Thursday, December 29, 2016

King Don a.k.a. KD Ranks Interview

(A 2011 interview with New Jersey MC King Don a.k.a. KD Ranks by The Custodian of Records about his history and Trenton's Hip-Hop legacy. Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Hip-Hop Christmas Bonus

If you truly want to be an expert in Christmas rap - and why the Hell wouldn't you? - then you've got to at least dip your toe into the world of Kevin & Bean.  Who are Kevin and Bean?  Radio show hosts on a station called KROQ; that's pretty much all I know.  I guess they're like a morning "zoo crew" on a rock station or something?  We don't need to care that much.  The relevant part is that every year for decades, they've done Christmas compilation albums involving celebrities (the proceeds for which went to charity), and once in a very rare while, that includes rappers.  Rappers doing exclusive Christmas rap songs for their albums.

Now, half these songs are comedy skits and gags, and rap being a part of their albums actually dates back to their very first, rare vinyl release in 1990.  Specifically, "Rudolph the Red Nose Homeboy" by MC Frosty and Michael the Maintenance Man (the latter apparently being a recurring character on their radio show).  But that's a joke song by a fake rap artist.  There's more of that across these albums, and you probably have to be a fan of the radio show to really care about those.  So I'm just going to focus in on the few releases with actual, legit Hip-Hop artists.

One of the break-out songs from these zany albums came in 1996: "Christmastime In the LBC" by Snoop and Friends.  I'm sure you guys are all familiar with Death Row Records' infamous Christmas album with the pretty great Snoop Doggy Dogg Christmas song, "Santa Claus Goes Straight To the Ghetto."  That was the same year, and a lot of people conflate the two; but this is something completely different.  The idea is that it's a crazy, dark Christmas song by Snoop Dogg and the Death Row guys.  But it's not.  In fact it's Jimmy Kimmel (who was affiliated with KROQ at this point in time) doing an impression of him.  It's pretty funny, actually.  But yeah, it's a fake parody, so why bring it up here?  Because the success of that song got Snoop to hook up with Kevin & Bean for real the next year.  So in 1997, when Kevin & Bean released A Family Christmas In Your Ass, which compiled the best of their previously limited cassette-only albums onto a more mainstream CD, it also included new material like a a brand new, Snoop Christmas rap called "Twas the Night" with Nate Dogg.  It's a song in that it has original music and all, but unfortunately it's more of a spoken word skit, with him reading his own version of the "Night Before Christmas" poem.  But if you've seen it online or anything, yeah, this is where it's from.

Again, there's tons of these albums, and Kevin & Bean aren't rap guys, so there's not much of interest in most of them.  There's big name celebs like Jon Stewart, Kevin Smith and the South Park guys doing skits, and songs by big rock bands like My Chemical Romance and Coldplay, but for Hip-Hop, this really isn't our territory.  There are more joke songs, like Jimmy Kimmel doing an Eminem impression on "Stanley" and a funny fake Shaq song called "Holiday Heat."  And sometimes they'll throw on a previously released rap song, like Outkast's "Player's Ball."

But the next original recording by an actual Hip-Hop group doesn't arrive until 2001's Swallow My Eggnog.  Here, Cypress Hill turn up for "The Night Before Christmas," which yeah, you guessed it, is the same concept as Snoop and Nate's except it's full of marijuana references.  The production's cool, but overall it's pretty lame, full of predictable jokes like "I still got you ho ho hoes."  Of interest if you're a fan of the group, though.

Afroman also does a song on Swallow My Eggnog, and no it's not one from his Jobe Bells Christmas album.  It's an original one called "Afroman's Christmas Joint."  It's pretty short, but he's rapping over a beat with heavy sleigh bells on it.  I don't really rate Afroman, but it's about on par with anything else he's done.

Finally, we come to the most legit and obscure one.  2006's Super Christmas.  It's called "Rockin' You," and it's an all new, original and exclusive song by The Jurassic 5!  It's short, but no it's not a skit; it's a legit full song with some really tight production, cuts and each MC has a verse.  Admittedly, it's all about the radio show, which really limits its outside appeal.  It's like those promo songs that groups like The Bizzie Boyz and MC Mitchski would record for Red Alert or Chuck Chillout, and it's as good as those were, except it's for Kevin & Bean.  Honestly, it's better than some official Jurassic 5 12"s.

