Thursday, February 23, 2023

Blackface In the Crates

This is the kind of shit I don't write enough about.  What I have for us today is a tape I'd long forgotten about until I was just aimlessly perusing my own collection.  It's a single I bought in the 90's for a pretty simple reason: Fat Joe and Showbiz's names on the cover, especially since this was back before Joe started doing all those jiggy club records in the 2000s.  In fact, flipping it over, we see that Showbiz produced their track, too.  So okay, I had no idea who this Blackface was, but it was still a no brainer.  At least back then.  I wouldn't buy a tape (or record or CD) for just a guest spot now, as a wise and wizened adult.  But I was more reckless and naive back in the 90s.

Anyway, it worked out, because Blackface is pretty dope.  He's actually a Florida artist (his label here, Backstage Records, is based in Miami) who had an album and a couple singles through the late 90s.  But somehow he wound up connecting with the DITC guys enough to get a feature on his debut 1996 single ("from the South Bronx to South Beach").  They didn't do anything else with him.  The rest of his album and other singles all seem to be by the one producer, Hugo Boss, who also did the A-side, "Cornbread."  But dude is definitely on the NY tip; this isn't like if Showbiz and Joe teamed up with Dem Boiz to perform another "How Much Boodie."

But let's start with "Cornbread," because it is the A-side, after all.  On the album, the title is extended to "Cornbread Style," and it's just a colorful way to announce he's from the South, coming "cornbread style, collard greens style."  Still, though, he's got that NY style, and Boss provides him a pretty unique, head nodding sample to rock over.  This really sets you up for something like Down South's "Southern Comfort," but it's just hardcore battle rhymes with some pretty clever rhyme schemes:

"I have you all leapin' like frogs.  I'm sayin', dog, why ya got to be a playa hater?  Let me be a playa now, and nigga, hate me later.  I'm a greater nominator with bites of an alligator.  You need some seasonin', playa, your style got no flavor.  I thought you woulda followed that recipe that I gave ya, ya non-writin' rhymer, ya damn two timer.  I'ma beat ya bad, beat ya bad, beat ya when I find ya.  This flow is for my shitty niggas that understand.  If you don't like it, I don't give a jigga-jigga-damn.  Slammin' punk niggas on the hard concrete.  I got more rhymes than the whole world got crimes.  I break mics, rappers, bones and even back spines.  A nigga's gettin' paid and it's about time."

I seriously was not expecting this guy to come that nice.

So now let's hear him rockin' over some Showbiz.  On the album, by the way, "Sessions" title is shortened to just "Session."  Anyway, it turns out the front cover is a little misleading.  Showbiz doesn't feature on "Sessions;" it's just Joe and Black.  Although yes, he does produce.  It's got some nice drums and a simple but catchy piano sample.  Blackface handles most of the verses, with Joe coming nice and hard on the hook ("yo, black, pass me the motherfuckin' heat!") just the way he sounds best.  He talks some crime stuff and even a bit of a serious message, "ain't no secret I won't tell about night fall, the black ski mask I keep is raw.  Like creepy critters huntin' for food in the dark, gun shots ignite the flame the metal sparks, like fireworks, but it's not the fourth of July.  Every second, every minute, one of my peoples die."  But Fat Joe comes in at the end to kick a solid, tough verse repping Terror Squad and "New York, New York, the big city of dreams."  Lyrically, Black owns this song, too, but Joe's voice sounds great on this track, so I'm glad he showed up for more than the hook in the end.

Together, both tracks add up to a surprisingly dope single.  Now, as you can see, I have the cassingle.  There is a proper 12" that comes in a full color picture cover with a couple additional versions: Instrumentals, a Radio Edit, even a remix of "Session."  That's the preferable version for sure.  But I'm good with the Showbiz version of "Session," so I've never bothered to upgrade.  But going back to this tape does have me wanting to cop his album and maybe some of his later singles.  I can see why Blackface never got much recognition, coming out of left field like he did, and without a major label to push him into everybody's face.  But it's too bad, because if that happened, I think a lot more people would've started checking for this guy.  Blackface did not get his due.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Even When They Were Crossing Over, De La Soul Was Great

So the Judgement Night soundtrack was a pretty big deal when I was in high school.  The movie itself wasn't, but the soundtrack was.  It paired many of the biggest Hip-Hop acts of the day with the biggest rock bands of the day.  I remember being excited for it, because I was a big fan of many of the MCs.  People still reminisce about how great it was, but honestly, I didn't really care for it.  Some of the songs, like the Fatal one, swung the pendulum too far in the rock direction, where it felt like, okay, a rap artist may've technically been involved, but they just made a full-out rock song.  Some of the acts - like House of Pain, Cypress Hill (of course they had two songs on there), and Ice-T - I was already kind of over by '93 anyway.  And even songs where they struck the balance better, like the Run DMC and Boo Yaa Tribe songs... I just felt like I'd rather hear them without these bands.

