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.