Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tragedy's Infamous Cop Killer Song Finally Discovered and Released!

Wow, this is a major one, folks! Two of hip-hop's leading limited vinyl labels, Heavy Jewelz and Diggers With Gratitude have joined forces to release one of the most important recoveries of lost vintage material to date. Hopefully you remember a couple years ago, when DWG released the first Black Rage EP, a collection of three original demo mixes of songs from Tragedy's second album. It had the unheard remixes on side A, and released versions on side B. That was pretty damn cool, but Black Rage Demos Part 2 is an even bigger deal. This EP doesn't need to be padded out with tracks we already have, because it's six (technically eight, but two are instrumental skits) track collection of the rest of the unreleased Black Rage project, including completely unheard songs, including his infamous "cop killer" song "Bullet."

Most of us are already familiar with the legend of the song, though you've probably never heard it. The whole "Cop Killer" controversy had just happened over Body Count's song, and Tragedy was on the same label, Warner Bros, as The Intelligent Hoodlum. Well, technically he was on A&M, but Time Warner owned A&M Records along with a bunch of other labels. Warner was running scared and had Tragedy pull a song called "Bullet" off his upcoming album, Black Rage, which was eventually retitled Saga Of a Hoodlum (he didn't even get to keep the album title), because it also had reference to cop killing.

There's a pretty good article from the September 3, 1992 issue of The Chicago Tribune which interviews both Trag and A&M president Al Cafaro. Trag said, "I was approached with an option by the president of the record label: 'If you want to put it out as is, you can take it to another record label.' ...I don`t want the song to be misunderstood, but I will admit that the song is a cop-killing song. However, it is a reaction to cops killing... It was like, 'Yo, this is a touchy subject right now, but we're going with it.' That was the vibe at first. But as the Ice-T situation escalated, the label felt more responsible to the label than to the song." Cafaro added, "When I heard the song, I was taken aback... This song really stepped over the line... The conclusion I reached was that I couldn't stand behind [the song]. I couldn't in good faith release this, and then, if called upon, stand behind it and defend it." There's plenty more in the article, including more from both of them, plus details of other artists' songs that got removed from their albums for referencing cop killing, too. So go ahead and read the whole thing here.

And now that we get to finally hear it, yeah, it's not just a song that references cop killing, it is a full on ode to it. It opens up with the chorus, "shoot a cop, gonna shoot a cop dead! (Buck buck!) Kill a cop, put a bullet in his head!" And none of the verses soften that message. Interestingly, it's got some extra samples on the hook, but the instrumental is essentially Master Ace's "Music Man." Now I'm not one to cheer on hate speech, but I do like my artistic expression undiluted and uncensored, and there's no question that this song and the other tracks on this EP would've made for a hotter, more compelling Black Rage album than the Saga Of a Hoodlum LP (which was still quite good) we got.

And just what else is on here? Well, let's start small, with the two skits, "Intro" and "Fuck George Bush." The first is a funky, little breakbeat and the second is based on a vocal sample loop saying exactly what you think. Then there's an alternate version of "Underground," a song which did make the Saga Of a Hoodlum cut. This version isn't very different, with the same vocals and the same samples flipped the same way. The "here we go" chorus is different, though, and it doesn't have the scratching on the hook. I guess the main difference is that it has a less sleigh-bell heavy drum pattern, which I do prefer; but ultimately it's too similar to the album version to be very exciting. These are just nice little extras to have, I'd say.

Now let's get to the more exciting stuff. "Black Rage" is the title track that never was, and there are no production credits, but it's got that funky early 90s Marley Marl feel, but a little rougher, in tone with the song's clear concept. And "Rebel To Amerikkka" takes it even further. I don't think I can put it any better than the press sheet that calls it, "a worthy (and considerably angrier) successor to 'Arrest the President'." That's true both lyrically, where he aggressively goes after Bush, and instrumentally, which is frantic but tough. These songs are great; it never ceases to blow my mind how much great music artists and labels have just shelved and forgotten about.

I should pause to point out here, though, that this song and "Bullet" also feature uncredited guest verses. I'd love to find out who this is. I do have a guess, but I wouldn't say I feel very certain... could it be Scram? I don't know much about Scram, but he seemed to be a DJ for Trag around this time. He gets shouted out at the end of "Posse (Shoot 'Em Up)," and I was googling around trying to find any info on him, but only found out that RapGenius seems to think it's a reference to Scram Jones, a producer Trag would work with in his later Khadafi years. I may not know much about Scram, but I do know that's wrong. First of all, SJ has done some good stuff, but I'm fairly certain he's too young to have been around back then. But also, primarily, he's a white guy. Here, go look at some photos on his website. Now look at this photo, clearly labeled, of Trag and Scram from the inside of the In Control Volume 2 cassette [right]. That's a different dude. And Scram does get name checked on this EP (particularly the "Black Rage" song). So that's my guess. But who knows? It could be anybody without a distinctive enough voice to rule out. He comes off well on this EP anyway.

So what else is there? There's "Adolescents At War," which has a nice slow funk feel to it. And all these songs, combined with the first Black Rage EP, apparently represent the entire unreleased Black Rage album now (after all, some of it WAS released as Saga). The fact that every song on here is highly socio-politically charged is really powerful and honestly, if Black Rage had come out as originally intended, I think it would've make much bigger waves. But at least we finally get to hear it now.

And that's not quite everything. The last song I don't believe was ever intended for Black Rage, but it's from the same period, and definitely fits in conceptually with the rest of this material. It's an unreleased remix of "America Eats the Young," Trag's song from Marley's second album. Interestingly, it's a lot smoother. I don't think it's as effective as the screechy, high energy track that did get released was, but this is a cool alternative. This mix also doesn't have Chuck D's back-up vocals, which is fine, since it was always disappointing he never kicked a verse on the original anyway. Instead, they have a chorus of children repeating the mantra, "America eats the young," on the hook.

Sound quality is great. I think it's all taken from professionally released, official promo tapes, and then further remastered, just like the recent Young Zee album I was involved with. It's all clear and robust.

This EP is limited to 300 copies, and as of this writing is still available from DWG's Fresh Pressings store. As pictured above, it comes in a sticker cover and with DWG's traditional press sheet. Now, 150 of them are pressed on traditional black wax. But if you copped it as part of a bundle with DWG's other new release, Jae Supreme's Life Work EP, which includes the vinyl debut (FINALLY!!) of Nas's demo track "Villain," then you got one of the 150 blue/green translucent vinyl copies, which is now sold out. But the black is still available, so don't sleep. Releases like these don't come around too often.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Godfather Don's Final Unreleased Project

Not to be confused with Godfather Don's recent EP of the last unreleased Cenobites' tracks on Chopped Herring Records, this is an EP of the last of his unreleased solo tracks on Chopped Herring Records. Directly titled Final Unreleased Project 1989-1998, this is a 5-song 12" of demos that, unlike the Cenobites EP, have all gone pretty much completely unheard up 'till now. Every single one of these is completely new to me, which is fun.  (=

1989-1998 is a pretty long span, and on this record, it's split by sides. In other words, side A consists of all songs the 1989 era, and side B has songs from 1997-1998. For me, side A is more exciting. 1989 means these date all the way back before his involvement with Ultramagnetic. I mean, I don't know exactly when these tracks are from. The label doesn't specify, and I've seen it written many places online that all the tracks on side A are from 1989. But in the first song, "Rhymes From the Market," he references his Hazardous album, which came out in 1991; so it must be at least after that, right? So the exact years are up in the air, but in general, the A side is the older stuff, and the B side is late 90s.

The first two joints are some really hype, freestyle demos. The only downside is they sound like demos, sourced from a cassette. I'm sure it's the best these songs could possibly sound, but these don't sound like the perfectly mastered songs we're used to from Chopped Herring's EPs. They have that second generation tape quality, but it does kinda fit the low budget feel of the songs themselves. They're fast paced races through light-hearted freestyle rhymes over two def tracks.

The third, and the last of the earlier side A songs, is called "Imitation of Life." You'll recognize the instrumental right away, it's the same loop as Kool G Rap's "Edge Of Sanity." Don even uses it the same way, to kick a narrative rap crime story. G Rap's had extra live instrumentation added to it, some very west coast sounding stuff that indicates Sir Jinx's hand, so this is a little more stripped down. But the use of the same loop combined with the same style of rhyme makes me think there's a story here: one of these guys heard it and bothered it from the other one. With no specific dates for the Don tracks, though, it's impossible to say which came first.