Honestly, there was only two songs on there I'd go back and replay.  But at least they were on the tape back to back, so you could play the last song on side A, flip it over to the first song on side B, and then you'd be almost cued back up for the first song on side A again.

One was the Del song, which was with a band called Dinosaur Jr.  They mixed Del's raps nice and loud, and gave him a pretty genuinely funky back-drop.  And the other song, of course, was "Fallin'" by De La Soul.  Oh and some band called Teenage Fanclub.

I had at least heard of every rock band on the Judgement Night soundtrack except for these guys.  I couldn't escape the hit singles by groups like Pearl Jam as much as I wanted to, and I'm not sure I've ever actually heard a Slayer song, but I've certainly seen the t-shirts.  But Teenage Fanclub were a new one on me.  Looking at their Wikipedia, they're a Scottish rock band and their biggest single in America was "Star Sign" in 1991.  It peaked at #4.  Listening to it now on Youtube, nope, new to me.

I was familiar with Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," which this song takes its name from and samples for their hook.  I feel like the teacher would play it every day in art class for two years straight.  It's a real ear worm alright; I still remember it clearly.  He kept whinging about a "good girl" who LA guys (half the song is name-dropping LA locations) would hit on, and this would send him "free fallin'" in despair.  Real incel energy, except the music video make it look like "free fallin'" was about a skateboarding move... Not that the image of a goonish, middle-aged folk singer leering at teenage models in a California skate park is much more appealing.  And okay, look, I fucking hated that song through the peak of my adolescence, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair to it now.  But I'm never going to listen to it again to give it another shot, so don't @ me.

The point is, I did not exactly go into De La's "Fallin'" with an open mind.  But they kick it off with this ill, slowed down Soul II Soul sample while making an Ultramagnetic reference, and the Fanclub's playing, I have to say, is super smooth and reserved.  And they make a big deal of Tom Petty's role in this song in the liner notes (he gets a co-writing credit right alongside De La and Fanclub), but all they do is sample the titular line (it's also the only sample they credit).  None of the instrumentation or that catchy little "do do doo do" riff that really drives the song comes from him.

And Pos and Trugoy's writing is both more amusing and poignant than anything Petty cooked up, kicking fictitious verses about falling off in their careers that's both funny ("I knew I blew the whole fandango when the drum programmer wore a Kangol") and melancholy ("but look what you're doing now.  I know.  Well, I know").  The whole song really captures a thoughtful mood, putting it even farther ahead than Del's song, which was mostly just catchy but empty.  I mean, Pos does get a little carried away with the Six Million Dollar Man references (I remember as a teen wondering who the heck is Oscar Goldman, a famous record producer or something?), but I guess being playful is one of De La's charms you wouldn't want to scrub away.

The film producers must've known the guys were onto something with this one, too, because it's the song they play during the opening credits, and they play it again during the travel montage.  Then they bring it back a third time for an encore over final shot and closing credits.  None of the other soundtrack songs get a fraction of that much love, most of which you just hear snippets of mixed low behind action scenes.  And thankfully, Immortal Records released it as a 12" single.  If they threw on the Del song, too, I could've chucked the whole album, but oh well.  The 12" features the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella and best of all, an exclusive Remix.

As much as any of us may've managed to get over the hippy-ness of the song, it's still pretty nice to hear that De La Soul gave us a pure Hip-Hop version without Teenage Fanclub or the Petty sample.  Only the "you played yourself" portion of the original hook survives, now mixed with a little "Flash To the Beat" routine.  The same vocals as before now flow over deep bass notes and hard drums with some simple, old school scratches.  No twangy guitars, no crooning and it's the only version that doesn't censor Trugoy's bad language.  To be clear, I really like the album version, Petty and all; but I'm definitely grateful to have this alternative when I'm not in the mood for any Teenage Fanclub.

R.I.P. Plug Two.

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.