle Dynamics is set to drop later this year, all four are working on a whole slew of solo albums and collaborations with and as other groups. Everyone involved is about putting out product and keeping their fans equipped with dope music.

The MCs of Deep Puddle are a unique cast of characters, to say the least. Slug, straight out of Minnesota and the Rhymesayers crew, is practically a superhero in the Midwest underground, albeit a rather tall and gangly one. Many fans and MCs in Minnesota, Chicago and surrounding areas are literally awestruck in his presence. He has the charisma and ability (pun intended; his DJ's name is Abilities) to truly control the mic and the crowd. As for Dose, underground MC Eyedea has described him as the James Joyce of hip-hop. Some audiences don't know how to react when he hits the stage. Now living in Cincinnati by way Philadelphia and a bunch of other places, the 1200 Hobos MC wraps words and thought around the average listener's gray matter and squeezes hard. Sole, the short and kinda stocky former frontman for The Live Poets, is a physical counterpoint to Slug. Originally from Maine, now living in Oakland, he's self-described excessive talker and charismatic mic controller. Alias, one of Sole's old partners in crime from Maine, is much quieter and more reserved than the other three. Maybe it's his marriage. This calm exterior hides a propensity to lyrically snap hard on a track. Production for the group is usually split between Jel, Mayonnaise, Alias, Abilities, and ANT (of Atmosphere).

Most of their interviews are nightmares for the conventional journalist. You ask them a serious question, and they fuck with you. You ask them a not so serious question, and they still fuck with you. Jel, one of their producers, told me about an interview they had with some German magazine while in California.

"She kept on asking us these real deep questions, like 'What's your definition of hip-hop?' and 'What are trying to do with your music?' We just sat on the on the couch and had a blast. She didn't know what to say after a while."

That's what I had to look forward to that afternoon. This June, all of the components of Deep Puddle were together in Chicago for a show - a truly rare occasion - and on this Saturday they d gathered in one place: Jel's crib. So I got to do an interview with all of these components out on the lawn in front of Jel's apartment.

The members of Deep Puddle have a penchant for spinning works of complete fiction during their interviews. The problem for the interviewer is that they're so damn good at it, it's hard to tell the difference between the fiction and the reality. They're great at building off each other while creating a story, and even better at telling you with a complete straight face that it's all true. Of course, when you're going over your notes, you realize that it was all a joke, but it sounds feasible at the time. I mean, how likely is at that Alias and Mayonnaise can't drive through Michigan anymore because they held up a pumpkin patch with two pale-skinned Goth women?

Okay, so maybe I didn't fall for that one, but they got me with another, the details of which I won't divulge (something about Sole witnessing Bushwick Bill getting beat-down in Texas). But, hey, I didn't take offense. It was all in good fun.

All of Deep Puddle agreed afterwards, however, that this was the most serious interview they had ever done. The reason being they were, in their own words, "humbled" by the previous night's concert. But more on that later.

The members of Deep Puddle were united by pure musical appreciation, of other artists and each other. Although Sole and Alias, who d grown up together in Maine, had already recorded albums as The Live Poets, all they knew of Slug and Dose was their music. Then, they all came together at an Aceyalone concert.

"We all loved each-other's music and wanted to do a project," Sole said, "And we said,  Fuck it, let's all just come to Minneapolis.  We all just scrapped everything we'd done to do something different, [and] in doing so, we - for me - redefined hip-hop, what I want to do. It was totally life-changing."

It all finally came together a little over a year ago, in a nearly week long, extended recording session at Slug's house. A bunch of Minnesota sunsets, one funeral and countless cigarettes and blunts later, Deep Puddle Dynamics was finished, and the crew was satisfied.

"We vibed off of it. We just sparked the whole thing," Slug says. "And now, it's like everything that I get involved with has progressed way past what I used to be when I released Overcast! [his last album with Atmosphere]."

That week long session affected all of Deep Puddle emotionally.

"I still listen to the album and look at the pictures, and every time I do, I just get a warm feeling, like, this is such a great thing to happen," Sole says.

Alias agrees, "I didn't know what to expect but, like, it was a warm feeling to know all of us, not knowing each other, could get together and just rush an album basically in a matter of three days [of recording]."

"That weekend was like, none of us knew each other," Jel adds. "We might have met at a certain point, but after that weekend it was like " he paused as Slug snapped his fingers. "Yeah, it was like a family."

Sole continues, impassioned, "After I met Slug and Dose and Jel, I felt closer to them than anyone else in the world, plus Mayonnaise and Alias. I felt these were like my best friends. We're all drawing from each other and pushing each other [as artists] and nobody's satisfied. We just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing. And I don't think it's ever gonna stop. I was humbled by the whole thing."

It was emotional on other levels for Slug as well. That week he d severed ties with a close friend and lost a grandfather. During the drive to the funeral, with his mother, his son and his son's mother, he sat and wrote a verse. This verse became his part of "June 26th, 1998," a track Deep Puddle considers a culmination of the entire week.

"I think this group we have is really good for showing and proving," Dose concludes, "I think that's what we did. Since we did Deep Puddle, a lot more innovative stuff between the four of us, and all of our friends, has been done. But it was Deep Puddle that really gave us a perspective."

The previous night's show left Deep Puddle feeling deeply conflicted. Slug didn't even want to talk about it at first. Everyone else grumbled about how frustrated and annoyed they were on how the show went down. But what left them so "humbled" by the experience was that, in many ways, it was a disaster waiting to happen. After it was all said and done, the audience left happy.

The concert itself would be any crew's nightmare. It was disorganized, to say the least. Not too long before the first act went on, there was a serious chance that the show would be cancelled, because the promoters said not enough people had shown up. Mayonnaise said he'd already packed his records and was ready to go, when the opening act went on.

The venue itself didn't help either. They performed on a stairwell in the lobby of a large concert hall. The really high ceiling made the acoustics sound terrible. "It sounded like we were performing in St. Patrick's Cathedral," Alias quips.

And like every troubled show, they had to contend with the soundman. But they all agreed that he was basically a nice guy, just out of his element.

"He dressed like a wedding DJ," Dose remarks, as everyone murmured in agreement. "He had it on him. He smelled like a wedding DJ."

"You could tell by the cordless mics," Slug agrees. He and Dose then proceeded to discuss whether or not the mics smelled like cake or Macy's.

The cordless mics were another source of trouble. Apparently someone forgot to change their batteries before the show, so they buzzed really loud during the performances.