Flip this record over and the feel is totally different, with Don kicking his much denser, deliberate rhyme style and the sound quality sounding cleaner and better mastered. These last two tracks definitely come from his Hydra error. In fact, the second song, "Talk the Talk," uses the phrase "diabolique" as the bulk of the hook (backed by a nice Pete Rock vocal sample from "Fakin' Jax"), so perhaps it was an early pass as the title track to that album? It's a totally different instrumental and collection of verses, though, so it isn't some lost premix; it's a totally unique song.

Overall, this is a great EP that Don fans will love even all of the tracks don't sound professionally mastered. It's five killer tracks we've never heard before, and they're better than some of the stuff we have, like say the Donnie Brasco album. As usual, this is limited to 350 copies, with 75 on white (white), green and red mixed vinyl, 75 on a mix of gold, clear (clear) and red, and the remaining 200 on standard black. And as you can see, it comes in a sticker cover with an illustration by Don himself (or maybe not, see the comments. I just assumed 'cause it kinda looked like his style).

And by the way, if you're a fan of Don's (and if you've read this far, I assume you are), you should also check out his recent 7" with producer Soulicit. It's a brand new song and it's really great - Soulicit has made a track perfectly suited for Don, with some nice scratching by none other than Mista Sinista of the X-Men. There's a Mighty V.I.C. remix on the B-side and instrumentals for both. It comes in a picture cover and green and white (white) colored vinyl from KicDrum Products. Usually, I tend to pass over 7"s, but I strongly recommend this one. But if he keeps making dope music like this, he's going to wind up creating more hot unreleased music, and Chopped Herring will have to make a Final Unreleased Project 2015-2051!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Cenobites' Final Unreleased Joints?

Remember when Godfather Don was swarming the limited marketed, with hot releases on One Leg Up, DWG and No Sleep? There was his solo stuff, and there was a sick Cenobites EP on OLU. We were loving it, but then the well seemed to run dry. A lot of heads assumed that we'd just thoroughly cleaned out his vaults; there just wasn't anymore. But us super(nerd)fans who followed all the mixtapes, radio recordings and Napster mp3s knew there were still a couple more Cenobites tracks left unheard.  What was the deal with them? Maybe the masters were lost, and those terrible sounding rips were the best we would ever get. But a brand new record from Chopped Herring called Pull the Trigger and Step disproves that notion - they've got "Kool Keith & Godfather Don's final, unreleased joints from the mid 90's Fondle 'Em Records sessions!"

And yes, songs we've known about and heard are finally presented on here. Even better, completely vintage but new to our ears songs have been found and presented here! The only strange thing is that they say "final, unreleased joints," but just like we knew and I wrote in 2008, we know there's still a couple more still unreleased. Maybe those masters really are lost? But, regardless, this is an awesome and welcome release, so let's dig in and break it down track by track:

1. Cold Peein On Em (Remix) - Yeah! "Cold Peein On Em" is the song I've probably seen requested online the most that never turned up. And here it is, sounding great. But... it's a remix? So, there's one still unreleased track right there - where's the original mix? I mean, actually this version sounds like the one that people have heard. It's got the same killer horn sample on the hook, same lyrics, same funky track. I guess we've never heard the original version? So, that's good because that means people are getting the version they want here, and we've never heard it in full quality on vinyl before.

2. Hot Crib Promo Pt 2 w/ Cage - "Pt 1" was on the Demented Thoughts EP, and like that one, this is another radio freestyle that was previously featured on Cage's self-released For Your Box tape and CD. This its debut on vinyl, though, and it sounds notably better here. I guess they got a better source from Don, so I'm happy to have it here.

3. Pull the Trigger and Step - Whoa! What is this? I've never heard of this one! Like I said, this EP introduces us to new unheard material, and this is one of the best Cenobites tracks across all their records! No wonder why CH made it the title track.

4. Lazy Woman - Finally. This is a dope little song about the perils of attaching yourself to someone who'll just use you for your money that's been floating around for years and years. Now we're finally getting it on vinyl in high quality.

5. Break Em Down - This is another we've been waiting for. This is a really funky track from Don, and Keith comes kinda smooth on this one, though with his trademark craziness, too, of course: "I get a piece of your neck just like a haircut. Deep in that booty, I'm rubbin' alcohol. Okay. MCs wanna play play, soundin' like they're gay gay, I tap 'em all on their shoulder and say yo, hey hey. No snappin' necks. Piss and shit on the floor. Yo, give me your address, I'm comin' over... right now."

6. Your Time Is Now - This one's been floating around as a Kool Keith demo entitled "Suckas Be Gone," because Don doesn't rap on here. But he made the track and it sounds very much in keeping with the other Cenobites tracks here, which is a compliment 'cause the Cenobites sound is great.

And by the way, unlike the Demented Thoughts EP, this EP heavily features Keith. This isn't another one that's practically a Don solo EP with a token appearance by Keith. Both of them are on almost every track.

So what's still MIA? Maybe not a ton (that we know of), but there's some stuff for sure. Well, again, that mysterious O.G. version of "Cold Peein On Em" of course. There's one called "You Lose," which is more just an interlude than a full song, but it's got an original instrumental and all... it's not a skit. And most importantly of all is "We Can Do This," a wild posse cut with Ultramagnetic's TR Love and Mike L from some of Don's early 90s records. I love the flute sample on that one, combined with the frenetic beat. Plus, there's the extended version of "MCs Out To Murder the World" (which is double the length of the original) and "Stretch and Bob Buggin Out" freestyle joint that One Leg Up only put out as mp3s on ITunes. I think there's just enough for a solid Volume 2 here, that would be worth the purchase. So hopefully that word "final" isn't too etched in stone.

But again, let's focus on what we have got. I'm impressed with the sound quality here. There's always been a low-fi feel to The Cenobites' recordings, but it's nice and crisp, even if it doesn't have the lush sound of a glossy U2 album recorded in a billion dollar studio. It's certainly a huge upgrade from the old cassette dubs I've had all these years, or what's still kicking around Youtube. As you can see, it comes in a sticker cover. And Chopped Herring have bumped up their limited run a little bit, pressing 400 copies of this: 75 on clear (clear), black & green mixed colored vinyl, 75 on white(white), green and blue mixed colored vinyl, and the remaining 250 on your standard black. It's a great day for fans.

Friday, December 4, 2015

And Now Han Solo Takes the Mic

Following up yesterday's post about Shamroc the Abstract Jedi, we have one of Sham's crew members (I'm guessing he's another member of The Abstract Jedis, but at the very least he's another guy on Oh Sham Recordings with a Star Wars themed tape), Dahflow a.k.a. Han Slow Flow a.k.a. Adolfo. His first single and he's already given himself three names; this guy's worse than Kool Keith. With the new Star Wars movie's big selling point being the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, I guess this post is extra fitting.

So this is a single called "Step Up," which according to the inside notes, is "[f]rom the upcoming album 'Step Up.' Available on cassette, vinyl and CD." As with Shamroc's album, though, I'm not sure that ever happened. But we've got the lead single, at least on cassette. This also came out in 2000.

This tape, though, isn't really Star Wars rap. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of Hal Solo references, including soundbites from the movies. It opens with a clip of Armageddon where Owen Wilson and Ben Affleck bicker over which one of them gets to call himself Han Solo. And there is a Star Wars themed song called "The Next Jedi Break" which sets some of the Star Wars score (and, nicely, it selects other moments than the most famous themes) to hip-hop drums, but it's strictly an instrumental. Dahflow never brings Star Wars into his lyrics on this one. And let's not lose sight, that's actually probably a good thing.

We've basically got two songs (plus "The Next Jedi Break"), the first of which is the title cut, "Step Up." It's your standard battle rap directed at nobody in particular, with a hook that goes, "so y'all think y'all beats are better than mine? So y'all think y'all beats are better than mine? Well I think y'all need to go back to the lab and practice a lot more before you (step up)!" Of course the "step up" part is the same vocal sample Gangstarr used on "Step Into the Arena" and then 2Pac lifted on "I Get Around." It's a pretty good track and Dahflow rides it pretty well, with a Scott Lark-like style; but I don't know that it's really exceptional enough to make it worth seeking out an obscure release like this.

