Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chino XL vs. Kool G Rap

Alrighty.  This 12" has been high on my "to write about" list since I started this blog over ten years ago.  But I just keep putting it off and pushing it back in favor of something else.  Why?  Because I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this record that I've still never fully settled.  And if you can't tell from the picture, I'm talking about Chino XL's "Let 'Em Live" featuring the great Kool G Rap, a 12" single from 2000 on Warner Bros.  After his time on Ill/ Def American, Chino was very briefly signed to Warner Bros.  There was the white label of "Last Laugh" and this 12", both singles for his upcoming album I Told You So.  But he was already dropped by the time album came out, which wound up being a CD-only release on a little label called Metro Records.  So mainstream audiences that weren't copping promo vinyl wouldn't have even seen it, but there was a hot second when he was on Warners.

So we've basically just got the one version of the one song on here, which is the same as what wound up on the album.  I mean, yeah, we get Instrumental, Acapella (which is why there's so many amateur remixes of this song on Youtube) and all that.  But just the one set of vocals over basic instrumental, produced by Nick Wiz.  And the beat is... ummm... not amazing.  I like Nick Wiz.  Hell, everybody likes Nick Wiz.  And on one hand, I do like this track.  It suits the high energy battle rap style these guys are kicking, and it's got some dark atmosphere I know both of these MCs like.  But it's also that kind of sample-free, stock sound effect, big horn stab track that you expect to hear terrible rappers use in a Youtube battle.  Wiz is talented enough to lay some nice touches underneath it all to hold everything together and blend the vocals to the track.  So it pulls you into the lyrics, which is great.  But this is never a song you'd play because you want to hear that instrumental.  So yeah, I'm a little conflicted about it.  I guess, at the end of the day, it's a track I'd concede in any debate isn't very good, but I still kinda like it.

But that isn't the half of the conflict I feel over the record that's made me keep pushing it off.  It's the lyrics.  Kool G Rap unquestionably kills it on here.  I mean, I know some people are sick of the gangster topic from him, and in that regard, this is absolutely more of the same.  He raps about a mugging, gang warfare and the glittery drug life.  I get it if you've had enough of that.  But if it doesn't matter that he does it spectacularly well, I don't know what to tell ya.  On a technical level, on a delivery level, in terms of cleverness... I could listen to his half of the song all day.

Unfortunately, he's only on half, or even slightly less, of the track.  And that brings be to Chino XL's part.  I've been a fan of his, too; and a hardcore battle rap track over a Nick Wiz beat?  That's his home court right there.  But god, his punchlines can make you cringe.  "keep shit in a bag like a colostomy; I'm pro, you're junior varsity," "you'll retire like Seinfeld, waiting on titles that I've held.  Rock and roll like Dennis Leary, blastin' assassins sent to kill me," "more Colt 45 than Billy D collectin' disability, I'll shoot out with Bill and Hillary, still won't run out of artillery."  Those are just a couple of examples from a single song ("Nunca," also off I Told You So).  I don't even get that last one.  Is there any reason to throw in the Clintons' names besides the fact that they're in the zeitgeist and Hillary rhymes with artillery?  At least Jerry Seinfeld had recently retired from his show at the time.

G Rap's verses are very clever in terms of grammar and construction, but they never get corny like that, full of gags and arbitrary pop culture similes.  To be fair, though, I was grabbing examples from another song because I think Chino realized you don't get that jokey on a duet with Kool G Rap.  And when it comes to sick wordplay, Chino can spit with the best of them.  Here's a little taste of his actual bars on "Let 'Em Live:"

"Universally disperse a cursed verse, controversial;
Illest on earth so,
Out of this world like Captain Kirk's ho.
Get Patty Hearst dough;
Commit you to the dirt slow.
Even worse, though,
High yellow Chino'll leave you needing what a nurse know."


Okay, wait.  There's like three jokes and two celebrity name drops in there, too.  But all those lines at least kinda work, and the fact that they're embedded in a wild rhyme pattern really helps sell them.  But compare that to G Rap's material, where his rhyme scheme is just as mind blowing, coming up with ingenious ways to rephrase ideas we've heard in a million other rap songs to make them fresh, and yet none of the shtick:

"I spit my shit like a flame thrower,
The frame blower.
Came with the brain exploder
Inside the Range Rover.
Load the six-stain holder;
Lay you and your dame over.
Banging your main soldier
'Till my aim strain my shoulder."


And those are just from his quick introductory bars.  Also, just as a fun fact, it's also not his only reference to Range Rovers in the song.  I guess he just likes the way the phrase sounds over this beat, because he also has the line, "one hundred and twenty five grains rearrange your Rover."  And sorry to go off on a tangent mid-point, but that brings me to something else about this song: they're hard to catch.  I looked up the lyrics on OHHLA, and it's chock full of errors, most of which I think I'll be happily able to correct for you today (fairly certain it's not, "one hundred and twenty five grange we arrange the rover").  Rap Genius's take is barely any better (they clearly scraped OHHLA), and the only other version I found was even worse, but I won't link it 'cause I think English wasn't their first language anyway.

So like, Chino's line in his first verse should probably be, "start kneelin' and pissin' in bed" not "start nailing and pissing in bed," and in the chorus, I'm sure he says, "you'd be holding your breath forever tongue kissing a fish," not "your fist."  And I've got some other corrections I'm dropping in the quoted verses.  But it's tough.  For the life of me, I can't figure out what the last line of G Rap's first verse is, though I'm sure it's not, "nigga trade ya rover for the redrum stains you sober."  So if anybody can figure that one out, please post a comment.  It's been driving me nuts for years.  Oh, and the only other line I can't quite figure is Chino's, "blow dinero like Ferrigino?"  There's a reference I'm not getting, but I'm sure it's not "blow Deniro like oregano," as was previously guessed.  I'm certain he's bragging about spending money, not giving sloppy oregano-flavored oral sex to the star of Meet the Fockers.  😂