"Let that be a lesson to you," Slug says. "As much as rappers wish they had cordlesses so they could, I don't know, stage dive - or whatever the fuck it is that they wanna do - corded mics are a lot more dependable."

Furthermore, they had to perform without monitors. As an attempt to remedy this, they faced the DJ speakers at the top stairwell outwards, but even that didn't work.

"Actually, it was kinda funny, 'cause all we could hear coming through our monitors was our vocals, which was really weird," Slug says. "So at least we could hear what we were saying, but we already knew what we were saying, so "

And, on top of all that, the DAT machine stopped working midway through the show, forcing the crew to perform sans music. Phenomenally, this didn't set Deep Puddle back at all. In fact, it helped give the show its really unique character.

"At that point we were like, 'We can't rock beats any more. Let's just do it acappella,'" Sole explains, "And Dose loves doing acappellas anyway."

So, for reasons that Dose couldn't fully explain, halfway through his set of the show, he instructed everyone in the audience to sit down on the steps while he read his poetry for almost 10 minutes--not something you see everyday.

"I was just doing what's in me, and that's what s cool about it: it wasn't contrived, it was natural," Dose beams. "And in my opinion, the type of shows I want to walk away from - it's that type of stuff. Because naturally, I'm a nervous wreck, so I have to put effort into being relaxed and happy, and things like that helped." But the audience loved it.

"So, like, it went from like a hip-hop show gone bad to almost a slam, and that's something these kids have never seen before," Sole says. He then concludes, "I didn't have a good time performing until we started doing the acappella shit."

The entire audience had a great time. Deep Puddle credits the audience's reaction for transforming the evening from a disaster to a life-affirming experience. Fans that Deep Puddle didn't even know they had showed up and gave they crazy love.

"Afterwards, it was like, 'You guys are fucking freaks! You are fucking crazy! You guys moved me!'" Sole exclaims. "And we had all the conversations afterwards with kids who knew our stuff, had heard our stuff. It s just a nice feeling to know that you're not doing it for nothing. Forever we've done it for nobody, just each other." Since it was the first time that Deep Puddle had performed for its fans, they were especially troubled that the conditions at the venue were so atrocious.

"See, it would have been different had we played unknown, opening for some known group, and the sound was that bad; we would've looked at it differently," Slug explains. "But since everybody was so cool to us and so nice to us, that the sound thing sucked  But we still walked away from it feeling good about the audience."

"Last night I think I came into my own, performing," Dose says. "And only because I had confidence that was genuine. With all these guys behind me, I could truly be myself. That's never been the case before. It was like I was myself on stage for the first time. And it was because I had these three guys with me. It brought so much to me."

But not everyone in attendance appreciated Deep Puddle's show. One wannabe MC in particular took it upon himself to challenge the crew to a battle as the show wound to a close. He wanted to battle Dose; big mistake. In all honestly, it was over before it started, and actually pretty embarrassing. Dose quickly showed his lyrical superiority, and the challenger was unable to mount even a basic comeback. Soon the crowd was chanting for the guy to get the hell off the stage.

That's almost a metaphor for what we're doing," Sole reflects. "We want these people to listen to our records. And if you take someone like that up on stage, and they're doing their DMX impersonations, and you got Dose doing Dose, it's just funny."

Dose himself didn't take the whole thing too personally, and even though he made the guy look like a schmuck, he says he didn't try to totally destroy him. He admits, "I went in there and I didn't mean to be mean or angry with that kid; I just had a blast and let him completely reflect himself in me. He was just being a fool, so I gave him what he wanted for dinner, and then it was mellow. It was just a mellow battle."

Slug agrees, and explains how the entire encounter really reflects what the group is trying to accomplish musically. "That kid, when he came up, wanted to hate on Dose in general 'cause he couldn't understand Dose. And then, afterwards, I was talking to kid, and he was like, 'Yo, I'm from out East, and out East we do it a little different. But I gotta say, you guys got your own sound, your own thing, and I think it's really dope.' We could present what we re doing. Granted, we're coming from four different things as it is. And if we can push it all together and present it and have cats accept it like that, to me that's what it's all about. Quit writing out of your head and start writing with your heart."

After the interview is over, a small brown rabbit comes out of the brush and hops leisurely across the lawn. Dose points and exclaims, "Look! A rabbit."

"Let's get it," Slug replies.

"You wanna?" Dose says, and then looks at Slug for half a beat. They both then spontaneously break out in a sprint across the lawn towards the fleeing rabbit.

They chase it down the alley along the house, onto the nearby street, towards a large brown house. As they turn the corner into the yard, Jel says, "Yeah, they're having fun now, but wait 'till they run into the dog that lives in that house."

On cue, the dog bellows three or four times, and Slug and Dose run back in the opposite direction, to the rest of us congregated on Jel's lawn. As they approach, out of breath, Slug says, "You know what's the worst thing about hip-hop? Chasing rabbits through the streets."

Dose adds, "I think we just changed the course of nature. That dog probably killed that rabbit. We hit the lawn and the dog went directly for it."

Deep Puddle then heads back into Jel's apartment trading jokes and insults all the while.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Yeahhhhhh Get Ready Ta Roll

In 1992, an indie New Jersey rap crew put out their first record under the handle 2 Hard Ta Handle called "That Girl," which combined kind of a pop dance track based on Alicia Myer's oft looped "I Want To Thank You" (Father MC and the Fu-Schnickens used it that same year).  After that, they toughened up their image and came out as Ready Ta Roll with two harder and more impressive 12"s: 1993's "The Real Hip-Hop" and 1994's "Drug Game."  After that, they split up, though their lead MC, Supreme, carried on into production, doing a bunch of stuff for bigger artists like AZ and LL Cool J.

Anyway, those two Ready Ta Roll 12"s became rather pricey, sought after minor grails in the "random rap" sphere.  But luckily, last year, they were reissued as a new EP with all the A and B sides from both singles, including the instrumentals.  Plus, even more excitingly, two never before released bonus tracks.

So, as you can guess from the titles, the "The Real Hip Hop" / "Ready Ta Roll" is a little more on the backpacker tip, talking about "lyrical skills" and taking "your very next show and let's turn it to a battle date."  The production is both smooth and raw with big boom-bap drums and crisp jazzy samples.  And Supreme's got a deep, hard voice (which was even impressive on "That Girl").  You'll fall in love with this music on the first listen.  But if there's a weakness, it's that lyrically, he can be a little stiff.  Also, the hook on the first track also name-drops all the big artists of the day ("the real Hip-Hop, you know the kind of Hip-Hop Pete Rock and CL Smooth got?  The real Hip-Hop, the real Hip-Hop, you know the kind of Hip-Hop Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg got?") feels a little gimmicky and more than a little ass-kissy.