And that applies even more so to "Stare," which I guess is sort of his "Bonita Applebum." He sings his own hook, which is interesting; he's shooting for more of an atonal Erykah Badu style than a full Johnny Gill. And it's got kind of the funky, soulful yet quirky vibe of "Applebum," but less so. It just doesn't have that super catchy sample that Tip had found, and lyrically it gets a little corny: "so we get in her van, act like long-time friends, grab my hands and now I'm in like Flynn. Puerto Rican peekin' Asian, slight taste of Caucasian. She had to be one of God's beautifullest creations on the planet Earth. I wish I knew her since birth because I definitely woulda been puttin' in work."

So this is a cool companion piece to the Shamroc tape, but on its own it's just okay. And while it makes plenty of token gestures, it doesn't really deliver on its promise of Star Wars-related novelty. It does make me wonder what else from Oh Sham actually got released... They actually still have an official website online as of this writing, but all of its sections are blank and infortmation-less. I suspect the Abstract Jedis' Alliance album might actually be out there, because the two tapes I've got have a picture of its cover on their interior artwork. Shamroc and Dahflow's full-length albums I'd say are less likely, but you could maybe find The Alliance. And it probably has plenty more Star Wars content for you if you do.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Is It Time To Break Out the Obscure Star Wars Rap Yet?

So you probably haven't heard yet, because they're playing it pretty close to the vest, but Disney is planning to release a new Star Wars movie this month. And yeah, I'm already planning to see it with some friends. I mean, not on opening night, because what're you, crazy? But, so yeah. I thought I'd indulge in a little Star Wars fever with this obscure indie release from 2000: "War Of the Stars" by Shamroc the Abstract Jedi.

So yeah, this is some nerdy backpacker stuff. Of course, who else would go whole hog into Star Wars rap? There have been others (I already blogged about Phoenix Orion's entry into the topic), and they've all been indie, backpacker, "super lyrical" guys. Nothing wrong with that, though; I dig that stuff!

So, this is essentially an EP. You could call it a single, but it's loaded with B-sides. There was a 12" version as well, but that has more accapellas not found here, while this cassette has exclusive remixes instead. It does purport to me from an upcoming full-length album called Return Of the Abstract Jedi. I'm not sure if that ever came out, but Oh Sham Recordings did get at least one other project out there, so it might've.

And by the way, this Shamroc isn't a complete nobody out of obscurity. He and his crew - The Abstract Jedis are also a group, who were set to release an album called The Alliance - seem to be from San Diego, and he's got Drez (as in "The Cool Fantastic") producing and cutting on a couple tracks here.

Anyway, "War Of the Stars" is the title track, and it's a hip-hop beat making heavy use of the classic Star Wars theme... You know, that "bom, bom, bom, bom ba-bom, bom ba-bom" that booms when Darth Vader marches into frame. And Shamroc's rhymes are all Star Wars references, though he's not actually rapping about the film. He's using it as more of a metaphor for him being a hip-hop savior, come to turn hip-hop from gangsta and bling rap to old school hip-hop lyrical integrity. But believe me, you won't feel shorted of Lucas' space adventures in your listening experience. They even play a clip from the original film (when Obi Wan is training Luke to use the force) before the song starts. And there are more vocal samples from your favorite characters throughout the song. And once he starts rapping, it's all:

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
Hip-hop was fresh and real B-boys had somethin' to say.
Today it's pimps, playas and hustlas, who hip-hoppers don't play,
And the humanoid Shamroc the Abstract Jedi saves the day.
I'm A New Hope..."

And it's non-stop Star Wars punchlines from there on, like "I open mics like tauntauns," "fake MCs fall to the dark side," or "others' main concern is wearing gold like C3PO." Although it doesn't stop him from squeezing in politics and points like "I know Hilfiger was a racist." It's interesting, and it's great that it's got this extra layer of substance to it; but you've to be prepared to take your hip-hop extra nerdy to rock this. I mean, really, if he came out just a few years later and posted this song on Youtube, he would've been in the Nerdcore documentary.

The whole tape's not Star Wars rap, though. The next song, "Make It Mo' Betta" is a Drez instrumental with a healthy dose of live piano over the top. and there's another instrumental called "Still Unknown." Then "Uranite Stance" is an old school throwback, full of 80s samples and Shamroc rapping a medley of classic rap lyrics with his name in them, i.e. "MC am I, people call me Sham." It's fun and Drez provides a lot of cuts, but it's too derivative to really get excited about. So it makes perfect sense he's made it an little B-side. It ends with a nice scratch DJ showcase, though, which is practically a whole other song, except it's not listed that way in the notes.

Flip the tape over and you get instrumentals for "War Of the Stars" and "Uranite Stance," and the exclusive remixes for both. The "War Of the Stars" track by DJ Mane One is pretty cool, with a lot of funk guitar samples and some nice 70s-style horns. But anyone listening to this song is surely going to want to hear the version with the Star Wars music - they should've saved that instrumental for another song. And the "Uranite Stance" remix is cool; it's more classic samples, largely blending Eric B & Rakim's "Check the Technique" with Sugarhill's "Tonto."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Old School MC Serch Meets K Love

I did a video a couple years ago about MC Serch's first, pre-3rd Bass, single called "Melissa" from 1986. But he had a second one in '87 on Idlers Records. And on that one he teamed up with K Love of the famous old school group The Bad Boys! And this was another of his singles with his former DJ Tony D (not the producer/ rapper from Trenton with the same name).

Now the label makes it look like K Love is on the B-side, but actually she's the first song, "Hey Boy!" It's a fun little upbeat number which makes great use of the Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" bassline years before Big Daddy Kane got to it with "Smooth Operator" (though of course Waterbed Kev made the "All Night Long" rap version years earlier than both of 'em on Sugarhill Records). Serch sounds a bit like The Fresh Prince on here, with even a little touch of MC Ricky D, lightly bragging about how girls keep following him around calling out "hey, boy." He was clearly still finding himself as an MC here, but taken as just a fun, mid-80s record, it's good stuff.

K Love puts in a few short vocal appearances, mostly just name-dropping herself. But she mainly performs on this record as a human beat-box, and she sounds good. I believe this is her only other record, outside of her singles with the Bad Boys. Tony D also get a breakdown to show off his scratching, which adds another layer of interest to the proceedings. Serch mostly raps in the style of "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," but at the end he flexes more battle-style rhymes, which is his strongest moment.

The B-side, is in a way better and in a way worse. It's his "Rock Box"-style single with heavy metal guitar riffs, and yes he takes a pre-"Sons of 3rd Bass" shot at The Beastie Boys, which shows that his issues with them weren't entirely imposed by Def Jam Records. He goes pretty hard on here, though, and the track is pretty dope if you like these "Rock de la Stet," "King of Rock"-style rap songs.

But he also decides to really pitch the "look at me, I'm rapping and I'm white - can you believe it?" angle on this song. It starts out with a crowd calling out, "go, white boy! Go, white boy!" over and over... something Vanilla Ice would later copy verbatim. They repeat that for every chorus, along with Serch admonishing us, "don't call me whitey!" Then Tony D starts cutting up the "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" just in case they were being too subtle for you. You couldn't exactly drive around your neighborhood with this blaring outta your jeep without being embarrassed, but like the A-side, if you just take it as a fun old school record, it's actually fairly well crafted.

Part of that might be thanks some notable names in the credits. DJ Red Alert (who also gets a shout out in the lyrics to "Beware Of the Death" is on the mix, and Jalil from Whodini is a co-producer. Ecstasy also gets arrangement credit, alongside Todd Terry. So a lot of talent went into making this record, which makes it all the more surprising it's still as obscure as it is. But this is probably what got him signed to Def Jam, so I guess it paid off.