So that's it.  If you're the sort of fan who's prepared to pursue Christmas rap to the ends of the Earth, this is a stop you can't miss.  Some of the original cassettes are hard to find, but the CDs with the authentic MCs on 'em are all cheap and easy if you want 'em.  They're good stocking stuffers for the Hip-Hop head who thinks he has everything, the overlooked odds and ends of Christmas rap.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 5: Into the 2000s

Let's end Mr. Complex Week with a festive, holiday potpourri!  Plex released a bunch of 12"s in the coming years, continuing his trend of jumping from one label to another.  He dropped a whopping five in 2000, although that includes Japanese remixes and tour-exclusive split 12"s. But his next, official domestic release was "Do It Up" on Blindside/ Fat Beats.

This record's entirely recorded and produced in London by Beyond Three, a trio of UK producers.  So this is his British single.  The A-side's from a pretty great underground compilation called Wide Angles, and just has Complex freestyling over a cool, subtle beat.  The concept's just your basic, I'm dope; you're wack with lots of silly similes and wordplay: "can you relate, like your mother's sister's kid?"  It's just an excuse for Plex's fun style and personality to shine through, and it works.  So I'm not sure it needed to be made into a single, but it's a great introduction to Complex on the compilation.

The B-side is a remix of "Visualize," which just begs the question: why are we still messing with that in 2000? It's alright, kind of a smoother take with a laid back piano loop and without Apani's ad-libs.  But I basically just listened to it once, said that's interesting, and never played it again.  I guess this is just his "Bust a Move," so he can't escape it.  Maybe after doing it live in every show, he was sick of that "wah wah" beat, or maybe Beyond Three just really wanted to take a crack at it.  But why ever it's here, it makes for a pretty forgettable single.

Speaking of forgettable singles, next we have "Rhapsody," which is really a pun title for a song about "Rap City."  Not the BET show, but a city where every street and corner is named after a rapper, "you take the Hip-Hop Road, which is connected to the Bambaataa Bridge to Kool Herc Highway," and so on.  You know, another entry in that trend of songs like "Labels" and "Pink Cookies," which yes, was fully played out in 2000.  The B-side, "Everybody Everywhere," looks like it's going to be an underground cipher-style posse cut, because it features Punch & Words, L-Fudge and Invincible.  But it's really a concept song where he narrates a little story of his everyday life walking around town, and the people he runs into are voiced by the guest MCs.  It's kinda boring actually.

But don't give up on the man, because his next single on Fat Beats, 2002's "Desire" is a winner.  Three hot tracks: "Desire," "Bomb Threats" and "It's Working," which work in large part because he doesn't forget the music in favor of being clever.  Punchlines still abound, of course, but it's a funkier, groovier experience overall.  "Desire" says it features Clip of BrassMunk, a Canadian group that was briefly on Battle Axe Records.  But like so many Complex collaborations, it's just him rapping, and Clip's just doing some of the hook.  ...Which is fine with me; the song didn't need anybody else.  And L-Fudge turns up again on "It's Working," which is a fun throwback to super old school 1980-style records.

The pendulum swings in the opposite direction for our final 12", 2003's "Glue" featuring Biz Markie.  It's a crazy, off-beat love song where Biz doesn't rap, just sings the hook in his classic, off-key "Just a Friend" way.  This beat doesn't swing like "Just a Friend," though, and the lyrics get a little too jokey, like, "I got your name tattooed on the side of my dick, and when you first read it, you're like who's this Merildow[sp?] chick?  I said hold up a minute, let me stiffen it.  Then it read, 'to my boo with lots of love, for infinite'."  Overall, it feels like the concept is there, this should've been great; but it just doesn't quite come together.

The B-side is a jokey sex song called "Scrape Your Back Out" with - once again - L-Fudge.  It just struck me as rather juvenile and I've only ever listened to it once or twice.  I mean, I get that there's a tradition for sex gag records, and if you're in the mood for that, you could do worse.  But in the end, this whole 12" feels like a novelty record rather than a genuine contender, which is disappointing.

Complex has only put out one more 12" to date, 2005's "Calm Down" on Penalty Records.  It features Vast Aire, and I'll probably pick it up one day, just to round out my collection.  Plus, most of Complex's records can be found super cheap today and he's always at least interesting.  His best records - like "Why Don't Cha" and "Gitcha Gitcha Gitcha" - are a kick, and even his worst are decent.  Out of day's grouping, though, "Desire" is definitely the one I'd recommend, but I've enjoyed going back to revisit his (almost) whole body of work on vinyl.  Even 20+ years later, Complex is always a good time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 4: Rawkus and Finally Pharoahe Monch!