So where was I?  Oh yeah, so Chino spits pretty hard, but doesn't quite manage to avoid the one-liners.  And to be fair, that's what he's known for, and a lot of his fans would be disappointed if he left them out.  And I'm not mad at all of them.  I'm good with "the best MC's always float to the top unlike the son of John F. Kennedy," because it's just so cold.  I respect that.  His closer, I'm more of two minds about: "catch a L in the circle like a fuckin' Lexus logo."  Like, that's really clever, and I know it's one of his more popular lines.  I wouldn't've ever come up with it.  But it's still pretty contrived.  At the end of the day, I'll take it, but you can see why half the time I could just listen to an edit of this song with just the G Rap parts, right?  You have to be in a certain mood to play a song where the MC suddenly sings, "Dah da na na na - watch me change to Super Niggaro!"  But you don't have to be in any particular mood to be blown away by G Rap's verses:

"Yo, don't fight the heist if you treasure your life,
'cause my trife is measured in ice;
Put your wife at the edge of my knife.
And it'll be my pleasure to slice;
The bitch'll be forever with Christ;
Get hit twice with this real nice
Berretta device,
Nickel plates to your North Face
Put feathers in flight;
Let my lead strike and sever your life,
Leaving you red and wet in the night;
Head bright from infrared sight;
Cock back, squeeze and let it ignite.
Placing your body where the bedbugs bite.
Baby you thug, right?
A slug might open your mug like
I'm checking your blood type.
The drug life,
We hop in the Rolls,
Shoppin' for clothes,
Rockin' our foes,
Put you in a coffin with the top of it closed, you know?
Put a fuckin' glock to your nose!
Run up in your spot for the O's of blow;
Shove cock in your ho.
We 'bout to blow,
Nothing stopping the dough;
Most popular flow;
Like ice, I'm at the top of the globe."


And seeing them typed out doesn't even begin to do justice to the way he says them.  Like, when he comes back to, "put feathers in flight" you're like, holy cow, is he still knocking out that first multi?  He never lets up.  It's almost always a bummer when MCs recycle their own material and spit the same verses on more than one song.  We've heard guys like Common and Krs-One do that, and it's disappointing when you bought a record 'cause they're on it only to realize you already own those raps.  But in this case, I really wish G Rap would take what he wrote for this collaboration and flesh it out into a full song.  Because that shit would be incredible and I'd always be in the mood to hear it.

But that said, I'll always keep this record.  Because sometimes I definitely do want to hear what all three of them - Chino, G Rap and Nick Wiz - created on this record.  And since I Told You So turned into a CD only once it went indie, this 12" is a great way to have it on vinyl.  Comes in a sticker cover to boot, and since Warners made it, you know they pressed a ton and you can cop it dirt cheap.  You can even use the acapella and make your own remix.  Although, after having just gone on a jag listening to about twenty of them on Youtube, I'll advise you right now, don't mix your main sample so loud it overshadows the vocals.  Just about all of those cats did that, and it's wack.  Really, if you want to appreciate Nick Wiz's work a little better, just listen to everybody else fail to make the track work like he did.  Although, admittedly, some of the weirder ones, like the G-Funk remix, were dubious ideas that I think were doomed to fail from the start.

Anyway, that's "Let 'Em Live."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Were The 2 Smooth M.C.'s?

Sleeping Bag Records had a great pedigree?  I don't know how well it treated or paid their artists, since almost everybody on the label seemed to jump ship to another label as soon as they blew up, but when it came to discovering Hip-Hop acts, these guys had it down.  Almost everyone they touched were hot, from Mantronix to EPMD and Stezo to Nice N Smooth to Cash Money & Marvelous to Just-Ice to Tricky Tee to T-La Rock to Mikey D and the LA Posse.  They might not have all crossed over to the mainstream, but they all made great, must-have records.  MC EZ and Troup turned into Craig Mack and 12:41 turned into Boogie Down Productions.  Even Bonzo Goes To Washington turned out to be a secret Bootsy Collins project.  And one of the label's last remaining hold-outs, King Doe V, finally got some of the attention he deserved this year with some lost 90s bangers being recovered by Chopped Herring Records.  Everybody they touched seem to have a lasting legacy.  Except for one group, with one 12" you just look at and say, "wait, who the heck are these guys?"  2 Smooth M.C.'s.

Well, the answer's not going to amaze you.  I'm not about to reveal that this single comprises the shockingly slept-on debut appearances of Lauryn Hill and Drake.  I'm pretty sure these two songs are the only ones 2 Smooth M.C.'s ever put out in any capacity.  But have you heard this record?  It's dope and right up to par with Sleeping Bag's pedigree.

Conceptually, 1990's "The Inventor" is a lot like Pete Rock's "The Creator," a rapping producer just flexing his multi-talent skills over a thumping beat, even going to the extent of starting a duo's discography with a solo song.  It's a confusing listening to 2 Smooth M.C.'s for the first time and realizing, "I'm pretty sure this is just one dude."  The other guy does turn up for the B-side, though.

So yes, 2 Smooth M.C.'s produce their own material, too.  And "The Inventor"'s strongest point is its production, no doubt.  There's an obvious Marley Marl influence here.  It opens up with a sample from "The Symphony," including Marley's voice, but then immediately shifts into an ultra-funky James Brown sample, chopped and looped exactly the same way Marley used it on "Duck Alert."  I suppose you could say the track's weak point is a lack of originality; but then they mix in some extra, deep horns into the track, and it's so perfect.

But just who are "they?"  Well, the liner notes tell us the writing, production and mixing credits go to two brothers: Calvin and Dennis Moss.  Calvin, who goes by Big Cal on the record, is the one who goes solo for "The Inventor."  And his older brother (I only know he's the older because he mentions it in his lyrics) shares the mic with him as The D on the B-side, "Give It All You Got."  And at one point they say the line, "XL, Herb and Mike makes up the crew," which isn't the most illuminating but I guess tells us something.

"Give It All You Got" isn't as strong as the A-side, but it's still good.  Like Run DMC's "Together Forever" they loop crowd sounds to make a studio recording sound like a live track.  Although this loop sounds so inauthentic, it might've been a strictly musical decision.  But I'd call it a slightly annoying mistake either way.  Still, the rest of the track is some tight, sample-based production that grows on you over repeated listens; and forgoing the traditional verse/ hook/ verse format to just have the two MCs passing the mic back and forth is a very cool choice.  They might not be the most adept lyricists, but they know how to sound good over their own beats.  You can see why Def Jam didn't scoop these guys up, but it's definitely a shame they didn't put out at least a couple more records.