There's just the two songs, with instrumentals on the flip; and it just comes in a generic sleeve. Apparently there's a slightly different mix of "Beware Of the Death" on an acetate, released under the name Search. I'd be curious to hear that but I don't really need it. I'm happy enough with this single, just another cool little 12" from Idlers.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Celebrate Today With a Sick New Album

Hey, it's Thanksgiving. So okay, what's to be thankful for? How about a hot new album that just dropped? It's the return of Grand Invincible, with their third full-length album (or fourth if you count their EP, Winter 365*), Menace Mode. They put out a single not too long ago... well, actually, it's been over a year. But anyway, the songs on there aren't on this album; those are exclusive tracks to that cassingle and everything on this tape is brand new, too. Yeah, this one's on tape, too. Although of course there's a digital-only version for all you herbs and bustas out there, too.  ;)

This is a tight album. It's full-length, twelve cuts, though one or two are short little instrumental joints. There's no guest MCs on here, just a pair of guest DJs - Eddie Def and DJ Sniper - to add some extra scratching. Of course Eons does plenty of his own cutting as well. So there's a lot of hip-hop purism on hand, strong breaks. But then you've got Luke Sick bringing his grisly, raw blue-collar side to the equation, giving it a dark, moody feel. With one or two little adjustments, this could work as the soundtrack to the first season of True Detective.

It starts out with an instrumental introduction called "Codenames Pt. II" ("Pt. I" was on Ask the Dust), but really takes off with "Jackson Pollock," taking its title from a grim reference in the Miami Vice movie (which they include at the end of the song just in case you've never seen it). Luke flips back and forth from traditional hip-hop bragging about his breaks to "scum storytella" mode, spitting bars like:

"I'm paranoid in the crib
Surveillance cams and a pile of coke
She hate me I bug her
But she's used to dudes tryin' to drug her

I smell a fake fuck then fool get checked quick
Then I snatch his bags out the Luxor
On the roof for the bird to swoop

They throw the rope ladder I grab the loot"

Another stand-out is "Yegg," the one they made their first video for. Two ill piano loops on top of each other, old school bas booms, and a phat scratched hook of "Come Clean" Jeru. "Dust Tour" has a killer horn sample that could make you buy the tape just for that. Really, the whole album is an impressive showcase of how to make an innovative, advanced album through very traditional and basic methods. Heads will love it.

So if you want it, you better move fast. Because it's another super limited tape from Megakut Records. The pricing is great ($10, and that's including the shipping), especially since this is a pretty high quality production. You know, sometimes these ultra-indie tapes are just labeled with a sharpie or something, but this is a good looking, printed black tape, flapped artwork, and it even comes with a very cool lyrics booklet, done in a punk 'zine style (a la Let's Side). And Luke Sick fans should also be keeping our eyes peeled for the next Grand Killa Con EP, which is coming out on vinyl soon from a label called Art of Rec. So, yeah, definitely some good stuff to be thankful for.


*Or fifth if you count Underbucket:P

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Girls With Attitude

If you're gonna put together a girl group in the late 80s to knock off N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), you can't come up with a much worse name than H.W.A. (Hoes With Attitude)B.W.P. (Bytchez Wit Problems) was a definite step in the right direction, and of course there actually was a group called Girls With Attitudes. But for my money, the best to do it were G.T.S. (Girls Talkin Shit). They only had made single, but it's pretty good.

It's called "Juice It," and it's actually not particularly explicit. It's a pretty upbeat dance song, with a lot of familiar 80s samples, like "Don't Stop the Rock" and "The Pee Wee Dance." The girls, G-Poo and Tikki-T, are actually pretty decent on the mic, and there's a lot of fresh scratching by guest DJ Mannie Fresh. Gregory D pops on for a short verse, too; and they produced it together, which is surely what accounts for it being such a well-made track. Despite their appearance, though, I don't think these girls are from New Orleans. The label has a California area code, and at one point they mention "rollin' in Compton." 

This dropped in 1988 on D&D Enterprises. One odd bit of curiosity about this record, too, is its sleeve. Yeah, it's a plain white hole-puncher, but inside, well... let me take a picture real quick.

Yeah, see it's a generic sleeve on the outside, but inside, it's a picture cover. It's not a G.T.S. thing, though. It's actually a little bit creepy in there. The picture cover is for a blues album by Skip James, on a New Jersey record label called Yazoo. Apparently, the makers of this sleeve took an old Skip James sleeve, turned it inside-out and punched the hole through it to make a regular sleeve out of. I'm not sure if they're all like this, but my copy was still brand new and shrink-wrapped, so this isn't some random used record where somebody created a makeshift sleeve at home. This is how it came out of D&D.

There's also a B-side to this single, called "Skin Tight." It, rather obviously, takes the bulk of its music from The Ohio Players' "Skin Tight," including using the signature chorus for their hook. It's a good groove, though, and they make it sound good over a well paced track and a little scratching (though nothing as notable as the A-side's). Lyrically, it's just about how they like to wear skin tight jeans and how they look good in them. Not exactly heavy or heady stuff, but some of it's fun: "cold strollin', switchin' my butt. Then all of the fellas yell, 'yo double up!' (Is that right?) Yeah, Poo, 'cause I got the big butt, make the paraplegic get up and jump. Or what about your girl? You'll have to dump her for this female with the cute little rumper. Yeah, you know I'm libel to make a preacher drop his bible; make a dead man raise up from his grave; back end's enough to make a gay man turn straight. Make a man with no teeth wanna take a bite. I'm in effect (In effect!), 'cause my jeans are... skin tight!"

These girls were actually pretty adept on the mic and had a good sound. It's too bad they didn't follow this 12" up. I expect this was meant to be their radio single and given their name, might've been building to something a little less commercial. Like, this would've been their "Something 2 Dance 2." But I would've been fine with more jams like "Juice It," too; especially if Gregory D and Mannie Fresh kept them under their wing. But oh well, as it is, it's a pretty neat little one-off project.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Return Of Johnny the Fox

Last year, I wrote about the debut solo single of Tricky Tee, formerly of the disco-era Just Two, on Sleeping Bag Records. It was a more traditionally hip-hop effort on Tee's part, but also had the very distinct feel of its producer, Mantronik. That was 1985, and this is his 1986 follow-up. Still on Sleeping Bag Records, this time they've upgraded him to a full color picture (and sticker) cover.

And this time he's no longer partnered up with Mantronik. Instead, both the A- and B-side here are produced by Sam Sever. You probably know him best for doing some classic 3rd Bass songs, and later forming Downtown Science with Bosco Money. This is before all of that, and Sever brings more of a pure, New York sound to his production here. You probably wouldn't recognize it as Sever's work, but it's really strong stuff.

Ironically, the drums are the weakest part of "Leave It To the Drums." It's a fresh drum pattern, and it combines perfectly with the other elements to make a great rap song. But the drums themselves sound very piddling and soft. A more modern producer would've probably laid heavier hits on top of these drums, but as it is, it's interesting, but probably best to focus on all the other elements of the song. Especially since the other elements are all great. Tee's not doing anything particularly mind-bending lyrically, but he's got a great flow that perfectly matches the track; he actually reminds me of T-La Rock on here. And the instrumental is largely made up of a collection of traditional jazzy samples being dropped in one by one. I'm sure it was all laid down in the studio, but it feels like there's an old school DJ constantly swapping between records behind the MC.

The B-side isn't quite as good, but it comes in at a respectable second place. It's very big on hand claps and bells. The drums sound more natural here and Tee comes nice and hard again. There's a promising "Good To Go Mix" on here, but it turns out to just be the instrumental. Both songs have full/ Club, Radio and Instrumental versions.

It's just another strong single from Tee that felt like he was building up to a Sleeping Bag album... but for whatever reason that never happened. So you've gotta get these singles, because that's all there is, which is a shame, because I'm sure it would've been a highly regarded album to this day had it existed.

But while this is his second and last solo single, I wanted to bring something I found online to your attention.  This is why the internet is awesome. There's a great, unreleased comeback single by Tricky Tee that lives in full online. It's from 1991 according tot he uploader. It's kind of fuzzy, so I'm guessing this was taped off the radio. It's called "Who's In Town," and it's hot, produced by Shadow. If you told me you had an unreleased '91 comeback single by Tee, I'd have some fairly tempered expectations, but this is really as dope as you could want it. Check it out here. It's really a shame there's no wax of it, but it shows Tricky Tee still had more fire in him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Godfather Of Soul Meets The Godfather of Hip-Hop

I've already talked about James Brown's dalliance with rap music in the late 80s, courtesy of Full Force; but that wasn't his first hip-hop project. In 1984, he released the collaborative single "Unity" with Afrika Bambaataa. there was a music video for it and everything, but I don't think it broke out of the smaller markets too much. And to make things a little more complicated, the original 12" has six different versions of "Unity:"

Unity Part 1: The Third Coming
Unity Part 2: Because It's Coming
Unity Part 3: Nuclear Wild Style
Unity Part 4: Can You See It
Unity Part 5: The Light
Unity Part 6: World III

I've never seen anyone attempt to break down all the parts and how they're different. And they are, it's not just a fancy way to label "Radio Edit," "Instrumental," etc. Well, not mostly. There's some very distinct, different music and lyrics at play here. So I guess, once again, it falls to me. Heh

"Part 1: The Third Coming" is the one they had the video for, the one Rapmasters included in their series of cassettes; and the one most of you are probably familiar with.

