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.