Thursday, February 29, 2024

For the No Face Fan Who Has Everything

I've been after this release for so long, I was beginning to doubt its existence.  Like, sometimes a record is at the top of your Want List because it strikes such a powerful chord in your soul: an amazing piece of music you can't do without.  And sometimes it's just because it's eluded you for so long that it starts to become an obsession.  This, for me, is the latter.  It's no masterpiece, but it's been my white whale.

And I don't think this started out super rare, like an independent white label that was only released in super limited quantities, possibly in a limited local market.  This is a mainstream Columbia Records release from the early '90s (1991 to be exact) by a group that received regular play on MTV and was presumably available at malls across America.  But I guess because it's cassette only, and an unremarkable single from a group that never really blew up or became a critical darling, that it just never really gets preserved.  Like, the reason it never shows up on EBay or the like is just because people who find themselves with a copy never bother to list it.  There's never been a big demand for it.  Except, I've been looking for decades, and I it took 'till 2024 to finally land one.

This is "Fake Hair Wearin'..." by No Face, yes Ed Lover's old group that were briefly signed to Rush Associated.  It's their second of two (or third if you count their white label 4-song sampler EP) singles of off their only album, 1990's Wake Your Daughter Up, featuring their only big guest The 2 Live Crew.  1990, remember, was pretty much their pinnacle year of controversy, when they were Banned In the USA, so they were a big get, if not the best rappers they could've found.  It's a pretty catchy song that leans heavily into their Gap Band ("Burn Rubber") sample and a sung hook twists the original words into something in the same way that DJ Quik would do a year later - as in his "just 'cause you didn't say that you wanted to fuck don't meant that you don't want to" chorus for 1992's "Mo Pussy."  Here it's the slightly more innocent "just because your hair ain't real, don't think that I don't know the deal."

But the other appeal of this song is the extreme anger they inject into the otherwise boppy, upbeat tune.  Like, besides the raps and singing, they're just constantly screaming "fuck you!  FUCK you!  Bitch!  Bitch!  Fuck you!"  2 Live Crew do more traditional verses (where they mix in some slowed down "Planet Rock," which grounds it in a tougher, more Hip-Hop feel), but No Face's often don't even rhyme, feeling more like vile rants.  It's such over-the-top hatred, you ideally wind up finding it funny.  If not, then it's in the lead for most offensively misogynist Hip-Hop in the genre's history, right up there with anything UGK or Akinyele have ever done.  I mean, sure it's some of both (the uncensored title on the LP is "Fake Hair Wearin' Bitch"), but in this case it's clearly meant to tongue in cheek is what I'm saying.  No Face were always partially a comedy act.  And the premise of dissing a girl for wearing a weave is right out of the Bobby Jimmy and the Critters' playbook, as they had released "Hair Or Weave" just the year before.  Willie D had "Bald Headed Hoes" around that time...  That was a popular topic for a hot minute, this is really taking me back.

Anyway, the reason I was after this cassingle was for the two exclusive B-sides.  First is the "Fake Hair Wearin'... (Remix)."  Since this has never been put up online ever to my knowledge, I couldn't hear it until I found a copy, and I was a little worried this was just going to be the clean version.  It's produced by Sexx and Shah just like the album version and all their stuff (No Face did start out as a funk band, after all, so it's natural they tended to do their own music production), so I was ready for this just to be the sanitized edit they made for the music video.  But no, happily both versions are uncensored and this is remix features an all new, never before heard instrumental with a completely different sample set.  It's more of a stripped down track, with much more emphasis on the bassline and replacing all the lush Gap Band instrumentation with a little funk guitar riff.  It's dope, and better during the rap portions, but the hook doesn't work nearly as well without the "Burn Rubber" groove it was made for.  They should've recorded a new hook in a different style for it, but oh well, it's not terrible.