The music should be very familiar. Like how I said in my last James Brown video that he was being oddly cannibalistic by sampling himself, he does that here, too. Except strictly speaking, the band is replaying the same riffs, not sampling them. And when I say band, I'm actually talking basically about The Sugarhill Band. Even though this is on Tommy Boy, it's Sugarhill's house band: Skip, Doug and Keith. And they're sort of making a medley of classic James Brown music over hip-hop drums and synths, with some extra live horns. It's all great stuff, but it's not like we're getting fresh new James Brown grooves here. We're getting James ad-libbing over his old music while Afrika throws in the occasional short rap verse.

Yeah, that's the biggest shortcoming of this record. Bambaataa's rapped before and since, but there's a reason he was basically known as the DJ and had The Soulsonic Force and other rappers be his MCs. It's really a shame he didn't get any of the Force to kick proper rap verses on here - or, hot damn, could you imagine if they brought in Melle Mel? This project would be perfect for him. But instead Bambaataa handles all the MCing here, so the raps are very basic. They're fine; there's nothing wrong with them. He doesn't say anything stupid or sound terrible, and it's a worthwhile message. But I think that's what held this the top rank of hip-hop classics. If "Unity" had a "child is born with no state of mind" level verse on here, it would be on every old school rap compilation ever. And the famous hook, "Peace! Love! Unity! And having fun" says it all. The rest of the vocals don't really impart anything more.

Pay attention to James's acapella ad-libbing on the introduction to "Part 2: Because It's Coming" and you'll hear where Steady B got his hook for "Believe Me Das Bad" from. The Beastie Boys' "Shake Your Rump" also comes from here. This is a highly sampled record, actually.

Instrumentally, "Part 2" doesn't stray too far from "Part 1," with most of the same riffs recurring in the same pattern. But lyrically, it's totally different. Now Bambaataa's rapping against nuclear war and his fears of an imminent World War 3. This one's also got a bit of James actually singing, as he and Bambaataa go back and forth singing "all throughout the land." And some other outside vocalists even get in on it as well.

"Part 3: Nuclear Wild Style," like its title suggests, is more World War 3 future world problems. This one's got more of a punk feel to it. In fact, it has more of a Time Zone feel to it, specifically. James is barely on this one. He has his acapella instrumental, and about halfway through they start bringing some of his instrumental themes back in. But I have a feeling James wasn't even in the studio for the recording of this one; we never hear his voice apart from the intro. It's got a great bassline and some funky, more modern playing on it, which is cool. But it feels like Bambaataa's getting a little carried away at this point.

"Part 4: Can You See It" brings it back to the original. James is back, the original non-nuclear lyrics are back, the original horns and music are back. So what's different about it, what makes this one special? Well, every version up to now was about three and a half minutes long. This one's nine. It's basically a a giant extended mix of "Part 1." And it has stuff from "Part 2," too, like a shorter version of the "all throughout the land" bit. "Part 1" is the version with the most life beyond this 12"; but if you ask me, this is the preferable definitive version.

"Part 5: The Light" makes you want to see what they're doing in the studio while they're recording their adlibs, because James proclaims whatever Bambaataa's doing is going to wipe out the moonwalk. This one has some - but minimal - vocals and a lot more emphasis on the horns. That's really it. The production's a little more modern (for its time), and it's a funky little production pretty much created to give the horns their time to shine. Fun, but definitely the kind of thing that could only exist on a 12" B-side.

And finally "Part 6: World III" is an acapella. Always cool to get an acapella, especially for all the young producers out there looking to make their mark with remixes; but it's disappointing that they label it as a whole sixth "Part," because it makes you expect one more full version of the song, rather than just an element floating by itself. It's not even a complete acapella, really; it's just some parts strung together. All the isolated James Brown screeches have surely made a great DJ tool for a lot of heads over the years, though; and The Jungle Brothers used a crazy Bambaataa laugh as a distinct piece of their "Sounds of the Safari" instrumental.

Overall, it's a pretty fun record, albeit more for instrumental enjoyment than lyrically. It's also important just by virtue of what it is, historically: James Brown coming together with Afrika Bambaataa to make a record together, showing musical and generational unity as much as all the other types of unity they talk about in the song. Today, if Drake switched places with Justin Beiber, I'm not sure anyone would even notice. But in 1984, this kind of thing was a big deal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some Old Sluggo Guest Spots

Today I'm revisiting a couple of early guest appearances by Slug, as in the lead MC of Minnesota's Atmosphere, plus Deep Puddle Dynamics, Dynospectrum, etc. These are some local, home state collabos from long before Atmosphere ever got on MTV or any of that craziness. It's also more traditionally b-boy kinda stuff, compared to the material with any rock influences that might've creeped into his music later on. He's young, his friends are young. Not that this is his very earliest material, that I suppose would be the first Headshots tape when he still used the full name Sluggo. But this is pretty raw, don't worry.

First up is Beyond. This one's pretty obvious, since he was a fellow Dynospectrum member; but it came out in 1996, which seems to make these Slug's first properly written and recorded verses (since the early Headshots tapes were just freestyles and live performances, not proper songs like the later tapes). Beyond went on to change his name and record as Musab, but his debut album, Beyond Comparison, is the first vinyl and CD Rhymesayers ever pressed, preceded only by those first Headshots tapes.

So Beyond's got two songs featuring Slug: "B.L.A.K. Culture" and "Unaligned Sperms" (the latter of which is only on the CD version), both produced by A.N.T. The beats are pretty simple boom bap drums with a couple samples on top, but "B.L.A.K." has Slug performing a catchy hook that goes, "Life, love, stress and set-backs. For those trying to breath, show me where your head's at." That's all he contributes to that song, however; the raps are all Beyond.

"Unaligned Sperms," on the other hand, opens with Slug rapping. He's actually kicking a verse from Headshots 4. But I guess it would be more accurate to say he's performing that bit he recorded for this album live on the Headshots tape. But either way, it became a fairly famous (by indie, underground 4 track rap standards) verse by Slug. "Shut your eyes and count to twenty 'cause I'm hidden. Religion made you think that you saw me comin', but you didn't. The jizzim and I come past; you dumb ass kids that be tryin' to run past these tongue lashes. I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you. Arise from your sleep and smell the burnt brain cells, kid. You felt it hurts; the truth hurts, but no pain is no gain. So cut your cocaine with Rogaine. I aim to clench you by your nose hairs. You flinch from the air he hits. I'm taking care of kids. Happily, rappers be catatonic when I splatter vomit verbal yellow chunks. Smell the spunk and the lacerations that I castigate when I notice the mental masquerades and focus on the masturbation. Out come: dripping fascination. You can ask my sibling Nathan; he knows the Headshots sinks from the hatred. I scratch 'till it flakes, and I scratch 'till it aches, and I scratch 'till it breaks like the back that I dismantle on a Camel Light 100. No, I'm straight, dude. And when you're dead, I hope somebody digs you up and rapes you. I hate you and your fake crew, but I'ma bust a fat nut in your embalming fluid. Beyond, run through it."

It's got a lot of raw wordplay, rambling cleverness mixed with youthful, slightly cringey gags. You know, putting the phrase "bust a fat nut" into a battle rap is pretty teenagery; and I'm sure Slug would never write a trite punchline like "I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you." So maybe it hasn't aged so well; but you can still see why all us 90s backpackers would've sweated it. With the way he keeps flipping his delivery and making so many different lines instantly memorable, you could tell Slug was the MC to watch of the crew, the guy who'd be going places. And that's just the first minute of the song, which has three more of Beyond and Slug just passing the mic back and forth, dropping names and flexing their skills.