There's some very 90's shout hooks, which anybody nostalgic for the 90s will especially appreciate.  "Ready Ta Roll" lets their DJ Tysheen get on the mic, and he's pretty dope, too.  That's good, since he doesn't get to do much scratching on here.  Only the B-side to their second 12" really let him lay down some cuts with a tight Lakim Shabazz vocal sample.  Tysheen gets on the mic on that one, too, though you almost wouldn't notice, since he's just as capable an MC as Supreme.  But "Drug Game" is their classic.  It's got their most addictive production and a serious message that feels heart-felt rather than preachy.  Even when he brings up "the devil's tricknology," it feels like it's coming from a place of genuine anger and frustration rather than some finger-wagging principal.

So yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, but what about the exclusive bonus tracks already?  Well, honestly, one is a lot more exciting than the other, so let's work our way upwards.  The first is a never-before released remix of "Drug Game."  It doesn't say so on the label anywhere, but I'm pretty sure this is a new remix, created for this EP.  It's produced by a Greek DJ named Jazzy Chavo, who I don't think was even active in the music scene back when "Drug Game" was originally recorded.  But it's still dope.  He brings in an entirely new sample set for this mix, but keeps the original drums so the vocals don't sound out of place.  And this new track is moody, subtle and strikes a similar mood of jazziness without being too dark.  I can't imagine any fan of these 90s tracks not digging this new take on the material.

Finally, there's "Live Episode," which when I first saw it listed in the track-listing was going to be a live recording of the crew freestyling on a local radio station or taped at a vintage show.  But no, it's a proper, fully studio produced Ready Ta Roll song, recorded in 1995 but just wasn't able to be released before the crew broke up.  The production is just as crispy as the songs from their two 12"s.  Supreme, now using the name Chop Diesel and Tysheen are both back on the mic, and Tysheen gets another chance on the turntables as well, cutting up a little "Just Rhymin' With Biz."  It's absolutely as fresh as their last two singles, even better than some of the songs.

Limited to 250 vinyl copies (in a full picture cover) or 300 CD copies from Hip-Hop Enterprises, this is an excellent way to pick up Ready Ta Roll's rare material.  And even those deep collectors who've got both original 12" will want this for the killer '95 track (and stay for that slick remix).  I got mine a little late (did I mention this came out in '22?), so it's only available direct from the label on CD, but as of this writing, the wax still appears to be in stock at VinylDigital, Juno and places like that.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Unagi, Too

You may remember me posting a review of an instrumental album by producer Unagi saying, "listening to this gets me more excited to check out a vocal album."  Well, I guess he was listening, because - while he has occasionally rapped on songs before - he's just dropped his first proper vocal album where he's both the MC and producer.  Now, real quick, just in case I've got any residual influence left, I want to say: I think Special Ed and Slick Rick should record an album together.  Okay, now watch this space in 2024.

Meanwhile, back to the new Unagi LP.  It's called Terminally Eel, and the title is one of several eel puns he's named his albums after.  I actually only recently got it now because I googled the name "Unagi."  It comes from the eel in Super Mario 64.  Anyway, Terminally's an album of mostly all new songs, each of which are 100% full vocal tracks.  I say "mostly" because a few of these songs are remixes of rare vocal tracks from his past: "U Stole My Heart" is from 2009's Reinventing the Eel, "Sunshine" is from 2011's All Set and I think "Excuse Me" was an online only joint from 2021.

So if you're new to Unagi as an MC, he's got a relaxed, low key voice and simple flow you're either going to vibe with or not.  The most direct analog, I think, is mcenroe, who's always kicked a pretty similar sound.  But his subtle yet jazzy production - which, actually, is also pretty in tune with the Peanuts & Corn gang - will be harder for anyone to dismiss.  There's more of a uniformity to the sound on this LP.  We don't really get any bouncy tracks, or high energy ones.  It's smooth, cool, but when you pay attention, they're pretty hearty, with a lot of rich samples.

An underlying theme of this album is aging, specifically in Hip-Hop, and some of the conflict inherent in becoming a mature artist in a genre often known for its brashness.  But Unagi approaches this in a considerably more wry way than, say, Whirlwind D.  He definitely has a penchant for punchlines like, "stay way underground like a Thai soccer team" or "you make me feel finer than the kindest grass in the winner's circle at the Cannabis Cup."  I think he's also intentionally using dated references and creaky old school style lines like "you got me flippin' like Mary Lou Retton" or "like The Jerk with the Optigrab and the special purpose" to sort of ironically emphasize the theme of an older head out of his time.  Or maybe that's just his tastes.

He gets away with it, in part, I think because of his droll flow, where if you're not in the mood, you can just vibe to the music and glide right over 'em.  And they're all in the service of more interesting contexts.  For example, "Baystate OGs" is at once a fond ode to his home state, listing out everything it's famous for, "originators, man, you know how we're living: so old school we invented Thanksgiving. Center of the universe and you know it's all true, started basketball, volleyball and baseball, too. Indian motorcycles, guns from Smith & Wessun, cranberry juice, Dr. Seuss teach you a lesson."  But it's not afraid to cynically point out its flaws and veer into scathing take-down territory, "Boston traffic nightmare like Wes Craven... where the witch trials caused widespread hysteria: Massachusetts, it's the spirit of America."

So as you can see there, I don't mean to imply this album is all on one topic.  He's got a song about rural life in the country, a song about being an overlooked artist, a love song, cars, weed, 80s nostalgia... "Worstworld" is specifically about crises in current world events.  But even then, it's sort of from a midlife "things used to be better than this" perspective.  And even that song can't help but get a little irreverent at points ("blue versus brown: shoot now, proof later.  Now there's more dead cops than in the first Terminator").  Yeah okay, maybe it does go too far at points.  But there's a sincere melancholy in and self-deprecation when he talks about his life that keeps things from feeling too whimsical: "I love making music but don't care to promote it.  Maybe that's why nobody noticed."  The only flat-out jokey song I'd say is the final one, "Old Man Rappin," which reminds me of novelty rap records like "Geezer Rap" or "You Didn't Use Your Blinker Fool" (lyrically, not sonically), by which point I reckon he's earned a spot of unrepentant silliness.