Then the other exclusive B-side is an entirely all new song called "2 Minute Reply (U Know U Love It)," a response to "Two Minute Brother," the BWP song they appeared on, and which they actually performed on The Phil Donahue Show.  Of course that was a joke song about erectile dysfunction, very much in step with another Bobby Jimmy song from that period: 1991's "Minute Man Man."  These guys were really driving in the same lane for a minute there in '90-'91.  Anyway, this uses the same instrumental as BWP's, and the Bytches even drop in for a word or two.  But it's mostly just an excuse for Ed to improvise riffs defending the fellas' injured masculinity, "she gonna come around and spread that cavern-ass pussy.  Shit, what you think I am, Evil Knievel?  I ain't got no motorcycle!  How am I supposed to jump across your pussy?  Shit!  I slipped on your clit and fell down that motherfucker.  My man said 'watch out for that hole.'  I said, 'what hooooollllllle!!?!?!??'"  They come up with a new hook which is pretty infectious, and they freestyle a bit, but it's mostly just talking over the track instead of proper rapping, which is disappointing.

So both exclusives are fun to have, and it's a personal accomplishment to finally complete my No Face collection, but these aren't great songs anyone's missing out on.  You can see why they're just B-side bonuses.  These were designed to put a little smile on your face, and 33 years later, that's what they've done for me.  :)

Friday, February 16, 2024

Father MC Or Die

Another new year, another new Father MC write-up.  You think I've run out of material, no not yet.  In fact, this is arguably one of the most important songs in his discography, the fulcrum point of his public image and lyrical direction, from Mr. "Live Life Lovely, Love the Ladies, Live Life Correct" to the aggressively sexual "I put my milkshake on ya tummy."  The legend goes that Andre Harrell pushed Father MC in the romantic direction.  We've already seen he started out on a fresher tip with his First Fleet Crew; but he blew up making records like "I'll Do For You" and "Lisa Baby" with The Soul Convention.  But for his third album, he changed.  Now he was working with Buttnaked Tim Dawg and had a much tougher, more aggressive image.  Not that he went full NWA or anything.  But gone were the button down shirts and flat top with the blond peak; now it was leather jackets and Timbs.  But there's an even more precise point in between those albums where that switch happened: on the Who's the Man soundtrack.

Who's the Man's a pretty interesting soundtrack anyway.  The Ed Lover & Doctor Dre movie directed by Johnathan Demme's nephew, Ted Demme, and packed with rapper cameos naturally had to have some big songs on it, including BIG's debut single and Erick Sermon's debut solo venture.  Somebody else vying for attention with a bit of a career move was Father MC.  The song is called "Pimp Die," so yeah, the new direction is pretty hard to miss.  If it wasn't obvious enough, though, it opens with the album's only skit, where Dawg is a WBUTT FM radio DJ announcing, "that was Father MC featuring Jodeci, 'Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated.'  Well, Radio Land, I wonder what he has in store for '93.  Maybe he'll take it to the streets."  So yeah, the intention's perfectly clear.

It's got a much grittier, 90's track with rumbling bass, wailing horns, big drums and a shout chorus: "what's the law? Pimp or die!  What's the law?!  Pimp or die!!"  It's not actually produced by Dawg, but by T West and Kool Chris.  They were working under his wing for Dawghouse Entertainment at the time.  They also did an unreleased track for The Lost Boyz' debut album, which Dawg also worked on.  So that helps explain why "lyrics and rap" co-writing credit goes to one Cocheeks.  That's Mr. Cheeks, a couple years before the Boyz broke out with their first single.

But there's a seemingly even bigger name in the writing credits here.  J.Z.  As in Jay-Z!?  1993, this would put him in his post-Jaz sidekick, pre-Reasonable Doubt solo artist period, the same year he did "Can I Get Open" with Original Flavor, when he was really going "next level" with the lyrics.  So does Jay take Father to the next level?

Well, disappointingly, not so much in the crazy way Jay was flipping it in '93.  You know, it's kind of run of the mill game talk, "I'm the man, that's how I get down.  I find recruits, knock the boots and then I got to skip town.  I get money on the regular; every day on the highway honeys are calling on my cellular.  I got a team From Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens; a bald head, leather jacket, and baggy jeans."  We're really just cementing the new image here.  Yes, he name-checks his Timberlands,  But later in the song, he gets more into old school pimp talk, which is pretty fun, "taste the caramel sweet chocolate.  One taste of my love makes your heart drip.  Mister Man, sisters never diss the program; before I kick 'em out, I kiss ya hand.  ...I get my nails done, baby, you won't be bitter.  Dip my hands in the bowl and watch my rocks glitter.  That's how pimply I am; pimpin' ain't hard, it's just a job, and ya really don't understand."