Then, in 1998, A crew called Kanser dropped one of their earliest tapes, called Network. It's a purple tape, a la The Cella Dwellas, Raekwon and Sonya C. They've got two guest spots by Slug, one called "Progress" and one simply titled "4/10/98," which is presumably the day the song was recorded. Interestingly, A.N.T. produced their first tape, and has a song on here, but not one of the ones with Slug, which are both handled by Kanser's own Mesh.

"4/10/98" is just a fun, freestyle song with head nodding flows over a strange, little beat. The Kanser guys sound really good on here, but their voices are all kinda eye, so it's a welcome moment when Slug's baritone kicks in, "Yo yo yo, tell 'em to shut the fuck down and tell 'em what they feel, 'cause I've been flippin' lyrics since D-Nice had a deal. Back when the Jungle Brothers was on Warner Brothers, I was on a Minnesota corner flippin' rhymes with ya older brothers. And oh brother, if they could only see you now, they'd whup that ass and make ya go home to work on ya style. So I'm a stand tall 'till all starts fallin' and The Source starts writing an obituary column." It all feels off the cuff, like it was freestyled in one take, errors (you can even hear the twitchy slip of the tongue where "shut the fuck up" accidentally fuses with "sit the fuck down" to form "shut the fuck down" as he says it) and all. This has aged well, since it's still a blast; and any flaws that might be more apparent today just trip more nostalgia anyway.

"Progress" feels like a more polished song, but Kanser brings all the same qualities here that they did there. Slug's verse feels a little more mature, too; although he still squeezes in tacky (literally!) innuendos like, "eat that sandwich. Ingredients is good for ya head. Plus I spread my special mayo on both sides of the bread." Maybe it's not high art, but both of these Kanser songs have high replay value that I'm still getting a kick out of in 2015.

Finally, let's look at a song called "Hunger Pains II" by Oddjobs. It's off their debut album, Conflicts and Compromise, from 1999. Their line-up has changed a bit over the years, but on this album it's Anatomy, Deetalz, Advizer and Crescent Moon. Besides Slug, "Hunger Pains II" features a guy named Carnage and New, one of the guys from Kanser. In fact, Oddjobs were on Network, too, just not the songs with Slug. The CD's booklet doesn't specify production credits (although it tells us there's some live guitar by someone named Alex Macintosh on the song), so I guess it's just by Oddjobs as a collective.

The beat's kind of a perfect blend of upbeat and hard, just right for a big ol' posse cut. Although Slug describes it another way on his verse, "this ain't a posse cut; it's a farmer co-op. And I'm a vendor pushing vegetables to boil on your stove top. Hungry? To hell with hungry, I'm starvin'. I'm tryin' to catch a carton of Camels and some land so I can grow a garden. Pardon me, but I'm just tryin' to handle. It's hip-hop, and everywhere I walk is an example. And I linked more words to the ink in this pen, than I do the ink printed on that paper that you spend. Silly rapper, your rapper ego don't move me. You studied too many actors, you've watched too many movies. And soon we will capture the wasted canned soupy attention spans that gather near the base of my loose leaf. So here's a slap on the wrist. Class dismissed. Go home and practice before that ass ends up a past tense. Quit tryin' to be like and sound like him. Plant your own seeds and grow your own limbs. Minneapolis!" This was the kinda rhymes Slug was delivering in the 90s, tongue twisty battle rhymes with plenty of Camels cigarette references.

By the way, if you're wondering about "Hunger Pains 1," you've got me. I guess it's from some obscure demo? In 2004, Crescent Moon made "Hunger Pains Three," though, with Doomtree member P.O.S., for Rhymesayers Ent.

Anyway, it's kinda fun to think all those fancy new Atmosphere songs sprung from this. It's also nice to hear him without the rock and country elements that've drifted into his more recent music. Everything wasn't all better back then, shit was flawed, and dude was just beginning to find himself. And maybe nostalgia's infecting my tastes a bit. But I'll still take these messy old songs over the last couple Atmosphere albums any day of the week.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Spyder-D's Jazzy Break Dance Fusion

So in 1984, a jazz/ Caribbean/ Latin fusion kinda band headed by Matt Bianco released an instrumental called "Matt's Mood," which was a pretty big success for them. They've stuck together over the years and released sequel songs "We've Got the Mood (Matt's Mood '90)" and "Matt's Mood III" in 2004. Yeah, this kind of music doesn't interest me either. I think it sounds like what plays when you call your college and they put you on hold for fifteen minutes.  But it's got a catchy little riff in there I guess; and anyway the point is that it was a big enough record for a hip-hop crew to make a break-dance version of. The group is The Breakout Crew, The Breakout Krew, or The Breekout Krew. They've released records under all three spellings. And even though most pressings don't credit him, including my copy, the MC they got for it is none other than Spyder-D.

Frankly, I'm not even convinced The Breekout Krew is an actual crew. They're all basically produced and performed by one guy, Tony Carrasco, who's done a ton of dance record under his own name and others. I suspect, at its core, The Breekout Krew is just Tony plus whoever happens to be in the studio with him whenever he's in the mood to make a breaking record. I don't know; maybe somebody will cough up a glossy press photo of like four guys posing with different instruments and we'll know that's the official line-up; but I'll believe it when I see it. All their stuff has Carrasco's sound.

Of course, "Matt's Mood" also has Bianco's sound. If you've heard the original, this version is instantly recognizable. The same bassline and basic instrumentation... it's the same groove. This one just has bigger drums and hip-hop elements laid on top of it. Oh, and of course it has raps by Spyder-D.

I've seen some references to this song that imply Spyder's only on the Rap - O Version released in Germany. You can see why people would get that impression, because it's the only pressing that actually credits him on the label or cover, spelling his name Spider-D. So if you were going by discogs or something, you'd just see him on that version. But if you listen to the song, that's his very distinctive voice on all the more common versions. It's the exact same vocal track... In fact, the Rap - O Version doesn't sound any different than the US version. I think that was just what they called it to distinguish it from Bianco's original in Germany.

Anyway, Spyder-D sounds pretty great over this track (and for the record, he spells the crew's name with an "E-A-K"), and the chintzy instrumental sounds pretty decent as a slightly harder hip-hop dance track. It's kinda corny, maybe, and but it's actually pretty cool. Spyder's lyrics don't particularly help, he lets his delivery carry all the weight. But he always sounds great, especially on these early 80s style tracks, so it works. There's a little bit of singing on here, too; which is cool but by someone who is clearly not an accomplished singer. I actually think that might be Spyder, too; but maybe not [Confirmed by Spyder himself on twitter. He also posts a couple other fun facts about the song, so click here and here!].

There's a B-side, which is a pretty cool, more traditional break dance track called "Break, Break." It's basically an instrumental, with just a few sporadic vocoder lines. It's pretty funky and typical 80s break dance stuff, not based on any jazz fusion kinda stuff. Both songs also have Dub mixes, at least on the Next Plateau US pressing I've got. If you're in the mood for an upbeat, fun time that doesn't call for a lot of analytical brain power, throw this one on. It's pretty neat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Big Daddy Kane's Two Additional Gunmen

Alright, so we just looked at the best single from the Gunmen single, now let's look at the second best: Big Daddy Kane's "Gunman." Now, Rakim's single was a wide, general release; but Kane's is promo only. This single definitely came out single, because Rakim's 12" and the full soundtrack are both from 1993, and this is dated 1994. It's interesting to note that Kane's last single for Cold Chillin' was in '93, and he started coming out on MCA in 1994, so this single may've played a part in that transition - maybe it's even what got him signed.