We roll into 1999, and we reach an even higher point with Mr. Complex now coming out on Rawkus Records.  This is his only record with them (not counting guest appearances on other projects), which makes sense as Rawkus was making a lot of individual 12" deals with artists at the time.  But this was right at the label's peak with Soundbombing II, "B-Boy Document," the Mos Def solo album, "Simon Sez," etc.  And all those indie artists with 12"s on the label were a big deal, and now that included Mr. Complex.  This was gonna put him on a lot more peoples' radars.

And... it's alright. A lot of the punchlines are predictable ("I'm not jokin'; I'm not Chris Tucker, mother____"), and this is like the first Mr. Complex record not to have tight DJ scratches on the chorus.  Still, it's a fairly funky track, especially on the hook, when an extra, really fresh horn sample is brought in.

But the biggest news here is that finally, after all these years and 12"s that hinted at it, we've actually got a duet with Pharoahe Monch on the B-side!  Like, seriously, when I first bought this record, I didn't believe it.  Because I didn't buy it after hearing it on the radio or a mixtape or something.  Day one there was a new Mr. Complex record out, I had to have it. And when I saw that on the B-side, I said to myself, "he's not fucking on here."  At least not as anything more than more "ambiance" or whatever.  But no, he's actually on here.  Rapping with Mr. Complex, like a proper duet.  In fact, the first verse is a really intricate word-for-word interplay.  Then they each take a solo verse for the rest of the song.  I don't know if Rawkus said, "if we're gonna do this record, Mr. Complex, you've gotta stop the teasing," or if the stars just finally aligned.  I'm sure the fact that they were finally labelmates - remember, Monch launched his solo career through Rawkus - helped facilitate matters.

But in the end, who cares why it's here?  What's important is that it's terrific!  It's called "Gitcha Gitcha Gitcha" and lives up to the four years of anticipation for a Monch/ Complex duet.  Both tracks are produced by Lee Stone, but everything clicks on this one, with a smooth, fumping bassline underneath squealing horns as both MCs really bring their A-games with captivating flows; and their voices really compliment each other.  It just feels crazy that they waited this long to do a song together.

I have no idea with "Gitcha Gitcha Gitcha" was relegated to the B-side.  "Stabbin' You" sounds like something older or just quickly slapped together.  But hey, Hip-Hop has a long-standing tradition of "B-side wins again," so why not?  Both tracks are fully loaded with Clean, Dirty, Instrumental and Acapella versions, and it comes in a cool picture cover.  So definitely one for the crates, and at least half of which deserves to be in a greatest hits comp, though oddly only the A-side wound up on The Complex Catalog compilation album.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 3: He Rocks the Mic Right

So Mr. Complex's stint with Raw Shack was over after that one single, and he came back on his own label, Core Records, but this time with a little help from Seven Heads Entertainment.  Now we've got a fancy picture cover and you could see Mr. Complex was on the rise.  1998 was a big year, it brought us not only this record, but a split 12" with Old World Disorder on Mary Joy and the first single with his super-group, Polyrhythm Addicts., which was another smash underground success.  Mr. Complex was a name to pay attention to now, and so I like that he still kept things grounded here.  He didn't go out and try to wrangle the highest profile guest star he can afford, and he didn't try to assemble the largest posse cut the streets have ever seen.  He just made a simple Mr. Complex record for people who like Mr. Complex records.

We start out with "Imakillit," and its title tells yo all you need to know about the song's concept.  He's just gonna kick some slick written freestyle rhymes for the fun of it.  He's got DJ Crossphader providing some really nice cuts to a Richard Pryor vocal sample for the hook, and it all takes place of a chunky, head-nodding piano sample.  It reminds me of those classic, late 80s smooth freestyle joints like "The Rhythm," "We Rock the Mic Right" or even "Smooth Operator," but definitely updated with Mr. Complex's playful, word-twisting style.

Then you've got the instrumental, which lets you hear a little more of the stand-up routine they made their hook out of, and a Live@TheCooler version, which is just what it claims to be.  Fellow addict Apani B can be heard as the audience hypeman, but she doesn't kick a verse or anything.  It's the same instrumental and verses, and it fades out before the song is over, so it's more of an interesting, bonus curiosity piece than anything essential.  But hey, I'll take it.