But a lot of it's just tepid, generic rhymes, too, like, "I'm gettin' money on the real, nothing's funny.  Every day seems sunny when I'm chilling with my main honey."  Half of this feels like typical Father MC album filler, and I'm thinking Jay-Z maybe just suggested a couple individual lines.  And Cheeks?  Well, there's a very animated hype-man backing up Father's lyrics.  His voice doesn't sound as scratchy as we all know Cheeks to be.  I'd actually guess it's Tim Dawg doing it himself.  But maybe in '93, Cheeks' voice sounded fresher and he's getting writing credit for improving his adlibs?  That's a long shot, but it's possible.  I mean, we're forced to do a lot of speculation here.  Maybe J.Z. isn't even Jay-Z after all.  Discogs connects them, but they don't have a perfect track record with this like that.  And it's not like the credits say "Jay-Z."

Also, it's interesting to note that on the Uptown Unplugged album, Father only got to perform the single solo song, "One Night Stand."  But if you watch the full live show, you see they cut out his second song, which he introduces as "a change for the better," suggesting his heart was no longer in the lovey-dovey stuff, if it ever was.  Because yes, it's "Pimp Or Die."  Tim Dawg gets on the stage with him to help with the hook, and it's a very different instrumental, with the band playing completely new horn riffs, and going heavy on the piano.

Anyway, "Pimp or Die" isn't perfect, but it does the job.  And it's better than most of the stuff that wound up on Sex Is Law, including the singles.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Everybody Around Pseudo Keeps Fallin' Six Feet Deep

What's up, gang?  I know it's been a little while since my last post.  I wound up taking a few unexpected sick days this holiday season.  But the good news is that I've spent the time building up a list of topics I'm excited to write (and vlog) about this year.  So let's jump right into it!  For the belated start of our new year, how about one... none of you were waiting for?  😝

No, but stick with me here.  This is an interesting one.  Remember Pseudonym, the indie Ohio MC whose early tapes I wrote about in 2019?  I capped that off by saying how he'd just signed to Hardcore Rap 4 Life, an interesting outfit dedicated to hardcore (naturally) Onyx-style 90s boom-bap throwback stuff.  Yeah, the weird long-haired dude with the crayon-style album covers, a pretty weird fit.  Imagine if The Geto Boys had replaced Willie D with D-Mob & Cathy Dennis instead of Big Mike.  So, come on.  You've gotta be at least a little but curious, right?  Well, he hooked me up with that album and his two subsequent EPs, catching us up with his full discography to the present, so we can find out what that's like.

To be fair, this step isn't 100% out of left field.  He came out dissing wack MCs pretty aggressively on his previous tapes.  And the fact that he rocked his own mini version of Ultramagnetic's "Chorus Line," over the original beat, shows he's clearly got not just an appreciation for classic boom-bap, but a willingness to dive in.

So 2019's Frustration, we're told in the intro, is an expression of our joint frustration (naturally) with the world.  And in his case, particularly the music industry.  It's almost entirely produced by Blowin Up Beats (the three skits are handled by Tobe Donahue), the label's house producer, and he has definitely perfected a consistent, aggressive old school sound.  My favorite track on this album is "Tight," which utilizes Diamond D's funky little "Soul Clap" horn with deep, bassy piano notes, hard drums, and some nice cuts by DJ Etch, from Pseudo's last tape.  Blowin Up really does capture, across all his releases, that 90s vibe, I have to hand it to him.

And how does Pseudo sound on it?  Not bad.  He definitely throws himself in with full gusto and absolute commitment.  His eclectic delivery always called for a lot of energy, and you all that energy to live up to these tracks.  That said, I remember saying he sometimes sounded a little overwrought on his previous EP, and that's all the more case here.  All the complaints about not being a celebrated MC, like "wackness gets negated when I've got a million styles just waiting to be demonstrated.  But nobody wants to hear 'em," "living in a city where the ego outweighs the talent," and so on just aren't that sympathetic.