"Gunman" is produced by Kane himself and co-producer Michael Stokes. Stokes is an old funk/soul producer who got his start working with Kane on "Groove With It," so uh, not a good sign. He also produced that Patti LaBelle record Kane, which was also on MCA, back in 1991; so yeah, I'm sure we're seeing the hints of how Kane switched labels in here. Anyway, fortunately, "Gunman" is not a poppy dance record like "Groove" was; it's a pretty hardcore track. It's got a shout chorus: "gun 'em down, gun 'em down, gun 'em down!" and some old west-style samples over a slow drum track. That old west sound kinda reminds me of "Road To the Riches" or "The Symphony" vibe, though I wouldn't hold this record to those standards. But it's a pretty cool record with Kane in hardcore more; his voice sounds great here.
By the way, all this Gunmen talk got me curious to actually watch the movie tonight. It's not a western, which makes Kane's sample selection a little odd. It's also not a good movie, which I anticipated. But a fun surprise for hip-hop heads, all three guys from the soundtrack have cameos. Frost has a quick scene with Christopher Lambert improving some corny joke to him. Rakim is sitting next to Kadeem Hardison like, "yo man, we gonna do this business?" And Kane? Man, he's performing almost the entire "Gunman" song. See, Kadeem's character hangs out in some inexplicable American hip-hop club in the middle of South America or where ever this movie's supposed to be taking place. Ed Lover and Doctor Dre even cameo here ("yo, man, why does everybody here have guns?"). So yeah, Kane's up there performing, and not just in the background. The movie pretty much stops dead so he can do the first half of his song.

Later on, the characters return to this club and Rakim is performing "I Know You Got Soul" with Eric B! What? How did they manage that? Did they break up mid-film, so they shot those scenes and then Rakim was like, nah, I'm doing this song myself?

Well, anyway, back to "Gunman." The song's not quite Greatest Hits material, but it's a solid Kane track. But like the Rakim 12"s, the single doesn't have the album version on it (you have to get the full soundtrack for that). Instead, it's got an exclusive Remix Master Version. This version Kane did by himself, and it's an improvement. The original version was fine, and this one is still no masterpiece, but it's a little doper. It's still got some of those wild west instrumental elements in it - even new ones - but it's faster and tougher. It compliments Kane's flow a little better, too. There's some really cheesy voice saying something indistinguishable during the chorus which I could live without, but despite that, this one's better.

If you've only heard the album version, I recommend checking out the remix; it's dope. And if you've never heard either mix, while the album version isn't much worse; I'd say you can skip right to the remix and just cop the 12". It's got the Instrumental on here as well. So this and the Rakim promo 12" are the two to own, and then there's really no need to bother with the full soundtrack album.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rakim's Three Gunmen

In 1993, Rakim released his debut solo single without Eric B. Their last record together came out in 1992, so this was pretty quick, and fans were obviously anxious to hear him come back after the controversial break-up. It was produced, surprisingly, by a Danish production team called Madness 4 Real. They'd already made a dent in the US end of the industry producing some of Eazy-Es and MC Ren's post-NWA material, though, so it wasn't so far out of left field. It was more surprising just because you'd expect Rakim to have come with a heavier hitting producer like Large Professor or somebody. Anyway, this came out on MCA Records, not because he'd just signed with them as a solo artist, but because this single was for the Gunmen soundtrack, a presumably cheesy action movie (I never bothered to actually see it) pairing Christopher Lambert with Mario Van Peebles.

Now, the cassingle version pictured here features two mixes: the main version and The Wiz Mix, produced by Gary G-Wiz. G-Wiz is one of those guys who wound up joining The Bomb Squad later on, but wasn't part of the original line-up, and was a member of one of Chuck D's pet projects, Hyenas In the Desert. He has co-writing and production credits on some heavy jams, though, like "Know the Ledge" and "Nuff Respect." Who's hard to call who's really responsible for what in situations with group credits (Hell, he can't even trust solo credits all the time), but I think he earned his right to be producing for Rakim's solo debut, and seemed a more fitting selection than Madness 4 Real.

G-Wiz certainly came with a funky bassline, nice cuts, a dusty horn look for a hook, cracking drums and a nice little piano loop. A solid mix. But surprisingly, those Madness guys handily top it. They've got a lot of the same elements, which I guess makes sense since they made the track and G-Wiz was just remixing it. But their bassline is so much deeper and jazzier on this version. It just sounds more raw, tough, and exactly what you'd expect Rakim to come with in 1993. In fact, it fits in perfectly with "Know the Ledge" and the musical style Eric B & Rakim were coming with on their fourth album. And the G-Wiz mix is upbeat and bouncier by comparison, feeling like he tinkered around with it way too much. I mean, he doesn't ruin it, it's a cool variation; but it's clearly inferior.

But disappointingly, neither of the two 12" pressings of this single feature both mixes. And worse, they don't leave off the remix, they leave off the original! So they only have the G-Wiz mix on it - what? Admittedly, you could get the original on vinyl by getting the Gunmen soundtrack album, but that only had three original hip-hop songs on it, and a Young Black Teenagers track taken off their second album. Not too enticing. One of the other songs was by Frost, which was pretty boring and released as a maxi-single anyway. And the other one is really the only other song that's actually worth caring about, "Gunman" by Big Daddy Kane. And there's actually a 12" of that with a superior remix, too. So it's kind of a waste buying the whole soundtrack just to get the one Rakim song on wax.

Fortunately, there's a promo-only 12" to save the day. It features the Album Version, the Wiz Mix, an Acapella, a Noise-A-Pella (the acapella with some of the sparser instrumental bits in the background), and the Wiz Mix Instrumental. And it's also got a third remix, exclusive to this promo, called the One For the Bronx Remix. It's also produced by G-Wiz, but makes the effort to stay harder and darker, like the original. It's not as good, though. It's mostly got kind of a dull, filtered bass sound and a couple samples used in the previous versions. It's mostly boring and sounds a little unfinished, though it's not bad and does manage to recover some of the mood. It's worth having, but again, nothing tops Madness 4 Real's original mix.

I think some heads only caught the G-Wiz mix (because, again, that was the only version included on the commercial 12"s), so they weren't quite as impressed with this single as they should've and would've been had they heard the original mix. Again, it really maintains the sound Rakim had on his previous work, which is more than you can say for pretty much any of his solo work after this. It would be several years before he'd actually get signed and come with some albums, and he had a couple strong singles in that mix. But "Heat It Up" really should've been the lead in to a killer album showing he hadn't missed a step after the split. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and he did wind up missing some steps. But do yourself a favor and at least get this 12", which despite outward signs is actually quite good.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The OTHER Other "High Rollers"

I got another "High Rollers" 12" to talk about. This time it's by Proof (R.I.P.). I've got a bunch of these white label 12"s by Proof and have been looking for an excuse to write about one, so here we go. After Ice-T released his "High Rollers" in the 80s and Father MC released his in the 90s, came Proof's in the 2000s. There's no date on the label, but we know from promo CD singles (plus the general release of the corresponding album and music video) that this came out in 2005.There's also no credited record label, but this is a single off his Searching for Jerry Garcia (I assume a combination of an arbitrary Search for Bobby Fischer reference, with Garcia added due to his penchant for glorifying pot smoking) album on Iron Fist Records, which was Proof's own label. It's actually the B-side, though, so let me briefly cover the A-side first.

Hmmm... Impressions of "Gurls Wit da Boom." Let's see... Oh, I got it! It sucks!

Yeah, it's pretty crap. If this was anybody's introduction to Proof, they'd be completely baffled as to how he got his reputation as D12's most credible lyricist. It's from pretty much the weakest period in his career, when he was trying to crack mainstream success as sort of a 50 Cent Lite. He's doing that soft vocal fry thing with his voice, and lyrically he's just telling us that he likes sexy girls for five minutes ("I know you suck dick. Well, that's my accusation. I'm really wonderin' if you're acceptin' applications"). I do like that he's making a L'Trimm reference almost 20 years after the fact, but he never really plays that up in the hook or anything, which might actually be for the best. I mean, vocally, it's not so much terrible or anything, it's just mediocre and sounds like the most crossover stuff of that period. It's really the minimalistic bip-boop-a-beep-boop instrumental that really brings it down. Say what you want about EDM replacing hip-hop aesthetics, but I'm glad it killed this kind of club beat everybody was rapping over in the 2000s.

"High Rollers" doesn't have a lame club beat at all, though. It's based on a real cool, old school sample... the same one that Poor Righteous Teachers used for "Word Iz Life," but this one chops it differently, leaving part of the vocals in the loop as well. It's also got some high profile guest verses by Method Man and B-Real. This time "High Rollers" is just a cheesy pun - they're high and they roll blunts, get it? And even the vocal in the loop is saying "I'm high," nyuck nyuck. But while the subject matter is old news, especially for B-Real; they come up with some cool wordplay and harder deliveries that sound great on the track. Predictably, Meth steals the show at the end, but everyone comes off well on this, even B-Real, who I'm not often swayed by.