There's just the two full songs on here, no dubs or anything, and as you can see above, it comes in a sticker cover.  It's not a historically important record; it's one of Sleeping Bag's few Hip-Hop records that aren't.  But it's better than a lot of records that are.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Disturbers' Negusa Negast Is Real, I Swear!

So, I got a little curious about The Disturbers the other day... they're definitely a group that merits curiosity, as we'll get into later.  But I was just doing a little googling for myself and found out that, apart from my humble, little Sacred Hoop page, there is no record of their third(?) album existing online.  Like, okay, it's not on discogs; that happens.  But there are none of the typical forum posts of people looking for a copy, expired Ebay auctions, or blogposts with dead Rapidshare links.  Just search for the phrases The Disturbers and Negusa Negast, and literally the only results that pop are my site and a broken Russian mp3 page for a different group called The Disturbers (some Canadian rock group or something).  It's enough to make you think my listing is some kind of mistake or that I just made the whole thing up.  So here we go with a big, revelatory post about it to today just to assure any doubters fans out there that this album actually exists, and to tell fans what it's like, since I'm guessing most never got to hear it.

The biggest question you might have about The Disturbers is just who the heck are they, exactly.  That's kind of why I was googling them in the first place.  Obviously Luke Sick, front man of Sacred Hoop, Brougham, Grand Invincible and a hundred other rap groups, is the main MC.  But who else is there?  Their first album, 1998's Anansi Spider, is often listed online as a Luke Sick solo tape, which it basically is.  It even reads, "this is a punk rock m.c.'s 4-trak[sic.] practice tape," and he's pretty much the only guy rapping on it.  By the way, my copy has a sticker on it labeling it as a "Limited Edition 'Pissed On J-Card' Issue;" I don't know if there are any alternate versions.  But my version doesn't give any production credits or anything.  Besides Luke Sick, I can't say for sure who else was involved with this album.

But their next two albums do have more detailed liner notes.  Or what I'm labeling their next two albums, anyway... it's a little debatable what counts.  See, also in 1998, Sacred Hoop put out a scrappier than usual album called Moe's Strange Hobby.  It's got Sacred Hoop's name on it, anyway, and Luke Sick does the rapping.  But when Atak re-released it on CD with some bonus tracks in 2004, it's clearly called a Disturbers album right on the cover.  So, is it a Hoop album or a Disturbers album?  Well, I think Miasmatic/ The Hoop were starting to use the Disturbers name as a sort of junk drawer collective for any project of theirs that they felt didn't quite live up to being a proper Hoop album, and wasn't necessarily entirely produced by Vrse Murphy.  After a certain point, even I'm not a big enough nerd to get hung up on the classifications.  But there is one other collaborator who seems to be a pretty key member of The Disturbers.

When I interviewed Luke Sick for Rebirth Mag, he referred to, "[m]y boys from the disturbers most namely Unbreakable Combz and Curator."  Well, Unbreakable Combz is an MC down with FTA (Full Time Artists), a Cali group who Sacred Hoop used to do a bunch of music with.  I know he has a song on Feed Them Art and appears on Pilot Rase's solo album.  But as far as I can tell, he just rapped on one posse cut called "War the Fuck Up" for The Disturbers, on their 2000 album Kefu Qan.  But Curator, he seems to be the guy.

Curator has an "all songs produced by, except where noted" credit on Kefu Qan, and yeah, he raps on "War the Fuck Up," too.  And Negusa Negast, the album that seems to have slipped off the face of the Earth?  He has some production credit on there, too, plus a lot of engineer credit, as well as a "music stolen from Curator" credit on one song, and he raps on here, too.  I think, like Grand Invincible = Luke + Eons One, Dankslob = Luke + G-Pek, Grand Killa Con = Luke + Brycon, Rime Force Most Illin' = Luke + Rob Rush, and Get the Hater = Luke + The Dwarves, The Disturbers = Luke + Curator.  Again, Anansi Spider has no credits, but I'm speculating that Curator at least did a bunch of tracks on that tape.  If so, it all adds up pretty nicely.  If not, I guess we revert back to the :junk drawer" theory.  But even then, Curator has to be given a lot of credit for Kefu Qan and Negusa Negast.

Certainly, there's a strong "junk drawer" element to Negusa Negast (which means "king of kings," by the way).  This album lists 41 entries on the track-listing, and the actual CD has 43 tracks.  The extra two can be accounted for because tracks 1 and 2 are the same - the intro just plays twice in a row, and track #43 is just four seconds of silence.  Luke has always leaned into the scrappy "punk rock m.c." aesthetic on his Disturbers projects, and this is no exception.  It's a real, crazy, disjointed mess.  Songs and skits often seem to get cut off early, which I'm guessing is an aesthetic choice.  They've got some good stuff on here, though nothing for the Greatest Hits collection, and some crap.  Fans will be rewarded for digging through all this stuff, but casual listeners will probably be ready to turn it off about half way through.

The first half of the album sounds like a scrappier Hoop album.  It doesn't have the polish of Vrse's stuff (although Vrse does contribute one song on to the proceedings, called "The Ruin Me Girl"), but there's some cool Luke material on here.  He edits himself into a Donnas song rather effectively, and has some solid, hard tracks like "Rimp Raps" and "I Don't Feel Better" that are up to par with the rest of his catalog.  And yes, this CD is 41/ 43 tracks long, but a lot of that consists of skits/ vocal samples to set the tone and are only a handful of seconds long.  So it's a long album, but not insanely long.