And Terminally Eel gets the fully loved vinyl treatment.  It comes from his own 442 Records label in a color picture cover and also includes an insert with the complete lyrics and his discography.  Speaking of which, he also has a very limited edition LP release of his self-titled 2003 instrumental debut, Unagi, still available as of this writing from his bandcamp.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Two Gucci Crew IIs and a Lie

(Fake singles, a lost album and children's birthday parties? Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Biz Doc

If you didn't know, Showtime has produced an original documentary feature about Biz Markie, which just debuted this week.  It's directed by Sacha Jenkins who did that Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men thing (also for Showtime).   Biz Markie absolutely deserves a documentary, so I'm glad he got one.  I was worried going in that this would be a pretty superficial doc that said he made "Just a Friend" and starred in Yo Gabba Gabba and bounced.  Well, it absolutely does begin with a tribute to "Just a Friend" followed quickly by a clip of Gabba.  But thankfully this doc then proceeds to get it right.

And I went in with my arms crossed, ready to be disappointed.  We've been let down enough by these kinds of projects, and I can't say I place a ton of faith in... Showtime.  In the very beginning, I thought it might be leaning too heavily into big name celebrities and some silly animation, but really I have no complaints.  Juice Crew guys get more time than guys like Nick Cannon and Tracey Morgan; there's some great vintage footage.  They speak to his childhood friends and family, from Diamond Shell to the high school crush who inspired "What Comes Around Goes Around."   They dive deep into his earliest history, show us his famous collection, and even use a "Me & the Biz"-style puppet to reenact his final days in the hospital(!).  Then Masta Ace makes a little "Me & the Biz" sequel, his wife shows us his rhyme books, Craig G and Kane perform original tributes to him.  Pete Nice shows us the Biz pieces in his museum, Rakim takes us to his high school cafeteria where they first met, perhaps best of all, Marley Marl plays us a taste of the first demo he ever recorded with Biz.

Even if you feel like you already know all there is to know about Biz, you should check it out.  I was really pleasantly surprised.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Libra D

Whirlwind D is a really prolific artist, particularly on vinyl, which we especially appreciate here at Werner's.  He's basically been dropping a new vinyl release every year for a long time.  So it's surprising to think this is basically only his fourth album even when you include his rare 90's cassette.  He's been releasing singles, EPs and that nifty compilation that included his demos and stuff.  But this is actually his first album in seven years.

This album is split into two distinct sides, "Grey Matter" and "Dark Matter," which kind of mirrors the light and dark sided theme of his single, last year's "Lucky Number," which is featured on here (though its B-side, "Do It Now," remains exclusive to that 7").  It suggests two sides of the artist and also presumably is meant to suggest the two sides of the scales of justice that portray the Libra Zodiac sign, suggested in the cover image of the split brains on the two turntables.  Grey Matter consists of upbeat songs celebrating Hip-Hop, etc (we'll delve more into specifics as we proceed) and Dark Matter has another six with a more ominous sound and more serious subject matter.

Besides Dark Matter's "Lucky Number," the only other song returning to us is the ever-popular "Labels," which is naturally on the Grey Matter side.  "Labels" debuted on his 2018 EP Beats, Bits and Bobs, was featured on the aforementioned 2020 comp, and was later remixed for the B-side of his "Without Music" single.  You may recall that was the Smoove Mix 7" Edit.  Well, here we finally have the Smoove Extended Mix, which adds about 35 seconds, including some nice build-up at the start and letting the horns fade out at the end.  No extra verse or other elaborate additions, but it's a super catchy instrumental, so just letting it ride a little more is a welcome touch.

Grey Matter starts with a short instrumental Introduction with some nice little scratches.  Scratching, as ever in D's catalog, is going to play a major, hype part of this album, especially on Grey Matter.  In fact, the very next track, "When It's Fast" has Specifik going nuts on the turntable, totally living up to the title, D's ode to his love for fast, high energy production.  Of course, that can be setting yourself up to fail if you don't have a killer instrumental, but Djar One does, with a sample set that harkens back to the late 80s and early 90s, but put together in a way that feels fresh and not at all trapped in the past.

"Sambuca" slows things down a little, but is still full of life, a light-hearted anthem for D's liqueur of choice.  It definitely reminds me of Gulp City's celebratory hedonism, but D brings his own personality to it.  The beat has a real smooth touch, this time by Specifik, with Djar One (they've switched places) slicing in a collection of choice vocal samples for the chorus.  In fact, it's all Specifik and Djar One for the rest of side A (apart from Smoove's remix of "Labels," but even that was originally produced by Djar with cuts by Spec).  "Everyday Hustle" has an especially catchy rolling piano loop and twangy funk guitar sample on the hook with another upbeat track and plenty of cuts as D talks about maintaining positivity in his daily struggles ("whatever the challenge ain't really a trouble; pick myself; it's an everyday hustle").  It reminds me of the best tracks by artists like Kwamé or Groove B Chill in the early 90s.

Finally, "Ocean's Breeze" is pure mood with some crazy flute and a brilliant horn sample on the hook, plus of course more cuts, but they're more subtly used on this track than the others, because they know they've already got such killer instrumental samples.  There's even this crazy little laserblast sound effect they quietly mix in that makes everything feel so full and alive.  This song brings to mind the vibes Brandon B was able to capture on his solo albums.  In fact, I could totally see Brandon and D working together someday.  The energy on this whole side is off the hook.

Not that the fun's all over when we flip this over.  Well, maybe in a way it is, but I like dark stuff in my music.  Let's have some real talk.  To that end, first up we have "Flames" featuring and produced by Farma G, who's one half of Task Force and a prolific solo producer.  Right from the opening notes, it's slower and heavy, could be the soundtrack to the tragic scene in a Mad Max movie with Whirlwind D starting off saying, "I see pictures of places and people dying in flames."  This isn't science fiction, though, it's about contemporary wartime, displaced refugees and the world being "on fire and we're all shrouded in flames" right now.  Specifik's cutting in the sounds of screams and news reports for the otherwise wordless chorus.

"False Prophet," with its extended bass notes feels like a Paris track.  Jazz T cutting in lines from K-Solo and Lone Catalysts adds some welcome glimmers of light to the grim tones.  "The Deep" starts with Sista Souljah's famous "we are at war!" line.  It's actually a posse cut, with Junior Disprol, B-Line labelmate Chrome and Specifik each taking turns on the mic.  But that doesn't make things any less political; each MC takes the opportunity to slam the far right and authoritarian ruling classes: "a true king in my own world, never cared about the royals.  Which god can save the queen?  The answer's obviously none of them."  "Sweat," with beats and cuts by Mr. Fantastic, picks up the pace again, which is appropriate as it's a first person narrative about pushing your physical limits in a marathon, "pressure pushes hard on my muscles and limbs, every step cries hard, washes away the sin."  That is exactly why I never exercise.

