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.

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