Next up is something a little different for Mr. Complex; it's not an upbeat freestyle joint, although his trademark sense of humor and wordplay definitely come through.  I guess it's closer to "Visualize," but it's not like that song either.  It slows things down with a really moody sample that Abstract Tribe Unique used on their first EP.  The concept sounds like a typical rap song idea, he's going to rap three verses about people who've fronted on him; but each one has a very different tone, which is what makes it odd.  The middle verse sounds like what you'd expect: "I don't have it to get everybody in free.  It's only five dollars.  You don't have it?  Well here's three; so all you have to do is two.  Oh, you want me to pick you up, too?  I-ight, 'round eight or a quarter to."

But then listen to how it starts out, "Many years ago, my sister Candy ran in cryin', she said' 'I've been hit with a rock,' shocked, 'stop lyin'.'  Door out I'm flying."  It's like, whoa, what kinda heavy shit is he laying on us?  The point of that verse, I guess, is that he didn't front when it came to being a big brother; but it's a dark way to start a Mr. Complex song.  And then the third verse takes it in the opposite direction, getting silly, almost like Special Ed's "On a Mission:" "We lined up for the bus and intertwined like a braid. In the cut we laid, then came the parade. No, the raid.  And yo, it stayed on the bus with mad men throwing eggs... I said I know a little karate, and plus I got a blade.  Just then they got the gun.  You should've seen my homeboy Lemonade run."  It's so strangely all over the place, but the music does the Herculean task of holding it all together so it kinda works.  Oh, and if you want your regular Organized Konfusion connection this song credits "additional chorus and ambiance" to Pharoahe Monche.  Again of course, no verse.

You also get the instrumental of that, and a third song, which I'd call more of a throwaway bonus cut, titled "I Think I Wanna Sing."  Do you remember Dana Dane's "Makes Me Wanna Sing?"  It's like that, where Dane, or in this case Complex, gets caught up in the music and decides to sing... terribly.  Dana Dane made the song work by having the group 4 Play do most of the actual singing until the end.  Complex makes it work by having the song only last for a minute and a half and let's the sample do most of the driving.  So it's okay, but kind of just a joke song.

I have a demo tape of this one, too, by the way.  Unlike the "I'm Rhymin'" tape from Day 1, though, this contains only the two songs written on the label.  So no exclusive, long lost B-sides or remixes or anything; it doesn't even have the third song from the 12".  It's just a little extra sliver of Mr. Complex history.  Overall, this is a good record that still holds up.  You know, it's no classic; Illmatic and "The Symphony" can sleep peacefully at night.  But if you like rap and want something to listen to that you'll enjoy, this is it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 2: Gettin' Visual Wit It

Okay, today's the day I was kind of dreading in Mr. Complex Week, the one that made me think: maybe I'll just write about his first record and leave it at that.  Why?  Because now we're up to his second record, 1997's "Visualize."  And is it wack?  No.  Do I dislike it?  No, it's just played out.  I heard it about a million bajillion times back in '97-'98 and I don't feel like I need to hear it anymore.  But it's been ages and due for a reevaluation, so we're doin' it.

"I'm Rhymin'" got him attention, but "Visualize" is the record that really put him over the top.  For just this one record, Complex was on J-Live's label (as in he was signed to it, didn't own it), Raw Shack Productions.  It was featured on every mixtape ever that year, even the Beat Junkies mix that was legit pressed and sold in mainstream stores, and it was included on the Underground Airplay tapes.  Everybody was quoting the damn thing; I remember somebody I was tape trading with (Millennials, don't ask) had the "three roaches" line as his email signature.  If  you were in New York in the 90s, you surely knew when every single radio in the city was either repeating "who dat, who dat, who dat, who dat, whoooooo" or that Little Orphan Annie sample from "Hard Knock Life" 24/7 and you felt like you just couldn't escape it.  Well, this was like that but for underground heads.  If Mr. Complex was Will Smith, this would be his "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."  The Fresh Prince was a genuinely talented and appealing MC, but you want "Touch of Jazz" or "Brand New Funk," not that crossover joint.

It's hardly Mr. Complex's fault.  "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" is a genuinely inferior pop song designed to appeal to dull masses.  Complex just made a good song that the people responded to.  And you couldn't blame them.  Mr. Complex has a great, friendly voice and comes up with genuinely appealing rhymes and wordplay.  He's the MC you just want to sit and hang out with.  And on "Visualize," he combined that with Slick Rick-style storytelling in a way that just worked.  It was one of those rap songs you just wanted to memorize.

