Sunday, November 12, 2023

On the Mic: Luke Sick, Controlled By Gamma Light

Aw yeah, it's about that time of year again, and Luke Sick is back with a new solo album on Megakut Records.  It's called Tacked Out In the Gamma Light, and produced entirely by the homey QM.  I have to confess, even after listening closely to the album, which uses the phrase in the opening track, I'm not exactly sure what he means by the gamma light.  Stage lights maybe?  Or he does have a line that goes, "convulse, turn into the Hulk."  I mean, I feel like it's an Ultramagnetic MCs reference.  "Technic twelve hundreds are combined to rotate swiftly left to right.  On the mix: Red Alert, controlled by gamma light" is famously from "Bait."  But I'm not sure what Kool Keith meant by it either.  Maybe nobody really does, and maybe that's all part of the charm.

Outside of a few mysterious phrases like this, Tacked Out is an otherwise utterly uncomplicated album.  Ten short vocal tracks and a final instrumental, all solo songs except for one quick guest verse by QM, which immediately recalls the energy of their past On Tilt tapes.  Otherwise, Luke's basically just going off on loose topics of MCing, smoking and kicking it with the crew to create attitude and atmosphere: "arrived at the spot with a crispy-ass twenty, '89 mentality, got 'em pinchin' like a penny.  But hand me the overweight fluffy for a good custy, Buddhahead Buckethead with the bud leaf.  Before I spark it, 'cause the market's hella dangerous, gotta smell check and make sure it ain't angel dust. Suckaz can't hang wit us, lames is just ridin' on the tails of the coat, 'bout to get kicked in the throat."  Hell, the song titles alone tell you all you'll need to know: "The Beer Is Cold," "Blunts Upon a Time," "The Mess Is Yours (The Rest Is Ours)."

And the production shares the same mentality: simple yet deceptively effective, short loops over tight beats using samples you won't recognize.  Two tracks feature live bass played by someone named Joe Nobriga, which does give them a little more of an organic feel when you really pay attention, but you wouldn't know it was live instrumentation if it wasn't in the liner notes.  If it wasn't clear, that's a compliment.  It's all tightly calculated to keep you nodding along to Luke's words, although there are a couple extra-catchy tracks at the end of the album that'll steal your attention.  "Bust Y'all" has some extra heavy bass and a fun mash-up of Big Daddy Kane and Joeski Love quotes for the hook.  "Troopin' Thru the Venue" features a wild, religious-sounding vocal sample looped through the whole song.  And "All the Hustlers" is an especially smooth way to close out the show.

Tacked Out is available on cassette only, limited to 100 copies, and comes as a cool looking orange tape with a full-color fold-out J-card.  It's already sold out on Megakut's bandcamp page, but as of this writing, there are still a few available on QM's.

Now if you're reading this thinking, gee, just one album?  Hasn't Luke come out with like, four or five albums every other time you've posted about him in the last couple years?  Oh yeah.  Since we last checked in, he's also released a new album with Bad Shane (their second after Rogue Titan) called Woofer Crust on cassette, limited to 100 copies, as well as a new vinyl EP (limited to 250 copies) called P.O.A., due out later this month.  There's also an all new, second LP with Wolfagram called Garshas available from Iron Lung, 350 on traditional black and 150 on lime green vinyl.  And there's a new CCCRRCCSSLLRRKKRRSSS album, which is a largely instrumental project Luke is part of, but does also feature some vocals by him, on limited edition CD (apparently only 25 copies), plus a shorter EP version on cassette, limited to just 20 copies.  So don't worry; he's not showing any signs of slowing down.  I do wish some of these limited editions weren't quite so limited, though.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Why Not To Name Your Group The "Verbal Assassins"

So, I have this rare CD single I've been thinking about writing about.  It's from 1998, not on discogs or mentioned anywhere else online that I can find.  And I really don't know anything about it except what's printed on the front and what I can hear on the disc.  It's by a group called the Verbal Assassins, so I decided to look them up to see if I could find anything out, and sheesh.