The 12" is full of versions of "Gurls:" Explicit, Clean, Squeaky Clean, Instrumental and Acapella. But there's just the one version of "High Rollers," here misspelled as "High Roller." "Gurls" is also the one they shot the video for, again they were clearly shooting for the kind of audience Fat Joe and G-Unit were pulling in. But I think if they'd pushed "High Rollers," instead, they would've gotten more attention. Trying to blend in and sound like everyone else is how NOT to draw attention to yourself; not the best strategy for selling records. But if you're collecting today, this is worth getting cheap for the B-side.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Other "High Rollers"

Ice-T's "High Rollers" was a triumph of style and mood in late 80s hip-hop. It was a trailblazer from it's street hustler lyrics set over a bad-ass blaxploitation loop (I think it was Larry Cohen's Hell Up In Harlem) to his ultra cool, naturalistic delivery. It wasn't the first time T had used that style, but it was the first to get heavy rotation on MTV and really break out of the California scene. It was one of pioneering records in gangster rap being smooth rather than shouty hardcore, which I'm sure heavily influenced everybody from Scarface to Dr. Dre. This, however, is not that record. This is a 1995 single by Father MC.

So let's place this in the Father MC timeline. This is very early in his independent, nomadic, post-Uptown years. He had just started putting the "MC" at the end of his name. "Hey, How Ya Doin'?" was the first single of his comeback, and I believe this was #2. It's hard to say exactly, because "Sexual Playground" came out concurrently on another label; and while all three were definitely 1995 records, it's hard to nail down the exact order. But until the president of Moja Entertainment comes here to tell us different, we'll assume this is his second single.

Now it says right there on the label, "From the title album 'This Is for the Players'," which is a curious grammatical structure. But it's interesting because if you'll remember, that was the album that was essentially released twice, with almost all the same songs on two different labels. But like "Hey, How Ya Doin'," "High Rollers" is only on the This Is for the Players version, which suggests it was recorded a little later than most of the rest of the songs.

Say what you want about Father MC, even on the later indie stuff, he had a great ear for old school samples. And I really like what he's done here. Tons of rap songs before him have sampled The Gap Band's "Outstanding," from Rob Base to Rich Nice to Shaq. It's got a really iconic, instantly recognizable groove, and many who use it go pretty whole hog, even singing the same chorus. But Father (and/ or his producer here, Fabian Ashe) uses the opening drums and some other elements, but not the signature guitar or more "musical" parts, and flips it into a slow, moody song that feels nothing like the other "Outstanding"s.

Lyrically, he keeps things pretty simple. So he won't impress anyone, but at least he doesn't say anything corny or dated. It just kinda floats there in the safe median. Unfortunately, the hook doesn't fare so well. It's kinda lame, with him repeating, "only players play this record; only G's got this joint.  All the high rollers know what I mean; you can be down if you're on point." It actually looks better written than it sounds. I mean, it's not terrible, but as clever as the sample flip was, the total of this song is not one that was ever going to last through the years or even get a lot of spins when it was new. Not a bad effort, but it didn't deserve to be a single.

Which is maybe why the 12" has an exclusive remix, Soni's Chronic Mix. It's clearly so named because it's heavily influenced by Dre's Chronic-era production. It's produced by Soni D (a play on the orange drink, Sunny Delight? And surely not the same Soni D who made "Soni D Is Fresh" back in 1987?), and... just doesn't work. I could see them thinking they'd ride that wave, hence making this the single (even the Radio Edit on here is a radio cut of this remix, not the album version); but it just comes off feeling like a cheap knock-off rather than a proper song. When the bassline comes in over the hook, it doesn't even match. It feels like somebody's playing two songs at the same time. I could see turning "High Rollers" into a g-funk track working, at least to some degree, but this attempt is a failure.

This 12" closes out with the title track, "This Is for the Players," which for the record, was on both versions of the album: Sexual Playground and This Is for the Players. It's very similar in tone to "High Rollers," with him bragging about his game in a low energy, smooth style over a slow, bass-heavy instrumental. It's got a much more effective, sung hook, though. Honestly, if the lyrics were just a little entertaining, I think this could've had the strength to even appeal to listeners outside of his core audience. But as it is, it's just another acceptable Father MC song for Father MC fans; but you could hear why he wasn't going to put himself back on top with anything from this period. It's not even one the lifelong fans probably revisit that often, but it's really not that bad.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stezo's Unfinished Second Album

Stezo released his debut album, Crazy Noise on Sleeping Bag Records back in 1989. Since then, over the years, he's released a slew of underground singles, some guest verses with his crew and recorded a couple full-length demos, but to this day he's never had a second album. He did begin recording a second Sleeping Bag album, though, which was meant to closely follow the first in 1990. And Dope Folks Records has just released those tracks on their brand new, limited EP Unreleased and Rarities.

Soundclips for "Police Story" drew my attention even before this record shipped. It uses the same descending piano sample Biz Markie used on his third album and Gravediggaz used for "Constant Elevation." But this was recorded before any of those, so if the album had come out, Stezo would've had it first. Lyrically, he breaks down a real life encounter he supposedly had with a police officer, where an officer stops him thinking he's a drug dealer but then jocks him when he finds out he's Stezo. It's definitely not as dramatic a narrative as K-Solo's "Fugitive," and it's all very low energy; so it feels like it would've been a cool album filler track, but it's not really a single.

Now that I've actually got the record and have been playing it through repeatedly, "Here To School Ya" is my jam. This one is single ready. He's just busting freestyle rhymes over a sick drum track and a killer jazzy loop. And I love the horns on the hook; it all reminds me of classic DITC; I love it. The other song is "I Have a Dream," which is nice, too. It uses, obviously, Martin Luther King Jr. vocals for a hook, and I love speech samples as rap choruses; they always sound great. Lyrically, the song's kinda preachy and on the "I'll Take Your There," "Erase Racism" kinda tip. It's cool, and obviously a good message, but you probably won't drive around bumping it in your car like "School Ya."

So okay, that's it for Sleeping Bar era stuff, but there's still plenty more on this EP - the rarities of the title. Now, two of the songs on this EP were first released on an indie 12" in 1996 on a label called E&R Music. I wasn't up on it at the time, but I can remember buying some completely generic mixtape at the mall just because it had those songs on it. One of them featured K-Solo, who'd been out of the public eye since his second album for Atlantic in 1992 (this came out just before he appeared on Redman's Muddy Waters and wider audiences found out about his comeback). This was right at the heyday of the Def and Hit Squads, so I was pretty psyched to see Stezo coming back and with K-Solo to boot. Had he linked back up and joined Sermon's crew again? We didn't know. It made enough noise to get picked up and re-released by J-Bird Records in 1997. And that second version, which I ultimately picked up on CD, featured two other songs from another indie 12" Stezo had put out in 1996, this time on Funktown Flav Records. In fact, Stezo credits Funkmaster Flex for spinning that 12" and creating the buzz, which got him signed to J-Bird. So the 1997 record is basically a merger of the two earlier records stuck together, and this release is everything all combined. No B-sides or anything are left off, just instrumentals and an acapella.

Still, these songs are less valuable since they've all been released before... twice even. They're nice if you don't already have them - they were both hot singles, produced by Chris Lowe - but even if you didn't, they were still already available. But Unreleased and Rarities has one last little surprise on here: an exclusive DJ Funkdat remix of "Where's the Funk At?" This wasn't included on the '96 or '97 releases because, I'm pretty sure, it's newly recorded for this single. Funkdat is a younger producer from Slovakia, so I'm pretty sure he wasn't working with Stezo in 1996. And "Where's the Funk" is the only one of these four songs that included the acapella on the old records. But he does a great job of creating a very 90's-style instrumental that if I didn't know better, could easily have me convinced it's vintage.

So, this EP is limited to Dope Folks' usual 300 copies. 200 Are pressed on traditional black vinyl, or you could splurge a little ($5 extra) for one of the 100 yellow (yellow) copies, pictured. I think it looks particularly good, matching the yellow on the labels. Anyway, sound quality is excellent on these. I mean, the 90s tracks always sounded good, so Dope Folks would've had to have done something wrong to mess those up. But I was happy to hear the 80s tracks sounding so good. This record is a real win for Stezo fans.