And I have to say, it wasn't irritating like I was expecting it to be to revisit this.  I immediately got right back into it, and that simplistic, overbearing but funky "whomp whomp" sample is still catchy.  This is where Complex first linked up with DJ Spinna, who he'd later form Polyrhythm Addicts with.  In fact, Apani's on here as well, though she just provides ad-libs, no actual verse.  And the hook features some slick cuts by DJ KO.  It's all really undeniably well crafted; but after this revisit, I don't think I'll break it out for another ten years.

What I probably will replay more often is the B-side, which I'd totally forgotten.  Another Spinna track, this one's got some really nice horns and a cool, smooth track with classic drums and KO cutting up a classic Steady B record.  The label promises the song is "featuring Pharoahe Monch," but like we just saw with Little Shawn, it's another fake-out, with no actual contribution by Monch, and they're just crediting a vocal sample (not even a whole word) in the hook.  Fortunately, the song doesn't need him, and Complex is more than capable to carry the song on his own.  He sounds great over this track.  Still a bit of a rip-off, but the song is really dope and my favorite so far.  But let's see what's still ahead.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 1: Rhymin' About Nothin'

This might be a "Week" you weren't expecting.  I was just going through my records looking for something that might be good to write about, and I kind of surprised myself stumbling on all these Mr. Complex records.  I remember being impressed with him back in the day and excited as each new 12" dropped.  I was a straight up fan.  But I haven't thought about this material in years.  I literally haven't spun this wax in decades.  But it's not because I now think he's wack or anything.  I remember he had a video a year or two ago of some new music, and he hadn't fallen off.  But these old records just haven't even crossed my mind in ages.  So I'm gonna spend the next week revisiting his vintage material.

If you don't remember, or you're younger and missed it, Mr. Complex is a Queens MC who started out by virtue of being friends with Organized Konfusion.  He was an Unsigned Hype artist in an early '95 issue of The Source (intriguingly, the write-up of his demo mentions an unreleased song called "Standin' On a Verb") and with that and a couple radio appearances under his belt, he pressed up his debut 12" on his own label, Corecords: 1995's "I'm Rhymin'."  It was the kind of indie record I couldn't find locally but was able to order from an old Point Blank catalog (remember them?).  It got a lot of underground coverage and even peaked into the mainstream mags.  It was all favorable and you could feel the excitement around this new cat.

Mr. Complex's style was like rapping for rapping's sake.  I don't know if he'd be keen on the label, but you could definitely file him under backpacker.  He starts off one of the songs on this 12" by saying, "this song right here's about nothin'. But it's the way that I'm saying nothin' which makes it somethin'."  So that should give you some idea.  Mainstream audiences looking for an emotional connection to their music may not find a lot of appeal to this 12", but rap nerds were in hog heaven.

The song "I'm Rhymin'" has a fun and easy concept to latch onto.  As the hook goes, "I'm rhymin' the same words, same words."  And that's the idea.  He rhymes the same words but with alternate meanings, like, "My name is Complex, I’m very complex. I have a complex, plus I’m comp. Don’t flex."  It's fun. It's got kind of a cool, staccato piano beat produced by Pharoahe Monch, though the recording has a really low-fi feel, almost like it's a radio freestyle rather than a properly recorded song.  I mean, not quite that extreme, but along those lines.  I wouldn't have minded a fresher record of this.  The acapella (as well as the instrumental) is on here, so it would be easy for anyone to remix.

Anyway, next up is "Very Complex Skit," which is just a snippet of a Stretch & Bobbito show where they name drop Mr. Complex.

Next up is "Against the Grain," produced by Prince Po.  This one doesn't sound so raw; it's a really funky, percussion-heavy track, with Complex just flexing wordplay like "oh what a relief it is when I get bus - ness, like a toy store the day before Christmas. Miss, ask Mister, brother man ask sister how I twist her, or dissed her, it's a lyrical fist-icuff when I puff mics.  I straighten out dykes with my T-square; I swear like a sailor. You get hemmed up and pressed up like permanent press but, uh, I'm not a tailor."  It's got a nice Kool G Rap vocal sample from "Death Wish" for the hook.