We conclude with "The Music (Dirty Mix)."  As far as I know there's never been a previous mix of "The Music" released anywhere, but maybe we should stay tuned for a Clean Mix on a future project.  Anyway, when I first heard it, I was driving myself nuts asking myself where do I recognize that from.  The next day it hit me: he's clearly paying homage to the underrated Just-Ice/ Grandmaster Flash collaboration of the same name.  I thought I was the only person who Stan'd that song!  Anyway, lyrically, it seems more like it belongs on the Grey Matter side, but it's got a deep, oddly chopped horn loop and deep beats by Simon S that sonically fit on this side.  Plus it kind of bridges the gap if you wanted to flip this album back to side A and start all over right away, which is something I've found myself doing several times already.

So Libra is a single LP in a full-color picture cover, co-released by B-Line and Hip Hop Be Bop.  It comes out on September 1st, which is just two weeks from now, so get ready.  It could be a long wait 'till the next one.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Eaze Back

Dear ChatGPT, please tell me all about the last record released by a member of C.E.B.

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, C.E.B. (which stands for Cognitive Epicenter of Boom) is a hip-hop group formed in the early 1990s. The group was primarily known for its affiliation with Ice-T, with the members including hip-hop artists Cool Chuck, Evil E, and MC Overlord.

At that time, the last record released by a member of C.E.B. was likely to be "Countin' Endless Bank" (also known as "C.E.B."), which was the group's debut album. It was released in 1993 under the label Atomic Pop. The album received some attention and featured guest appearances by prominent artists like Ice-T and Everlast.

However, it's important to note that the information might be outdated, and I do not have access to real-time data to provide updates beyond my knowledge cutoff date. To find the latest information on C.E.B. or any of its members' recent releases, I recommend checking music streaming platforms, official websites, or music news outlets for the most up-to-date information.

Nope!  AI's not ready to replace me yet.

So, I don't think readers of this blog will need me to recap how Countin' Endless Bank turned out to be the last bank Cool C and Steady B would ever count.  But there's actually one last chapter to the C.E.B. story on wax.  C and B went away, but E was uninvolved with that awful incident, and so free to come back.

DJ Eaze started out as Steady B's DJ after Tat Money left the Hilltop Hustlers for Kwamé and a New Beginning, billed then as DJ Ultimate Squeeze Eaze.  He'd shortened it to Ultimate Eaze by the time he started MCing with C.E.B., and in 2003 he got it down to just DJ Eaze, for his final record (to date) on Sabre Records, "I'm a Come Through."  I gather Sabre Productions was Eaze's own venture.  And we can be confident it came out in 2003, despite not having dates on the label, because some copies came with a helpful press sheet ("This particular single... is one of exception to our planned repertoire for Sabre Entourage"). 

It's kind of a clubby beat that shows some versatility, but is basically the kind of style that had me checking out from a lot of early 2000s pop Hip-Hop, though it has an admittedly funky bassline.  The Sabre Entourage is not actually on "I'm a Come Through;" it's just Eaze going solo with a very Puff and Mase kind of flow, which he's perfectly open about: he shouts P Diddy out in his second verse and has girls singing, "bad, bad boys" for the hook.  Anyway, it's a good opener for fans, because he catches us up from where he last heard him, "no time to kill, now it's the time to build.  Didn't even have to sign a deal.  Didn't even want to let me in; had me standin' outside of the labels like 'let me in.'  Now I'm knockin' down they doors, lockin' down they tours, now this sound is gonna cost 'em more."  Did I mention how clubby it sounds?  It's well made, but not really the kind of sound I think most of us C.E.B. fans were hoping he'd come back with.

The B-side, which does feature the Sabre Entourage, fills that role.  "Got My Gloc Cocked" is exactly the kind of rough street song it sounds like.  It actually starts out by declaring, "this here is the remix," but I daresay it's the first and only version to ever be released.  Spoiler alert: this is the first and last record released by Eaze or Sabre.  And that's a bit of a shame, because I suspect I'd prefer the original version.  The beat sounds very software-based.  But it has a catchy keyboard loop, deep dark bass notes that compliment the subject matter, and the sound of an actual glock cocking as part of the percussion.

Anyway, these three Sabre guys (and one woman) have an appealing, unpolished hardcore flow.  Eaze doesn't rap at all on this one, just laying down a few lines for the hook and leaving it to his team to set it off with lyrics like, "I gotta keep this thing cocked; niggas wanna try my chin.  They think it's all fine they in 'till they find they men.  Rib cage exposed all through the bottom, Mossberg.  They tongue kissin' curbs for shootin' the wrong words."  With a better instrumental, this could be a killer cut.

But that's it; there's just those two songs.  You also get the "Come Through" instrumental; and it technically comes in a sticker cover, with that little "Sabre Records" address label on the sleeve.  It's not an amazing 12", probably mostly just of interest to us old Hilltop Hustler fans who need the whole story.  "Gloc Cocked" is the better song, but "Come Through" is more interesting, given the history.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

It Takes a Million Midnights To Hold Him Back

Out of the blue - or perhaps more appropriately, the black midnight sky - Drasar Monumental is back with a new EP entitled Darker Than a Million Midnights.  That's the kind of title you hear and say to yourself, well, I hope he can live up to it.  But given Drasar's last couple releases, I think if anybody in 2023 could, it's probably him.  Because an easy trap you could dig for yourself with a title like that is to just dive immediately into raw, stripped down hardcore beats and menacing lyrics, giving yourself nowhere to go after the first couple songs.  But Drasar, using nothing but his own personal record collection, regularly concocts a lush, vibrant soundscape that's anything but minimalist, despite his purist methods (this record comes with a paper explaining, "no digital 'digging' methods were employed in any of the production sourcing").

Midnights comes right out the gate with some classic heist raps, looping up a vocal sample of Master Killer from "Snakes" just in case it wasn't already immediately obvious the spirit it's meant to be taken in.  "Guns don't argue, hand over your wallets, empty out your pockets, give me all your watches.  Carnage, because the motherfuckin' rent's due."  Not exactly innovative, but excellently executed... sort of like how I can listen to Grand Daddy IU rap about pimpin' all day every day.  But it also turns out to be the set-up to a more complex lyrical trick, where two songs later (broken up by some more traditional battle raps), the subject matter has transformed into a serious condemnation of our economic system.  He starts out stating, "the free market doesn't exist if you don't have the capital," and cutting up Double X Posse's "Money Talks" before settling into even darker truths, "no love, no sympathy for the downtrodden.  We've seen so much death, now our hearts have turned rotten."  It ends with a authentic(?!) recording of someone broadcasting their immediate intent to commit suicide, news reports on the growing homeless population, and a grimly ironic MC Shan vocal sample from "Left Me Lonely." 