First of all, I'm highly confident that these are not the same Verbal Assassins as in Crazy Sam and da Verbal Assassins, the Video Music Box "Nervous Thursdays" VJ and his crew who put out one weird, little album in 1994.  For one thing, these guys are from Virginia, as they point out in one of their songs.  But that barely narrows it down, because "Verbal Assassins" seems to be a very popular rap group name, even though none of them ever had a hit song.  So it might be a bit of a cursed choice.

Let's see.  If they're from VA, they're surely not these Verbal Assassins, who helpfully point out that they're from NJ, probably because they've gotten notes from people looking for info on one of the other Verbal Assassin crews.  And these Verbal Assassins are from South Africa.  These Verbal Assassins are from Australia.  These Verbal Assassinz are from Alabama and don't even spell the name right.  I don't know where these Verbal Assassins are from, but they sound way too young and new.  Same with these Verbal AssassinsThese Verbal Assassins are too new and from the wrong place.  This guy was in a group called Verbal Assassins, but that was in Baltimore.  This other guy formed a group called the Verbal Assassins, and he's from Virginia, but it was just a duo, and there's more cats in my group.  These Verbal Assassins are white, and from the lyrics here, that rules them out.  Here's an interesting Verbal Assassins group, but they sound nothing like the ones on my CD.

I was really starting to think it was actually these Verbal Assassins: black with several members, from VA and around the same time period.  But this unflattering review of their album lists member names (Elsagandoe, Supreme, K-Otic, Erupt, Lowe Digga and producer Styles da Grinch) that I don't hear on this CD and talks about club tracks, which doesn't sound like this crew's style.  Plus, their imprint was Unshakeable Visions, and my group's is Hocus Pocus Records.  Of course, that's not to say and up and coming rap group couldn't have switched indie labels in the course of two years, but taken all together, all these indicators are reading a big "mmm... probably not" to me.  And I think groups named Verbal Assassins might just be more prevalent in Virginia because their state code is V.A.

These Verbal Assassins are five MCs, one seems to be saying his name is Sean Don, another is Baby Boy and a third might be Murder I.  And they mention "Shakim on the wheels," though unfortunately none of these three songs feature any turntablism.  They basically blur the line between lyrical freestyle rhymes and street talk, with a bit of a Natural Elements influence, though they don't quite have Charlemagne's classic production.  "Open Mic" is just a non-stop freestyle with each MC taking a turn to flex his skills over a simple battle rap loop and no hook.  "Rush Hour" is a little more street and does have a hook, and "Adolescence" turns even further, with a more musical sample and some serious warnings for the young bloods.  All three beats are serviceable, but the selling point is definitely the MCing, with writing styles veering from creative metaphors to punchlines.  A couple of the lines are stale even for their time ("fuck with more women than a lesbian," "make 'em scream 'uhhh' like Master P"), but they're mostly pretty slick, with distinctive voices and vocal styles to boot.  One guy will be fast and smooth, then the next dude sounds like Vooodu, saying:

"Comin' from the underground, ambush this industry.
Catch it from all angles: physically, mentally.
Y'all niggas feel me; and if you don't understand:
My crew secretes verses, touchin' every gland.
Storm troopin' in your sanctuary,
See the views of a young, black visionary
With murderous vocabulary.
Seein' through your crew like lace panties;
Guzzle 'em down like E&J brandy
Liq-uor.  Feel the script-ure,
But not visible.  Verses: they rip through your physical,
Battles: they injure you.  I enter this rap
Domain and give 'em all my thesis,
My opinions; speeches crush the opposition.
Leave a trail of shattered craniums on my mission.
Give me that mic and ball up in fetal position.
Feel the illness all up in your mom's uterus,
'Cause I move swiftly, usin' assassin tactics.
The new school of Hip-Hop, yes, I'm born again.
Break out the germ in this[? maybe "German-ness?"], cast into this world of sin.
It's like I'm torn between Heaven and Hell,
Neither wants me:
The fallen angel, enter the Elm Street."

Honestly, the more I listen, the more it continues to grow on me.  I'd love to discover more from these guys, but it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack where each straw is another rap group also calling themselves Verbal Assassins.  Seriously, I wish more up and coming artists respected when a name is already taken.