Monday, April 10, 2023

The Lost(?) Grand Daddy IU Album

Losing Grand Daddy IU a few months back is one of the ones that hit me the hardest, and pretty much purely for reasons of meritocracy.  You know, sometimes it's hard to explain why it strikes you so much when a particular famous artist passes.  Maybe something corny they released came out when you were a child and left an over-sized impact, or something in their private life just happened to sync up with yours and it became an inspiration.  I did get to interview the man once, so there was a bit of a personal edge to it.  But mainly it just hit me because he was one a disappointingly small handful of artists who I was a huge fan of growing up and was putting out music just as good today.  There's plenty of artists I was a fan of then, and still a decent amount I am now.  But not a lot where I was just excited to get a new album from in the 1990s and the 2020s.  Especially with no disappointing missteps in between.

And it's not lost on me that I've got an album of his that seemingly nobody else has.  I mean, they should.  It was sold online, seemingly exclusively, on a site called The Catacombz that lasted years selling mostly underground CDs, but also the odd tape, record, magazine and even "Herbalz."  Essentially the Canadian version of outfits like Atak, Foolblown and AccessHipHop.  So I always feel like a bunch of other people must've been copping stuff there semi-regularly for them to have stayed in business.  But I've never seen it even hinted at online anywhere other than my own content, and when I brought it up to IU, even he was surprised.

It's simply called I.U. Volume #1.  I'm pretty certain there never was a Volume #2.

Is it a bootleg?  Hard to say...  It's a CDR in a slim case with a cheap cover and sticker label, but that's true of tons of indie and self-released music from those days.  I've gotten OG Day 1 releases on Maxwell tapes and Office Max CDs.  And IU was in no way signed to any kind of label, even a little indie one, in 2002 when this came out.  It's marked as "Steady Flow Ent.," which was his own imprint that many of his later releases that we know are legit came out on.  But it features a ton of exclusive material never released online or anywhere else, so it's not something just anybody out of the loop could've thrown together.  Obviously, IU telling me he'd never heard of it is a huge red flag ("Wow… Who in the fuck did that? That’s crazy. Somebody dipped in my stash. Wow… Holy shit" is a direct quote), but if this was a tour CD or something he spread around a little as a demo, it makes sense he might've forgotten years later, or just didn't want to acknowledge on the record.  Especially since he was planning to release some of this music on upcoming projects, as he wound up doing.

Anyway, those are the facts as I know them, so now you know as much as I do.  The official description Catacombz wrote for its listing is, "The 'Smooth Assasin[.sic]' finally returns w/ a bomb underground album chock full of joints spanning from after 'Lead Pipe' to present. The whole CD is good, I.U. has skills no doubt & is a vet in the game. The guest spots are few but quality such as: 2Pac Shakur, DV Alias Chryst & more!"

Does any of that sound familiar?  Didn't I say IU released some of this stuff later?  Yes, the 2Pac guest spot is "Ghetto Blues," which came out on his 2007 album Stick 2 the Script.  But while he's worked with DV a couple of times, the song here isn't any of those.  This one's called "Get Your Doe."  It's a killer, smooth and dark track.  DV sings on the hook and also has a proper verse.  An uncredited female also sings on it a little, and there's a crazy Chinese vocal sample blended into the mix.  Honestly, I think it's better than any of their collaborations that were released.

At the end of the day, almost all of this album is still exclusive.  "One Night Stand" later came out on his 2012 mp3-only album Self Made Man, and there's a track called "Spitting," which according to a name drop, was produced by The Mole Men, but it's not "Face Down" - maybe it's a from a mixtape?  Basically everything else is original, and even those songs had never been released before when this came out.  A couple of these songs did come out on the 2008 J-Love mixCD Return Of the Smooth Assassin (so I guess that's one other person with a copy of this album) - "Spittin" and "Mind Over Matter" - but that's about it.  Four songs and this album is nineteen tracks deep.