Actually, most of those skits are from the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer, which turns out to be a strong influence on this album.  Some of those vocal samples wind up becoming hooks on the songs and seem to have inspired at least some of the lyrics.  Luke even does a punk rock (that's right, he occasionally drifts out of pure Hip-Hop and experiments with singing and guitar rock on this album) cover of Sandler's famous "Somebody Kill Me Please" song from the movie.  And speaking of covers, he also covers a Nirvana song; although in that case it's all raps over a very traditional Space Travelers break-beat.  It's actually pretty cool.  But then there's something like "Dreamland," which the liner notes describe as, "Luke covers the Bunny Wailer classic - music stolen from The Upsetters."  I can't even listen to that one all the way through.

So I'm sticking to my Disturbers = Luke + Curator theory, but it's not all just the two of them.  Besides that Vrse song, there's several produced by somebody named Swamp Boogie, and one produced by Tiff Cox, who's co-produced a couple other Hoop songs.  DJ Marz and DJ Bobafett do some mixing, and Rase appears on one track.  Then, towards the end of the album, come three Curator solo songs, "made on his own time in his own personal hell."  Another song, called "Louder Than Death," contains the first verse of what would later become the Sacred Hoop cut "Larry Boy Burial," and a rough, original version of "Car Crash," which Sacred Hoop eventually released as one of their very last songs in 2013, turns up on here as well.  Overall, there's more than enough really good content on here to make it worth tracking down for the fan who has everything, but new listeners won't have the patience to sift through it all.  I wouldn't even ask most people to consider it, but I'm glad it exists.  Which, I promise you, it does.

Monday, November 13, 2017

World Renown 1.0, 2.0

(Is World Renown actually World Renown, or just some group called World Renown?  And if World Renown isn't World Renown, then who is World Renown?  Come take a ride, 'cause Werner's caught Remake Fever!  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Halloween, You Cannot Escape Bigfoot!

(A Bronx horrorcore MC nobody ever seems to talk about.  Happy Halloween!  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When the Grym Reaper and Paul C Were In the House

I don't imagine I'd be blowing anyone's mind to say to you guys that Grym from The Gravediggaz used to go by Too Poetic and put out a single as a solo artist.  That was a common narrative for the forming Wu-fam; talented yet overlooked artists who'd already struck out in the industry coming together to dominate.  Genius had his early album on Cold Chillin' Records, The RZA had a 12" out as Prince Rakeem on Tommy Boy, Frukwon was one of the lesser known members of Stetsasonic.  And in 1989 The Grym Reaper was a clean cut, tracksuit wearing, fast rapper from Long Island hyping up his two DJs on Tommy Boy Records.  And the one thing I'm not sure all you Gravediggaz fans out there realize is how hot his first record was.

First of all, I should specify, Too Poetic's debut single wasn't just on Tommy Boy; it was a joint release with DNA International.  And Hip-Hop collectors who've been in the game for a long time know that's a good sign.  Sure, Tommy Boy had plenty of great and important Hip-Hop records, too; but odds were just likely that you'd get a Rappin' Duke comeback record as a 4-Ever Fresh classic.  But DNA was Super Lover Cee, Kev-E-Kev and Ak B, Majestic, and a handful of other dope 12"s.  If it had a DNA imprint on it, you could be confident it would have a solid sound.

And speaking of reliable names you can keep an eye out for on the record label, look closely and you should spot none other than Paul C, credited as both mixer and engineer.  But's not, as is often the case, billed as producer.  That goes to Poetic's own imprint, Poetic Productions (which basically means himself and his two DJs, Woody Wood and Capital K) and J. Tinsley.  I can't say I've followed much of Tinsley's career, but I am familiar with the name more as a house music guy; an influence you can definitely feel on this record.  Unfortunately.

Because the weakest aspect of this single is that it's very dance-music driven.  I'm not sure I'd quite label it as Hip-House, but it definitely has elements.  Not that Hip-Hop dance music is a bad thing.  I've pointed it out before, but in the late 80s, Eric B & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" was a dance record ("I'm about to flow long as I can possibly go; keep you moving cause the crowd said so.  Dance!  Cuts rip your pants.  Eric B on the blades, bleeding to death; call the ambulance"); and that's one of the greatest Hip-Hop records of all time.  But there's definitely a bouncy, club tip feel to the record that really prevents Poetic from landing it 100%.  Like, he really should've leaned just a little further towards "Words I Manifest" and a little less "Rollin' With Kid 'N' Play."

But let's get specific.  Poetic gives us two songs, and the first of which, despite its title, "Poetical Terror," is possibly the more club-oriented of the two.  It's got Poetic ripping syllables over some tough, rolling drums.  But it's all dominated by this poppy bassline that just winds up distracting you from the flow.  The the second half of the song is really cool on the one hand, because he gives the spotlight over to his DJs to mix up a a bunch of records over the track, but they're definitely choosing some very house-like samples to throw down with.

That's the Hype Vocal Mix.  There's also a remix called the Fullhouse Vocal Mix.  That's got even more of a Euro-sound with tight little keyboard riffs and tones all over the shop.  But it's also got a much funkier bassline, and none of the other elements sound drowned out like they do on the Hype mix.  It absolutely has a traditional house drum track, and it starts to get repetitive by about the fourth minute, but ironically it's kind of more hype than the Hype mix.  I think, as long as you're in the mood for Hip-House, it's actually the better version.

But even though "Poetical Terror" comes up first on the record, "God Made Me Funky" is the one they made the video for, and the overall superior song.  What really stands out is Poetic's energy on the mic and the crazy mix of samples.  I once read a bio about Capital K that inventive use of sampling was his forte, so I suspect a lot of credit for this one goes to him.  Despite the title, they only really use a vocal sample from the original "God Made Me Funky" for a hook.  Most of the beat is a sick chop of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" over a the "Synthetic Substitute" breakbeat.  It's funny, because now I associate "Inner City Blues" with its use in classic, syrupy, west coast productions like "A Minute To Pray and a Second To Die," "The Formula" and whatever that OFTB song was called (hey, it's been a long time).  You never heard it back in the days, it could take a couple minutes to get used to hearing it mixed into an up-tempo jam like this.

There's also a remix of this one on here, the Funky Vocal Remix, which keeps pretty much everything from the original, but has the DJs cutting and mixing the rhythm up some more.  It's not as radical a shift, but both versions are definitely worth your time.