Part of what keeps Drasar's work so dynamic is his how he regularly shifts tones and samples sets mid-song, so it's always much more packed than a predictable loop, and this is definitely on display here.  Or just his ability to pack together a host of sounds that all delicately piece together.  For example "Disco Razor Tag, Part 2" (Part 1 was on Box Cutter Brothers 5) feels as alive as if he'd collaborated with a full-on disco band, packed with interludes and crowded instrumentation.  But anything but soft, it's actually a direct challenge to producers who don't take their work dead seriously or appreciate Hip-Hop's disco roots, including an intro explaining that  weren't always as family friendly as we may remember them today and where you could end up, "hit upside your head with a bottle; now your brains are hanging out."

This is an angry record in all the best ways, the way only Hip-Hop can talk with no punches pulled.  He saves the most personal blow for last with "The Numb Out:"

"Life ain't the same since my brother died.
Sometimes I wanna run and hide; can't look my mother in the eyes;
And then take time to breathe.
Pardon me if I wear my heart on my sleeve.
The world took my dreams...
And shattered them;
Took all my aspirations, and then they laughed at them;
Stabbed me in the back, in the abdomen.
That's why I treat you like an unwanted pathogen."

The next verse starts out similarly, "life ain't the same since my father died."  Like, remember when we first heard Sister Souljah going off on Terminator X's album, and then she signed to Epic and we all thought, wow, this album is going to be crazy?  The production was there, but then it turned out she basically just did this stiff spoken word thing, with Ice Cube and Chuck D rapping circles around her?  This record is like the promise of that album delivered upon, if she had the skills to "turn the booth into Pearl Harbor," as Drasar puts it.  And yeah, there's more nuanced artistry and less didacticism; I'm not trying to say this guy's literally the male Sister Souljah or anything.  I'm just saying he's giving us now what we wanted then.

All up, it's six songs with the instrumentals on the flip.  Keeping it a tight EP was probably a judicious decision, so there's never a lax moment.  It comes in a full color picture cover and yeah, it's out now.  Grab one while you can.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

It's Yah Yah, the Outsidah Who Moved To Floridah

(Plus a bonus look at current, under the radar Hip-Hop publications. Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, June 18, 2023

It's Father's Day!

Today is Father's Day, so let's talk about "Father's Day" by Father MC from his 1990 debut album, Father's Day, because it's Father's Day!  No, "Father's Day" wasn't one of the many singles he released off of that album, but it was the title cut, and it stands out because it's the only hardcore track on the album... and kind of the only hardcore track he'd release until many years later.  And though it's still not on par with his early First Fleet Crew material, I'd say it's one of the best songs in his career... like Top Ten-ish?  Top Twenty for sure.

So Mark Morales and Mark Rooney, b.k.a. Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention, produced most of the album (and yes, executive produced by Puff Daddy and Dr. Jeckyll), but this is one of the two tracks actually produced by the Hitman Howie Tee.  And while we're having fun reading the liner notes, it's definitely also worth noting that this is one of three songs where the lyrics are actually written by Little Shawn, here credited as Lil' Shawn.

Honestly, I don't know if Shawn did Father any favors; the lyrics aren't amazing or better than what Father had already proven himself able to pen in his indie days.  But Howie Tee definitely did.  He's cooked up one of the hottest tracks on the album.  And it's the song that really showcases Father's DJ, DJ G. Double E.  Did you even know he had a DJ?  Yeah, he's credited in the notes and name-dropped on this cut.

"Everybody think Father MC is on that R&B tip.  'Ey yo, Father, just cold get it," are the introductory lines to this song.  I have to admit, I can see where people got the impression that Father is on the R&B tip, since this album is packed with love songs in collaboration with R&B singers like Jodeci and Mary J Blige.  But Father is out to tell "everyone who think I went on that R&B tip, take that!"  I feel like maybe they should be saying "everyone who thought I was ONLY on that R&B tip, seeing as how I clearly am definitively on that R&B tip at this stage, and indeed most, of my career."  But hey, why get hung up on semantics?

Howie Tee starts out with a solid, but a little bit old school and not terribly groundbreaking breakbeat loop.  I'm not sure exactly what record they're looping, but I know The Jaz had rocked it the same year on his second album, and I feel like it's just one of those late 60s or early 70s funk records a million rappers have used.  So a stalwart classic, but a little stale.  Except then he starts blending in the theme song to Police Woman, sirens and all, which is a banger.  And remember, this is like a full decade before "All Time Einstein" kicked off that craze of rappers looping up the themes to shows like Knight Rider and Magnum PI.  Of course, Bambaataa had already sown the seeds with "Bambaataa's Theme," but still, this was rare and incredibly dope.

Father kicks off with an interesting, sometimes playful (especially given the hardcore nature of the instrumental) style that he seems to struggle with a little bit.  "Yes, yes, y'all, so forth and so on, I grab the microphone and give ya one to grow on.  Don't sleep on me, 'cause I keep, keep it on, see.  Don't call me uncle or daddy, it's Father MC.  When I make 'em up I'm makin' sure that you can hear me, 'cause I speak very clearly.  There's not another like me, so more than likely, you'll watch then but in the end you'll try to bite me.  But you'll get bit back 'cause it's an eye for an eye.  Oh yeah, and one more thing, I'm fly.  The M-I-C means a lot to me 'cause when I'm on, the rappers that shouldn't be there flee.  I'm new, I know that, and now ya know to stay back.  So save that, yo, I ain't even tryin' to hear that.  Go on the bench, back off with that play, allow me to let ya know that today is Father's Day." I feel like Little Shawn may've delivered it real smooth and it sounded great, but then Father had a hard time recapturing that magic, so it sounds a little clunky.  But it's still fairly fresh, and the closer you pay attention, the more you'll appreciate it.

Still, his later verses work a little better when he's kicking simpler but tougher rhymes like, "come find out what Father's made of!  I'm not bulletproof but grab a mic and I'll light this whole place up tonight.  Like a match hittin' another, I'll burn a brother like a condominium, 'cause I'll crush anyone schemin' to take what's mine and that's wild.  And anyone bitin' that same old style."  Father just feels more confident, and it fits the instrumental better with the more aggressive energy they're clearly trying to lay down.  This isn't the time to get all Original Flavor on us.  Father may not be blowing our minds, but he's holding it down.