And it's pretty damn tight.  A couple tracks use that early 2000s club style, which isn't the best, but even then he comes hard and makes it work.  Like "Ya Know," has this kind of boop boop beat with handclaps and a few software pack samples.  But it also has slow, deep bass notes and IU flowing like crazy in duet with an MC named Scuzz.  And plenty of his other tracks, like "Time Is Hard" and "Stop Fronting" just have his classic, stripped down sample-based production style we come to him for.  There's only one track I'd label weak, "Surfing Shit" featuring somebody called E-Zae, where they're clearly just having fun flipping some weird surf music record and turning it into a down south club song with a corny hook ("let me see you do that wave, girl.  Now do that wave, girl.  Now shake your thing, girl.  Now what's your name, girl?") Even then, it's listenable and kinda catchy, but it's way below IU's par.

The last track is one of the illest: "Conspiracy Theory."  It's got cracking drums and a tight piano sample, pure underground NY, but then this low humming and Malcolm X speeches come in for the hook.  And IU is coming hard and angry, though without getting "We Got da Gats" shouty.  And he's speaking on some serious, controversial topics, like "white folks feel like niggas need 'em, how egotistic/ when we ruled the planet before Europeans even existed" - I can definitely see every label telling him there was no way they were touching this track!  Admittedly, as a pretty agnostic dude, the religious angle doesn't land as hard for me; but this is a serious side of IU I wish we'd gotten to see more of.

"This shit is listed, go look it up if you feel.  In fact, open your fucking' bible, I'ma show you what's real!  In Genesis 2-6, God brought the rain down.  In Verse 7 he formed Adam from the dirt of the ground.  But dirt and rain make mud, which means Adam was brown.  Now can you handle that?  Knowin' the original man's black?  ...Once you acknowledge I'm right, than you must have to admit that your preacher and your history teacher was full of shit!"
  And he's not just mad about ancient history.  "While these crackers still mad screamin' OJ did it, JonBenet Ramsey's parents is walkin' and they nanny got acquitted?  Coppers kill blacks all day and get acquitted, and all that fuckin' tax we pay?  Them niggas split it!  Why is it less time for powder cocaine than crack, and the only crime you hear about is black on black?  You never hear about white on white crime, or Jew on Jew crime; but all that'll change in due time!"  It's wild that this song has gone virtually unheard.

So how about actually getting some of this unreleased stuff out, you ask?  There's not just this album, but all kinds of killer songs he either just released for free, or were mp3-only (try finding a copy of his 2000s ITunes only EP Long Island's Finest anywhere on Earth today), dating all the way back to the Cold Chillin' era.  Well, it's been tried.  DWG reached out to him about putting out an EP of their favorite unreleased tracks, but they were never able to work out the deal.  And more recently I tried to talk Dust & Dope into it, and they were game; but IU wasn't interested because he just wanted to focus on his new music "and let that old shit lie."  Now that he's no longer with us, who can we even go talk to?  Has someone inherited the rights to his catalog and/ or his masters?  If that's you and you see this, definitely reach out to me or somebody, because I promise you there's interest.  I'll help for free, because his fans deserve to hear this stuff.

But then again, maybe a bunch of you are sitting out there with your own copies of this.  Because it was openly for sale for four years or so.  đŸ€·  I'm really missing IU, and you know, I kinda miss The Catacombz, too.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

If You Can't Take a Joke, Don't Play This Record

I first heard Luhuru's "In Jail" on Macola Records' Street Kuts: The Posse compilation album in 1989.  They put out a bunch of these tapes: Prime Kuts 1 & 2, and The Posse 2, all about the same year, showcasing some of their better and lesser known Californian 12" releases.  It was a good way to get the stuff that wasn't on proper albums of their own, especially in those days when malls across America weren't selling vinyl anymore, and I wasn't quite old enough to make the treks to New York or Philly yet.  Anyway, it was a fun song, and I had no idea who this guy or group was, but I sure wanted to.  The inner J-card notes were no help; the artist and writing credits both just said "Luhuru."  How had I never heard of 'em?  What other records had Luhuru put out?