And Poetic's flowing like a madman on this record.  Admittedly, lyrically, it's a bit lightweight.  Some nicely constructed, multi-syllable rhymes (remember, this was the 80s); but he's not saying much of anything, slipping into the occasional Robin Leach impression, and throwing out cheesy references with lines like, "eat your Cheerios than prepare to go into the zone" and "on like an automatic, word to Roger Rabbit!"  He never goes full blown Fu-Schnickens, but you can tell he's oozing skill out of every pore and you just wish he'd reach a little higher.  I almost wonder if Tinsley or somebody told him to dumb it down a little for mainstream audiences.  It wouldn't have been a problem if Tommy Boy had stuck with long enough to release a full-length, where he could've thrown in a couple more serious moments to show and prove a little; but unfortunately this is all they gave him, and the world had to wait until he got "Rzarrected" to discover his true talent as a lyricist.

My 12" here is a promo copy, hence the black and white labels.  But it's the same track-listing with both songs, their remixes and their instrumentals on either pressing.  The retail version of course has the usual Tommy Boy blue labels, but also comes in a cool picture cover.  Again, this was Too Poetic's only release until The Gravediggaz brought him back.  But he did record an entire album for Tommy Boy called Droppin' Signal, which has been floating around the internet for years.  Chopped Herring cleaned up and put out about half of it as a limited vinyl EP last year (is a part 2 pending, we hope?), and they also unearthed another interesting EP he did with another MC named Brainstorm, calling themselves the Brothers Grym, which is obviously where Poetic got his Gravediggaz persona from.  It's just sad Poetic isn't around to see the resurgence of his great, lost music.  R.I.P. to Poetic and Paul C.  I'll leave you with a great article an old friend of mine co-wrote interviewing Poetic not long before his passing and examining the terrible lack of health care in the Hip-Hop scene.  It's a little dated and pre-Obamacare, but for a lot of us I'm afraid, as timely as ever.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 5: Painting Puddles

 (Early Atoms Family Appearances Week concludes with what I think is the earliest Atoms Family appearance of all, with the Deep Puddle Dynamics crew.  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 4: Old Bridge, Mad Race

If Day 3 was a little too obvious, let Day 4 be nice and obscure.  Old Trolls New Bridge is the first release on Johnny 23 Records, an indie Hip-Hop label that's still active seventeen years later.  It's a compilation CD of their family of artists, including guys like LoDeck and Jak Progresso.  This is a pretty lo-fi sounding CD.  The equipment they used just sounds cheap, so the mixing is tinny and abrasive, and the vocals tend to sound like they were recorded over a payphone.  In a way, that kind of adds to the charm of this super indie collection of furious battle raps and scrappy young artists, but at the same time, none of these could ever be anybody's favorite songs.  It's just too raw, closer to a collection of freestyles than polished music.  It's a fun little experience, though, especially now, all these years later, to see which ones moved on to greater things and how they found their footing.  And while The Atoms Family were never really a part of Johnny 23, a couple of 'em do appear here as guests.

"Mommi's Relay Race" is the highlight of the album; the big posse right at the end.  So let's break down the line-up by the order the appear on the track.  First is Bas PMC, who've I've never heard of outside of this album, although he does appear on one other song.  Jak Progresso is second, and he's been putting out albums on Johnny 23 for years, on a demented horrorcore tip.  RC, who you may remember me mentioning have a catchy song on the DJ e.s.e. and TES album from Day 1.  In fact, that same song is also on this album.  I don't blame them, it's a great sample, and they probably wanted to get it heard as much as possible.  But it is redundant.  Anyway, next up is Breez Evahflowin, who was making a name for himself with 12"s on Wreck Records, Detonator, Bronx Science and even Tuff City.  I'm sure most of you reading this know who he is.  Then there's Big Deep, the other guy who did that song with RC, but is better known today as being one half of the 2 Hungry Brothers.  Then there's a guy named Paramount, who I don't really know, but I gather he's one of The Tapeworms, another crew on this album.  Anyway, he seems to pop up on a number of Johnny 23 releases, so he's definitely down with their clique.  And finally, right at the end, are three Atoms Fam members: Vast Aire, Alaska and Da Cryptic One.

Unfortunately, this song has the same sketchy mastering as the rest of the album, so it's a little rough.  You almost don't recognize Vast's distinctive voice, which does take away from the proceedings.  Still, it's a fun time.  The beat is pretty simple; it's one def loop that basically just repeats for the entire six minutes; but that's perfect for a posse cut with barely any hook, where the attention belongs on the ever-changing line-up of MCs each trying to come off the tightest.  There's an undeniable appeal to posse cuts, where every MC gets on the mic and tries to show and prove as best they can for a short time before passing the mic down the line, and that isn't lost here.

But an undeniable weakness of the era, corny punchlines have been weighing down every release during Atoms Family Week, and Old Trolls New Bridge has it the worst of all.  Right off the bat, we've got Bas PMC rushing to squeeze in all the syllables of "your style's dried up like a jheri curl. Fuckin' with me is like Israelites havin' sex with a white girl."  Jak Progresso has punchlines, too, but manages to flip 'em into something dark and creative enough to hold up in Current Year, "Mr. Hatchet, wanna fight Satan.  Face it, tell me to fly a kite? I'm usin' your skin to make it. Right now? I wanna stick you with a spear, lift you up and watch your body slide down. Fuck bringin' my high down. It's strange how sometimes my mouth isn't moving and I'm still talkin'. I don't attract girls; I stalk 'em."

Breez sounds great like always, coming off like a veteran here with a more refined flow.  Interestingly, this song is divided into groups of three (3 MCs, hook, next 3 MCs, and so on); and all three MCs in the second black use a lot of animal imagery in their bars.  Breeze: "I wear the skin of a lobster, start swingin' elbows, stick my foot in your turtle ass to rock shell toes."  Paramount: "I channel anxiety like female praying mantis; killing cowboys like buffalo avalanches. Levitate like green leaves from tree branches, where monkeys have Tantric sex on,"  Deep: "four beetles on my tongue waitin' for the monkeys to come, in groups of twelve, to develop my religion; my eagle eye persists to have hawks jealous of my vision, venom spittin' to chase the snake"... are just some of the many examples throughout their three verses.  The first couple of times it sounds like a coincidence, but as they keep piling on, I figure it's got to be something they worked out together.  I'm not sure it means much of anything, but it's definitely an interesting choice.