And that's all you need to keep the record working until Police Woman and G Double E drop in again.  When was the last time you heard scratching on a Father MC record?  I could almost believe this was the only one, except strictly speaking, there's one or two other harder-edged track on this album with cuts, too (see also: "Ain't It Funky").  But it sounds great here, slicing up the line "give me that title, boy" from "Raw."  It goes a long way to selling this as a strong record not to be dismissed.

I always thought this was would've made a way better final single than "I've Been Watching You," but I guess Puff didn't think they could really sell the image of Father as a hard rock.  Maybe they were right.  But this is still a fun song, especially one to play today of all days.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Nobody Ever Talks About Warp 9

I used to love Warp 9 as a kid, but these days they seem to have been completely memory-holed.  I guess that's because they made more break dance music than strictly Hip-Hop.  But I dug that stuff, too, and I used to play their tape to death.  And honestly, they did both.  There are songs where they're straight-up rapping, the DJ's cutting... sure, it's electro disco-era stuff.  This is not made from the staple two turntables and a microphone, and you weren't checking for their MC's skills.  Even for 1983, nobody would put them alongside the Grandmasters Caz or Melle Mel.  And they're not delivering a serious "Message."  It's just a fun, "we're chilling the most" good time music, somewhere in between Break Machine and Newcleus.  In fact, if you appreciate Space Is the Place, you'd be totally in It's a Beat Wave.

And we'll get to Fade In, Fade Out, but It's a Beat Wave is what it's all about.  It's so good.  Every song on this album was a single!  These guys were a studio group, put together by their label like Timex Social Club, but their stuff is really well done, and pretty versatile.  Connie Cosmos, Dr. Space and Mr. C (not that Mister Cee) on the turntables.  The production on "Nunk (New Wave Funk)" is a killer, with a little help from Jellybean.  "Beat Wave" and "Master Of the Mix" are my favorites, if only for being the most straight rappy cuts.  I think Connie actually left after "Nunk" and it's a new girl, Ada, on the rest of this album.  But she sounds real cool rapping on "Beat Wave" regardless.  "Master Of the Mix" is all about the DJ skills, and no, the cuts aren't amazing.  But this was the era of "Rockit," well transformer scratches were invented, so this was about all you could hope for.  The fact that they put scratches up front at all was exciting.

"Light Years Away" is low-key pretty fresh, with a spacey vibe, their most Newcleus-y song, even dropping in a vocoder to deliver some words from the future towards the end.  But the songs on side 2 definitely got lighter and a little more mainstream pop.  "No Man Is an Island" is easily my least favorite, basically a flat out disco song, but it's still upbeat and catchy with a zippy little breakdown.  It's all well crafted.  But honestly, half the time I would just rewind side 1 back and give the side 2 stuff a pass.

But yeah, the second album was a disappointment.  They basically pulled a Whistle, who lost their main rapper guy, then later their DJ, and just carried on with the singers.  In this case, Ada left and the other guy took a back seat (he's just credited with Additional Background Vocals along with five other people now) for a new female singer, leaving the new official line-up of Warp 9 to be Katherine & Chuck.  I think you're meant to see those two on the cover with the shadowy drummer figure in the background and assume it's the same trio, but it's all different now.  Three years had passed since their 1983 album and they'd switched labels from Prism to Motown, too.  The older white couple who produced the group (Lottie Golden and Richard Sher) stayed the same across the album, but otherwise Warp 9 was just a totally new beast on a totally different vibe.

It's not bad, mind you.  The music is still well produced (I spotted The Sugarhill Band's Doug Wimbish playing bass in the album credits) and the new pair could still sing.  But they're just aiming for a sappier, duller R&B thing.  Their one single, "Skips a Beat" is probably the best song, that or "Big Fun."  The rest is pretty boring.  "The Cutting Edge" has a cool, little breakdown, but you can tell the musicians are on more of a rock vibe.  "King of Hearts" straight up sucks.  But otherwise, you could totally bop along to this in your car on the commute to work.

Apparently, I wasn't alone in being disappointed.  Fade In, Fade Out was the end of Warp 9.  Everybody went on to other projects in the music industry, though.  After all, it was a studio group.  But nothing else really Hip-Hop.  I wish we could've gotten a couple more "Beat Waves" while they were in that sweet spot, but I can at least hang onto what they did give us.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Saukrates Says Freeze

(Unreleased, unheard Saukrates music from the late 90s, courtesy of a(n admittedly unwitting) rap publication legend!  Check out The Underground Vault here.  And Dig Mag here.  Youtube version is here.)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Contemporary Rhythmic American Poetry

Last year, when I had a little technical problem with the Brandon B CD I was reviewing, he was good enough to not just send me a replacement copy, but hit me off with a CD of his first album, Rhythmic American Poetry, from 2018.  Of course, when I say first album, I mean as a solo artist, because of course he's had plenty of albums as a member of different Gurp City groups like The Yole Boys and Official Spill, actually going all the way back to Supermarket with their famous, underground Dump Koch album in 1996.  So the history goes way back.  But lately he's been striking out more on his own as well.

The title of course comes from The D.O.C.'s "The Formula," where he devised the perfect acronym for rap.  And if you're familiar with Brandon, you know he's not just the MC but the producer.  So this album is essentially all him, albeit with a healthy helping of guest spots, from those you'd expect and even someone you wouldn't.  Luke Sick, yeah, he's on here, as well as fellow Trunk Dank member Eddie K.  And Z-Man appears twice.  Official Spill's Dev Rambis is also here, Philo from The Flood, Jaymorg, fellow Gurp MC TopR and DJ Quest.  So those're all the usual crew guys you'd expect.  And Equipto, who's been collaborating a lot with these guys.  And production-wise he's got some help from DJ Eons One, Brycon, Elliot Lanam, Philo and somebody named Uncle Buck.  That's a lot of people to call an album "all him," but Brandon still manages to make this feel like a distinctly personal project.

I mean, nobody bridges the gap from early Electro-Hop to the classic 90's 4-track era like Brandon.  This is the direction Gen Z should've taken Hip-Hop, instead of whatever they've done instead.  Hearing the intro track, "A Little Wine Cooler" on a new record is pretty mind blowing, and damn catchy.  Honestly, this album is a fat collection of highlights.  I was already familiar with the track "The American Riviera," a mellow anthem for his hometown he'd made a music video for.  It's super laid back and inviting.  I mean, hell, it makes me want to go there.  "Rhymes Too Funky (Live At the Pointe)" is a funky, upbeat posse cut, and yes it's a homage to Compton's Most Wanted's classic.  It has a different, more electric track; but if the adlibs didn't already bring the CMW version to mind, the ending where they cut up "man, fuck my neighbors" erases any doubt.