Finally, there's "Feel Me," which has the most flush instrumental, produced by somebody credited as... Godlike Yabach UAC of Peace of Mind.  Whoever the heck that is.  It's a real head-nodder, though, and in 2016, probably the one that actually holds up the best.  This one had plenty of punchlines, too; but the music competes more with the rhymes, whereas on the other two songs, it feels like they hang more on the novelty of his lyrics.  And the punchlines don't age was well as the flows and rhythms.  The instrumental for this and "Against the Grain" are on here, too, making for a pretty loaded 12" single all told.

I've also got this demo tape of his first single.  It only lists the two songs, but it's actually a complete rip of the 12", instrumentals, acapellas and all.  The side break even comes mid-song and resumes on the flip, which is annoying.  And if you listen through the blank space at the end, you hear a brief clip of an Xzibit song, so it's a nit of a half-assed demo, with nothing exclusive on it, but still kind of a nice, tiny piece of history to have.  So I've enjoyed revisiting this one; it's still fresh.  And it's not rare, so if you want it, it can be found cheap (the 12", I mean, not the tape).  But I'm looking forward to moving to his more polished efforts after this one.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Little Shawn Featuring Biggie But Not Big Daddy Kane

I wrote a while ago about Little Shawn's lesser known first record, but something about his last record fascinates me.  This one's not rare or obscure; it's probably actually his best known record.  But there's just so many curious little details about this record, there's no way I wasn't going to cover it sooner or later, so here we go.  1995's "Dom Perignon" on MCA Records.

Like I said, it's kind of his biggest hit (although "Hickeys On Your Chest" may've charted higher), so why is it his last record?  Who quits a musical career at its peak?  Well, technically he didn't.  He changed his name to Shawn Pen (oof, that pun!) and has continued to ghostwrite and do guest verses.  But still, why not follow up "Dom Perignon?"  The label mentions that the "[o]riginal version appears on the forthcoming Little Shawn album," so clearly the intention was there.  That late in the game, I wonder if it wasn't recorded and if there aren't maybe even promo tapes or something floating around out there of a lost Little Shawn album #2.

It may've had something to do with his, er, business outside of the musical industry.  If you read his bio on discogs, wikipedia, etc, they all point out the fact that he did a five-year bid from 1998-2003 for drug trafficking.  Of course, 1998's a good three years after 1995, but how long had he been caught up with that, and how much did it conflict with his music career?  That could explain it.  After all, me being the hip-hop nerd I've always been, I already had Shawn's Voice In the Mirror album and was into a lot of the stuff he wrote and appeared on.  But this time around the video was getting rotation and my friends were even talking about this single.  It was also included on the New York Undercover soundtrack, a reasonably successful Fox show at the time.  If you want to talk about "buzz," this record had it.

Here's another interesting thing you'll read in those bios: they all mention "'Dom Perignon' featuring The Notorious B.I.G." When I first saw that I thought maybe there was a remix I didn't know about.  I grew up with the cassingle, where they curiously abbreviate his name to Lil' Shawn[right] and didn't pick up the 12" until a couple of years ago when I got it cheap with a bunch of other stuff.  But no, there's nothing on the 12" that's not on the cassette except an Instrumental and Acappella version.  The only thing this has to do with Biggie is that it has a vocal sample of him on the hook.  It's a line from "Party & Bullshit," where he says, "can't we just all get along, so I can put hickies on her chest like Little Shawn? Get her pissy drunk off of Dom Pérignon, and it's on, and I'm gone."  They chop it so he's saying, "get her pissy drunk off of Dom Pérignon, so I can put hickies on her chest like Little Shawn?" It's kind of clever, and of course Shawn had to point out that his name and record had been used as a line by Biggie when he was at the pinnacle of success.  He didn't actually appear and record anything for the record, though they did get him to appear in the video, which apparently convinced a lot of people that he performed the hook.  Every listing on Youtube etc says the song is featuring Biggie, even playing him up more than Shawn.  But yeah, nobody who remembers "Party & Bullshit" should be fooled.

Another interesting thing about this record is the beat.  It makes for a great summertime record, produced by Red Hot Lover Tone just his Trackmasterz were blowing up.  That's cool and all, but a year before this came out, a New Jersey rapper on the rise named Milkbone had a substantial debut with "Keep It Real."  He followed that up in 1995 with a single called "Where'z da Party At?" produced by Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature, which flipped the exact same Kool & the Gang sample pretty much the exact same way, and I think both records would've blown up more if the other hadn't come out and split audiences.  Later that year, Coolio would also use it for his single, "Too Hot," but by then it was played out.  Typical Coolio.