And of course the final third belongs to the Atoms.  By now, you've probably noticed that this is a pretty strange posse cut, merging complex lyricism with a tongue-in-cheek silliness.  And you know the Fam can deliver on that promise.  Vast Aire starts us out by saying, "yo, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm not a genius, but I think the rooster got the penis. Yo, I fuck the track all night like a rapid rabbit havin' sex with all might."  Alaska's dropping Simpsons references, and Cryptic has lines like, "my flow is like a sight only had by African flying squirrels hovering from tree to tree discoverin' the perfect branch to see," and by this point the whole song's totally bugged out.  But they spit their flows so earnestly, you'd never notice if you weren't paying careful attention.  I can only imagine the studio was full of smoke when they recorded this track, but it winds up being a crazy song that fully rewards repeated listens.  You've just got to check it out.

And "Mommi's Relay Race" isn't the only Atoms appearance on this album.  There's a Tapeworms song called "Resolution," which features Vast, Alaska and a guy named Okktagon Zupreme from the Secret Service Crew.  It's produced by Big Deep and has some nice cuts on the hook.  It's not as bugged out as "Relay Race," with them taking a stand for the underground against the popular trendy rap of the time.  Alaska makes the "mainstream maintains position as the enemy" line in the sand most clear with his verse, saying, "millenium model holdin' a rotten bible forgotten gospel that I don't give a fuck about you. Suck you, fuck you, I suck myself. Myself, I think you suck, you fell the fuck off. Alaska tax the lap of luxury, sucker MC, shiny jacket halfwit, rebel for the hell of it, irrelevant Missy Elliot."

What else is on this album?  Well, Ace Lover has a little freestyle, and Mac Lethal, the guy who's since became shockingly famous for his viral video rapping about pancakes, has two songs.  There's a couple more tracks by LoDeck and the rest of the gang.  But for my money, besides the Atoms Family appearances, the most noteworthy track is definitely Jak Progresso's solo song, since he's still on that shock value horror core tip, "at age ten, welcome to my house of trapped children; human hides cover my suitcases.  I'm tasteless, wallpaper handmade of cute faces.  Teeth pulled out and made into bracelets.  I'm living hatred."  You know, I never copped a Jak Progresso album, but revisiting Old Trolls this week has made me curious.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 3: The Persecuted Artifact

This is going to be the most obvious in Early Atoms Week: The Persecution of Hip Hop.  It's a compilation album like Public Exposure, where a whole bunch of indie, mostly east coast artists get a track to shine.  But this one's a double LP vinyl release on Centrifugal Phorce, Da Cryptic One's label.  And because it's his label, The Atoms Family gets a lot of extra representation here.  Like seven song's worth.  It almost feels like an Atoms album.  The majority of the album still consists of other artists, but nobody even begins to tip the scales like the Atoms.

They cover it up a little bit but giving a bunch of the Fam solo songs.  So it doesn't look like a whole bunch of songs by the same crew but one song by Vast Aire, one by Cryptic, one by Alaska, and so on.  A really great side effect of this, though, is that this album is really where I learned to recognize all the individual members.  'Cause The Atoms Family is a big crew with a whole bunch of MCs; and it didn't make things any less confusing when their first album consisted of a bunch of members who quickly dropped out and were replaced by the current roster.  So all of these guys having distinctly credited solo songs spread across the compilation really taught fans to recognize, "okay, this is Vast Aire," and "Windnbreeze is the guy who raps like that."  Up until Persecution, The Atoms Family was in danger of being a giant collective of anonymous dudes who rap together.

There aren't any songs, in fact, credited to The Atoms Family.  It's just ____ of The Atom's Family.  And a couple songs even leave that off.  That's how the first song is billed: it's called "One 2 Your Ear" by Kasm and Alaska.  It's a pretty smooth cut, produced by Kasm, with a super cool bassline and a nice mix of Guru vocal samples for the hook.  Kasm and Alaska just pass the mic back and forth kicking some relaxed freestyle rhymes.  It's a real head nodder.

Vast Aire is up next with a solo song called "Adversity Strikes" produced by Cryptic One.  Cryptic's beat is an ill, atmospheric sci-fi influenced beat that heralded their best work.  This is pretty much the song that introduced Vast to the world and he sounds great.  It has a classic hook, "I'm from the Atoms Fam, and it's the small things that count 'cause the atom's a small thing with a large destruction amount."  A remix of this song appeared on The Atoms Family compilation album, The Prequel; and they later made a sequel to this song called "Adversity Struck" for a 2003 compilation called Embedded Joints.

Alaska's solo song "Who Am I?" is next.  It's got a compelling track by Cryptic that draws you in with more choice Guru for the hook ("who am I? I'm the substance that'll make your third eye cry").  Alaska definitely spits the hardest rhymes of the crew, almost yelling for his delivery, but he's still spinning fast-paced, complicated wordplay in his lyrics.  And it's around this time on the album that I started to realize The Atoms Family guys are noticeably tighter than almost anybody else on this album.  Not 100% everybody, but by and large, they're stealing the show.  A new remix for this song later appeared on The Prequel.

Da Cryptic One comes up next.  He produces and raps "Sexual Harassment (Case #file#050971)."  There's a lot of wordplay that makes it a little confusing to follow, but I think the basic idea is that it's an angry, sexually graphic extended metaphor for the music industry using people: "some cool dude wraps his lips around your plastic smooth tube until you've been blown up. The vision made me throw up.  You dumb sluts continue to suck shit; I told you to slow up.  Dumb fucks!  I guess that's why you're fresh out of luck.  Your ass lasts a year, only a mere minute, fool; left in the cold naked, holding on your miniature tool.  You shake and twitch, your life slips through the cracks in the pavement, amazing how quick you got pimped into that mental enslavement with no future.  Wonder where your past went?  I find this industry guilty of rap sexual harassment."  Cryptic later produced a sequel to this song called "Sexual Harassment (Casefile #031272)," on the Atoms Family Prequel album, with Alaska on the mic this time.