This album is full of vibes.  "Midday Wasted" sounds exactly like you'd expect from the title, "California Livin'" is a fun party record and "Dark Blue Camaro" owes its hook and its spirit to a classic Click joint.  My favorite, which is saying something on a packed project like this, is "It's Like Vegas."  It has a hype, old school dance vibe with big horns and some funky intoxicated vocals by TopR and Z-Man, "fuck a Motley Crew, we're the party crew; we'll sedate you with liquor and barbecue.  I may be on Adderall but I'm all for 'shrooms, and I'll do 'em both at once like some mom would do.  I'm armed with two, placin' all bets with cheaters 'cause I'm full of a lotta liters out in (Gurp City!).  A lotta pre-drinking before the weekend evenings.  Yes, I am recording in my forties drinking a forty, pouring another forty, yeah I'll tell 'em a story: about a culture with low self esteem, American dreams, veteran MCs with liver disease."  It's both celebratory and tragic with serious dance-in-your-chair energy all at the same time.

Oh, and didn't I promise a guest you wouldn't expect that?  Yeah, this album closes out with a banger called "Cash In Advance," which is at once smooth and high energy.  It's got a fast, funky groove that Brandon rides excellently.  And its hook?  Sung by Michael Marshall, the main vocalist of The Timex Social Club!  And damn, he sounds just as good now as he did in '86.  This album is a strong recommend, even if you're not sure about Brandon, give this album a chance and you will be.  And as of this writing there are still exactly 2 copies of the CD available on his bandcamp.  Get 'em!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

New Jersey's Own Soul Kingz

First a little history.  The Soul Kings are an indie New Jersey crew fronted by MC Nicky Dee who were featured in The Source's Unsigned Hype column in 1990.  Dee put out a pretty obscure album called Rap So Hot It Will Make You Sweat under the name Soul King on Big City Records, before forming Soul King Productions, which was him and Hasskills.  The pair released an incredibly rare cassette-only album in 1993 called Trace Ya Stepz.  Online bios mention several other members, but it's basically those two on all of this stuff and on the album cover (the two girls on the ends are models).  Anyway, there was also a 12" single from that album in 1994, under the name Soul Kingz, that's been a minor grail for collectors.  For a more extensive history, and an interview with the Soul King himself, I highly recommend you read this blog post on TheGoldenEra.

That's the backstory.  Now, in 2016, Dope Folks put together an LP of tracks from Trace Ya Stepz, which they titled Guess Whooz Back, after one of the highlights from the album.  The Dope Folks release is meant to act as a companion piece - in addition to, rather than instead of - to the original 12", so they left those songs off.  That leaves us with nine hot tracks only previously available on that original '93 tape.

The first track is "Word To Ya Mutha," which features a funky guitar loop and a DJ cutting up Big Daddy Kane on the hook, but then it cuts out for a deeper, darker bassline driven track for the verses.  And it sets the tone for how these guys are coming right off the bat, "hittin' hard like a hammer, but not the Hammer that dance, though.  'Cause all that dancin' shit is for them niggaz that can't flow."  "Kick a Verse" is just a cool freestyle rhyme joint over the same basic instrumental as Master Ace's "Brooklyn Battles," but "Lovezs Runaway" is more than your typical token rap love song but a serious, socially conscious track about broken families.  "I'm Feelin' It" starts with the same sample as the Jazzy 5's "Jazzy Sensation," but slows it way down, then throws it out for a hardcore NWA-style beat.  They make up for what the lack in nuance by coming hard over great sample choices, though they cut loose a little on "Xtacsie," which uses that wacky little guitar loop from Roxanne Shante's "Knockin' Hiney" as they kick stories about their girls and clumsily sing on the hook.  Overall, it's a pretty rich, varied experience but with a consistent vibe from the duo.

Still, Dope Folks had to shave off a couple album tracks to fit everything they could onto a single record.  Four of those were just little intro skits, which add to the experience but are no great loss.  But that also means another hot, full-length song was left exclusive to the original tape.  "Grab the Mic" is a wild, hardcore track full of high pitch whistles and constant scratching as Hasskills lays down a challenge to his fellow producers, "reppin' beats from the 60s and the 70s, too.  Too smooth for words so you can't compare or get near, so why even dare come out your face with your played out breaks?  Why don't you try a little originality?  Everybody knows your beats come from Music Factory.  It's no mystery, check your rap history, some beats are classic like 'Impeach the President' and 'Substitution.'  But that's no excuse for you to keep usin' em.  But that's another lesson, so I'ma cut this short.  Too smooth for words and I'ma tear shit up."  I'm surprised Dope Folks chose this one to forgo, because it's tighter than a bunch of the ones they chose.  I mean, the instrumentals tend to outshine the MCing on all these joints, but these guys always come tough enough to hang in there (I guess it should be no surprise that the production is the star of the show on an album by Soul King Productions).  And they really shine when they're angry and have something to say, like on this one, where the beats and rhymes are both batting a thousand.

And I say it "was left exclusive" because now Hip-Hop Enterprise has come out with a Trace Ya Stepz CD, with everything from the original tape: "Grab the Mic," the intros and all four 12" tracks, including the B-sides that weren't even on the original tape.  One is a remix, the Jeep Mix (Beat Squad Jointe) of the title track "Trace Ya Stepz," which is a cool alternative with a groovier bassline.  But the other is a bigger deal: the angry music biz salvo "The -N-tertainer" the Nicky describes in his interview.  The way it's written on the 12" label and how it's listed on discogs makes it seem like it's another version of "Catch Wreck," but it's not.  It's a completely separate, dope ass song, based on his frustrations with the Rap So Hot release.

So vinyl heads can combine the Dope Folks with the original 12" to get most of this.  But the Hip-Hop Enterprises release is the only truly definitive collection with all the Soul King Production songs, though of course it's CD only.  But at least we have options.  The Dope Folks is limited to 300 copies (50 on red wax and 250 on standard black) and the CD is limited to 350; but both are still available from their labels as of this writing.

Now it might be fun if somebody reissues that Rap So Hot album.  Apparently it includes the songs that got them into Unsigned Hype in the first place.