And a few over-the-top bits will have your eyes rolling: "in fact, I caught a motherfucker last night, talked a lot of shit and couldn't handle the fist fight.  Took a blade to his skull and now he's got no eyesight.  Leave the cracker brain-dead with multiple stab wounds to the head.  Enough said."  Or the skit where a demon voice is telling him to kill.  There's a horrorcore influence that just feels like the wrong direction for Pseudo to have gone in after "Super-Ego."  The songs where he's just freestyling, following a flow rather than a strict topic, like "Hardcore Shit" or "Who Wants It," sound better.  Then you can just nod away to an MC spitting fast and hard over a tight track without any awkward bumps.

Ultimately, it was an interesting experiment, but I think I'm glad the Hip Hop 4 Life time is over.  Though he didn't totally find his ideal lane immediately after.  The title of 2022's Cartoonish In Nature certainly suggests a dramatic 180 from Frustrated.  And guess who has a guest spot on here?  Kwest tha Madd Lad!  The whole EP's a collaboration with a producer named Kilroywash3r3, and he does a good job coming up with a creative and varied soundscape that better suits Pseudo.  As a whole, though, this EP sounds a little adrift... like they said, we can say anything on here, so why not just say anything?  It kind of reminds me of that period when Eminem and Nicki Minaj just started arbitrarily rapping in faux British accents.  "Obtuse" is a reflective and melodic opening where the two really blend well.  Then "Psycho Losing His Shit" is like a hold over from Frustrated that goes even further:

"It's a tragedy, like when I survived my abortion.
Born to bring an end of the Earth in epic proportions.
Yo, you want problems, we can settle them like men:
Smash each other with rocks until our worlds cave in.
Take ya back to the beginning when I didn't know shit;
Now I've hit my rise; and all the hipster girls are on my dick.
Fuck a trendsetter.  Give me five minutes, he'll be a blood-letter.
Then I'll write a letter to his grandmother requestin' a new sweater.
Shit ain't a game, people do anything for the fame,
Endure the fucking flames before their lives go down the drain.
Thinking homicidal shit 'cause I ain't got a damn thing to lose;
Cooking culture vultures stewed with their blue suede shoes.
All battered and bruised, 
killed 'em all 'cause I hate to choose,
What's the fucking use if all it does is leave us broke?"

The old school horror movie organs and Just-Ice scratches on this song are dope, but lyrically, oof.

Big correction 5/14/24:
As you can see in the comments below, I misheard the lyrics, thinking "all battered and bruised, killed 'em all 'cause I hate to choose," was "all battered and bruised, kill 'em all 'cause I hate the Jews."  The correct version is better in a lot of ways - i.e. it just makes more logical sense.  But also, obviously, because what I thought I heard would've been in pretty poor taste, which in fact, I proceeded to take him to task for.  I did also say, "I think it's safe to assume he's just playing an outrageous character for shock value, as the title suggests, and not an actual Nazi looking to spread propaganda.  In other songs he's called himself the Marquis de Sade, talked about stomping crews to goo, and all sorts of the usual Hip-Hop wylin'."  But still, I'm relieved to know it was all my embarrassing error and Pseudo's lyrics were completely above my reproach.

Let's move on.  Kwest sounds fresh as ever, and he has fun mixing Spanish into his verse and dropping silly punchlines.  There's another guest on here, named TINO, who flips a tight, bouncy style, too.  Kilroy's tracks are fresh and low-key that consistently compliment Pseudo.  I wasn't a fan of the love song on this EP, but the instrumental worked.  And "Leave 'Em Wanting More" ends things on a charming note that does what it promises.

I could end this piece here, but Pseudo's already come out with another EP for 2023, so let's me thorough.  It's called Moments Like This... It's more of a maxi-single (like his earlier tapes) at just four songs, one of which is only 90 seconds.  It's all produced by CJ Satellite, a producer from Massachusetts.  The opening instrumental is unusual and pretty great, bringing to mind the best parts of Pseudo's early work.  Delivery-wise, he's mellowed out a bit, but I'm feeling the substance of his lyrics more, and he still flexes a quick, dexterous flow on "Never Do It Again."  I think we saw Pseudonym wander off the path there, but now he's back on it.

You can get all his CDs and tapes on his bandcamp, except Frustrated, which is still available through Hardcore Rap 4 Life's.