Finally comes the one and only Atoms Family crew song on the album: "Not For Promotional Use" by Vast, Cryptic and Vordul.  Again produced by Cryptic, the energy is really high on this one.  The production is incredible on this one, and the guys gel perfectly over it.  It's like the perfect middle ground between back packer nerd rap and hardcore battle rhymes.  Lyrically, the subject matter's maybe a little basic compared to other Atoms' songs, but you could still put this their greatest hits album.  It's one of those songs you want to replay as soon as its over.

This brings us to the last solo song, WindnBreeze's "Nothing Really Happens."  It's a very playful unspooling of wordplay for wordplay's sake.  He's saying basically nothing just because it sounds good, over a simple but supportive beat by Cryptic.  "like a grasshopper hopping over blades of grass while I cut blades of grass with two cut blades of grass attached at the end to make a blade of grass scissor."  Okay.  It's just amusing nonsense that sounds nice, showcasing the kind of flow Wind was experimenting with.  It kind of feels like a lyrical version of those Skratch Picklz practice tapes, where they'd just cut up one vocal sample over another over the same break beat for minutes on end.  It's less of a proper song than an exercise, but in the end it sounded so good, they'd sell it to the public.

And that's mostly it for the Atoms Family songs on here, except the last song on the album is "Outta My Head" by The Imperials with a guest verse by Cryptic.  He kicks some packed punchlines and battle rhymes on a solid track alongside the other guys.  It's not as tight as the previous six Atoms song, but it ain't bad.

Apart from that, the album's alright.  At the time, it was also noteworthy for putting out the indie super group Deep Puddle Dynamics before they came out with any of their own records.  It's a slightly rough, early version of "Rain Men" without some of the scratching that was on the records later released by Anticon.  Other noteworthy acts include Dragons of Edin, Octavious (I have his old Descent and Dissention EP... I need to revisit that one day) and a cool track by Dr. Strange of The Lenzmen.

The only thing that makes this less than absolutely essential for Atoms fans is the fact that more than half of these songs were later re-released on their Prequel album.  "Not For Promotional Use" is on there, as well as both "Sexual Harassment,"s, "Who Am I?" as well as its remix, and "Adversity Strikes" and its remix.  It also has two remixes of "Nothing Really Happens," but not the mix on here.  Besides that, all it's missing is "One 2 Your Ear" and The Imperials track, which isn't really an Atoms Family song.  So this is a cool album for completists and historians, but for most Atoms fans, it's probably more of an artifact than an essential.  Although it is cool that it's on double vinyl, whereas The Prequel is CD only.  So there's that.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 2: Blatantly Weightless

Most people who read this blog would be familiar with Weightless Recordings, right?  Actually, looking at my "Find Posts About..." column, I'm surprised I never blogged about at least Illogic before.  Although, I suppose if any you've really been with me for the long haul, I did write about them for The Source way back when.  But real quick, just in case, Weightless Recordings is the official label of Ohio underground family of Greenhouse Effect, Iskabibbles, Blueprint, Zero Star... a lot of the groups are same guys kinda shuffled around.  Like Blueprint is a member of Greenhouse and Iskabibbles as well as having plenty of solo albums, being a part of The Orphanage, etc.  You have to get really dug into them as a fan to sort it all out, but in short it's a small but strong collective of underground Ohio MCs who've been in the game a long time now.  Because yeah, they're still doing it.  Illogic and Blueprint put out new albums on Weightless as recently as last year.  Blueprint's was on vinyl.

And this is an early album from them, called B-Sides Volume 1: Blatant Battle Raps released in 2001.  There never was a Volume 2.  The concept is explain on the inside cover, "[t]his is a collection of songs that we probably would've never put out for one reason or another.  Some were done without any project in mind, others belonged to side-projects that got put on the back burner.  Nevertheless, we've been enjoying them ourselves for a while a[sic.] figured you might also get a kick out of them."  The liner notes also promise an Iskabibbles LP that never happened.

So yeah, it's a nice collection of otherwise unreleased songs by the whole family.  There's only one group of outside artists on here, and if you've read this post's title, you know who that'll be.  There's a big posse cut with The Atoms Family called "Pen Relays" on here.  The full line-up of MCs on this track is Cryptic One, Alaska, Windnbreeze, Vast Aire, Blueprint and Inkwel.  Cryptic also produced the track.  And it's easily one of the most exciting moments on the album, if only by virtue of it being the big posse cut.  Like Day 1's entry (and you'll note: Greenhouse Effect were on that album, too), it's another one that clocks in at over 7 minutes, with each MC just trying to showcase their skills as best they can over an atmospheric, industrial-sounding track.

Despite the subtitle of the album, we're not really getting battle raps here.  Well, maybe a little bit of it is.  It's actually a strange mix of mind-bending imagery meshed with seriously extended metaphors for basic skill flexing ("see me at the back of the class, 101 iconoclast, making all of my professors laugh. Who knows what evil lurks in the ugly hearts of men?  I throw darts at men, tips dipped in carcinogen.  I raise cities out of bottomless pits.  Man, it's all in the wrists.  I can tell a snake by the lisp, because MCs are pathetic"), along with the occasional, perfunctory corny punchline ("me and the mic's best friends like Blossom and Six").  Yeah, it feels a little dated and the punchlines definitely sell the rest of the material short, but overall it's still an impressive display of lyrical prowess sixteen years later.

Then the Fam comes back for an encore on the very last track of the album, a freestyle "Live From Time Travel Radio (Chicago, IL)."  This time we've got Cryptic, Alaska, Vast and Vordul alongside the Iskabibbles crew.  At least that's what's listed on the track-listing.  It gets a little confusing because it lists twelve songs, including Interludes, but the CD is broken up into 25 tracks.  Most of the extra tracks are these very short freestyle snippets, plus an dope unlisted bonus track at the end called "Sun Rise" by Blueprint and somebody named Shabazz of The Commandos.  But there's eight tracks between the last song and the bonus song, and it's not entirely if they're all from the Time Travel Radio session or just other bonus freestyles they're sticking on the CD.  Some obviously are part of the Time Travel bit, because they feature Atoms Family members, but track 20, for instance, could really go either way.  They really do make this album feel like a collection of scraps.