Well, it turned out none.  There's just the one 12", and it's not terribly elucidating as far as the artist's identity.  But we get at least one more song on the B-side, or "Serious Side," strictly speaking.  Because, yeah, while I wouldn't classify Luhuru as a novelty act like MC Pillsbury or Pitman, Luhuru makes it perfectly clear that "In Jail" is intended as a joke song, prominently displaying a warning on the label's, "Joke Side" that "[t]his record is meant to be funny. If you can't take a joke, don't play it."

Because, yeah, "In Jail" is a James Brown diss record, released right after his arrest in 1988 where he was sentenced to six years for, as reported in Time Magazine, "carrying a deadly weapon at a public gathering, attempting to flee police, and driving under the influence of drugs."  It's got a pretty hard if by-the-numbers programmed beat and bassline, and Luhuru has a sort of Compton LL Cool J-inspired flow, but he sounds good, with plenty of energy as he relentlessly clowns James for three verses.

"Now you're sittin' in jail for resistin' arrest,
Givin' the cops a race.
You were the king of soul,
Now you're the king of Cell Block H.
You'll be wearin' the stripes,
Headed upstate;
Instead of making records,
You'll be making license plates,
Crushing rocks,
Eating bread and water.
James, you're a has-been
And, yo, I think you gotta
Watch your back,
And don't pull your pants down,
Or you'll come out of jail as
Miss James Brown!"

He uses the famous Yellowman "nobody move, nobody get hurt" vocal sample, sped up just the way Eazy-E had used it the year before.  And there's an on-going skit throughout the song, where the contestants on a game show called Word 2 the Mutha (note: that's also the name credited as Executive Producer on the record label) are prompted to guess "where James Brown will be for the next six years."  Actually, it turns out, Brown only had to serve three years of his sentence for good behavior, though he'd go on to be arrested a few more times throughout his later years.  Anyway, at the end of his song, he prompts his DJ (it sounds like he's saying "DJ Shock?") to reveal the correct answer, and he cuts in the Fat Boys singing the hook from their record "In Jail."  You could look at this like: who's this nobody daring to about the Godfather; but as the label makes clear, we're not meant to take it so seriously.

And yeah, there's another song that didn't make it onto any compilations or anything, but it's pretty good, too.  It's labeled the "Serious" song, but it's not terribly serious.  It's called "Men's Game," and it's a song warning girls about the tricks men will play to get them into bed.  But even that makes this sound more serious than it is.  If you notice the label credits "Naive Chick Played by Anita "Sweet Neat" Hurd," and she's on the hook if this song arguing how her man can't run a game on her, before Luhuru gets on the mic again to break down another con.  The beat has a slick drum track and a slow doo-wop kind of vocal loop playing over the whole thing.  So the whole song is rather playful and catchy, with Luhuru still flowing hard while he spits lines like, "girls don't realize they're gettin' bit, right between their legs - that is the target!"  It's a bit of a gem.

Unfortunately, the record label doesn't tell us much more than the Street Kuts card.  My copy here is the promo version (as you can see my the giant, pink "PROMO" text emblazoned across it), but the only difference is that the retail has full-colored labels and comes in a proper Macola sleeve instead of the plain, white sleeve.  Besides the two songs, we get an instrumental of "In Jail" and acapella of "Men's Game," including the doo-wop humming thing, because I don't think that's a sample.  The notes just credit everything to Luhuru, no proper names, and the label is Luhuru Recording.  The run-out groove is no help.  I'll note, however, that their logo is a map of Africa, and I googled it - there is a village named Luhuru in Tanzania, so maybe that's the origin of the name.  At any rate, this seems to be a One and Done by a mystery artist, but it's pretty fun and worth adding to your collection, especially on this holiday.