Anyway, it's a bunch of fun freestyles.  There are some surprising punchlines in there ("you're wack like Nas is now"), and you can feel that a lot of these are entirely off the head, while others are more prewritten.  The tracks are very "scrappy," in that we sometimes jump in or out in in the middle of an MC's verse.  Overall, it's cool if you take it as a bonus; but none of it packs half the value of "Pen Relays."  That's the song that's going to really please Atoms fans.  ...And Weightless fans, too, of course.  If you're into these guys, this is a solid album for your collection.  Illogic's got a couple tight tracks, and there's a cool remix of Greenhouse's song from the Foolblown compilation.

This CD was later released with full color artwork of The Thing fighting The Hulk, but I've got the original, scrappy black & white release.  Looking on discogs, the repress has the same track-listing, but I'm not sure if it has all the little bonus filler cuts. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 1: Just Rhyming With Eternia

You know what?  It's been a while since I dipped into some really underground Hip-Hop on this blog.  Indie, sure, and lots of old school.  But it's time to dig deeper.  Not obscure/ rural.  Something straight up, New York, real purist stuff.  And who fits that bill better than The Atoms Family?  And I don't mean any of that Cannibal Ox, Hangar 18 Def Jux material - that stuff is too commercial!  It's too well known for what I want to do this week.  It's time to really get stuck in.

So let's start off with a compilation album called Public Exposure, presented by DJ e.s.e. and TES.  They say "present," because they don't do any of the music or anything on here.  Well, TES has a verse on one track, and DJ e.s.e. does produce a song near the end; but by and large, it's on a real DJ Khaled, "I just made some calls; I didn't do any of the music or anything" tip.  This came out in 2000 on... no credited label.  It's briefly described on discogs as an "East Coast underground hip-hop compilation released on a 60-minute Maxell[sic.] tape with no labels; full color insert with full tracklist."  Well, I can tell you there's also a CD version, because that's what I've got.  It's got a fold-out front cover but no back.  I ordered it from Atak or Foolblown back in the day, and that's how it came new.  At least it looks more official than a Maxwell tape (I bet it was a Type I, too, right?).

Anyway, this is a compilation album of all original, never previously released music by all sorts of obscure, underground artists.  I don't even know some of them: Yazeed, Steve Austin (presumably not the celebrity wrestler), The Bronx Monx, Unipod Particles?  Honestly, I'm just barely familiar with DJ e.s.e. and TES outside of this album.  But there are some recognizable acts, too, including Mike Ladd & Rob Sonic, Greenhouse Effect and of course The Atoms Family.

They have a song here called "Hip Hop for Dummies" and it's rather long, clocking in at over seven minutes.  That's partly because it's padded out by a skit in the middle of the song.  See, the song pretty much tells you the premise; it's a sort of tongue-in-cheek class for new jacks on how to make real Hip-Hop, with each verse acting as an example, I suppose, of how to rip a mic.  Jest1 and somebody named Sunspark talk like teachers addressing a classroom.  But really, the skit's pretty short, and it would be an unusually long song even without it.

And who's kicking these verses?  Cryptic One, who of course also produced the track, Vast Aire, and Atoms outsider Eternia.  You know the one who generated all that publicity for her album with Moss on Fat Beats a couple years ago?  This is the first time I heard her, and honestly, I like her a lot more here than I do on her new stuff.  Her voice sounds the same, but lyrically, it feels like she's dumbed it down to find her audience over the years.  On "Hip Hop for Dummies," Eternia spits fast, syllable-dense verses, full of creative imagery, and keeping right up with the Atoms members.  Admittedly, there's a bit of that familiar but awkward feel of backpackers still fine-tuning their flows on this song.  I could see some listeners writing the song off because of their unrefined youth.

Except for Vast.  His flow and distinctive voice are impossible to resist.  He could just read from the phone book and you'd be leaning forward to catch every name he lists.  And that's fortunate, because what he's actually rapping is a bit of a word salad: "I got my eyes on the prize like Olympians flipping when instant replay screws them over.  That's why I hold the mic like a four-leaf clover.  So I can determine what lies at the rainbow's end.  After our reign is over, of atomic dynasty, claymated pottery, air and water; here to fuse life, or create order, and start my apocalyptic dietary, 'cause hysterically[mispronouncing "historically"?] I am known as Teddy Ruxpin, the horizon denter that evolved from an army that never stood at ease."

...Like, what?  I'm with him through the first punchline, and the rain/reign wordplay.  The atomic dynasty is presumably the Atoms Family and I get how claymation and clay pottery wind up fused together.  But after that it's just spinning out of control.  Maybe he's equating himself to Teddy Ruxpin (the talking teddy bear toy) because he's an orator, but how did we get there from talk of fusing life with air and water?  I don't know.  One of my favorite aspects of early Atoms Family material (especially the Centa Of the Web EP) is all the wild imagery and atmosphere they evoked in their bars.  But I feel like there's some cohesion missing here.

Anyway, that's the only Atoms Family credit on this album, but the whole CD is pretty cool.  Despite each song being produced by a different artist, there's a real cohesion to the sound.  Like, maybe they all used DJ e.s.e.'s equipment?  Some guys named RC and Deep have a really catchy loop, there's an early appearance (the first?) by Creative Juice's I Am Many; and the album ends with some fun radio freestyles by an MC named Filli.  He must've passed away around that time because the album's dedicated to him, which is a shame because he came across as talented and funny.

"Hip Hop for Dummies" later turned up on the Atoms Family compilation album The Prequel as "Rhyming for Dummies," but it's the exact same song.  Still, the album's worth it for everything else. I imagine it wouldn't be easy to find an O.G. copy these days (although there seems to be one available from some German seller on discogs as of this writing); but if you see it around, it's definitely a nice pick up, particularly if you're a fan of this era and scene.