This single has a B-side, by the way, called "Check It Out Y'all" (it's on the cassette, too), and that instrumental is the real reason DJs and fans should still be adding this record to their crates.  It's produced by Easy Moe Bee and it's another smooth, R&B-influenced cut (and yes, the 12" has an instrumental for this one, too).  Little Shawn's career was dovetailing nicely with the whole Bad Boy/ R&B explosion before he dropped out.  But it's just so tight, and with some nice scratching even.  It helps that the full song is more about Shawn's freestyling than some kind of sappy relationship rap.

Overall, Shawn's rhymes are interesting here, though never really stand-out impressive.  He's always been versatile, but versatility in Hip-Hop typically equates to "Master of None."  His topics here blend in and out of girls, rhyme skills and shooting people all in the same verse: "I won't run; I'm coming with a mask and gun. I'm blasting son.  I'm with ya girlfriend and it's on; 'cause I got her pissy drunk off the Dom."  Like, that's an abrupt transition, but okay.  He came a little harder on a compilation years later after he changed his name to Shawn Pen, where he's fully into a crime narrative, and that was more impressive.  It may've been why he changed his name, because he was worried nobody would buy gritty street raps from the Voice In the Mirror kid, because this was years before Rick Ross tested the possibility of being a simultaneous gangster rapper/ real life police officer.  But I think he already un-pigeon holed himself enough with this single.

So yeah, I like this one.  Always have, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.  So if you missed it, check it out.  Oh, and the B-side features a vocal sample for a hook, too.  It's Big Daddy Kane from "Just Rhymin' Wit Biz" saying "check it out y'all; keep on."  But for some reason nobody describes that one as "featuring Big Daddy Kane."  Is consistency too much to ask?  😛

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanking MC Sundance

Yo, here's a nice underrated little record that nobody seems to talk about.  "America's Gonna Fall" by MC Sundance, released by Incognito Records in 1991.  Now, as far as I've been able to find, this is the only release by that label, and it's also MC Sundance's only record, but this is not some random rap nobody.  First clue?  The label's in The Bronx.  Second clue, it's produced by Jazzy Jay.  Yes, this is the MC Sundance from The Jazzy Five (and no connection to the MC Sundance from the Poison Clan skit).  He actually left the group to go solo before their hit record, "Jazzy Sensation," though, so you've only heard him on vintage, live recordings if you've heard him at all.  But recordings of him are out there if you follow those old school tapes.  I'm sure if you ask Troy Smith nicely, he'll point you in the right direction.  😎

But no that wasn't a typo; this record is from 1991, not 1981.  You might be worried, then, that this is going to be some dance music disaster or something, but it is produced by Jay, so have a little faith.   So, what's it like?  Surprising!

The title "America's Gonna Fall" gives you a hint, but this is a seriously heavy, revolutionary record.   Youth today look at old school rap like kiddie stuff, but who's making songs like this currently?  Not many.  I mean, part of this record is on some basic, anti-racism stuff, which is great but pretty obvious, and he starts out with some simple rhymes about "I stomp sucker MCs who riff, they'll get dissed and dismissed.  I don't smoke; I don't sniff."  But then it goes... further.  He starts rhyming about standing up against white supremacy, and he shouts, "when the revolution starts, the devils will get fucked up!"  Yeah man, now we're talking!  But then he starts getting controversial, advocating for segregation: "to avoid a war, I'm raw, hardcore.  We must separate; it's the law.  Couples get divorced of course when they don't get along.  Separate but equal?  Huh, I don't think it's wrong."  I mean, they had to know this was never going to get on Yo! MTV Raps by the time he started getting into the "AIDS was man-made" stuff.  Maybe that's what the name Incognito Records was all about.

He concludes with, "the strongest race of the human race, face to face with the snakes, we have to leave this place.  Stand up tall, the final call, rock rock y'all, America's gonna fall!"  But thankfully he didn't leave, because he turned out to be a real American hero.  And that's not me being glib.  Check out this 2009 NY Times article about him, "Leon Heyward[Sundance] emerged from the subway just as the second plane struck, piercing the south tower. As others fled, he helped evacuate disabled employees from 42 Broadway, where he worked for the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, and when the first tower fell, he was caught in the churning plume of contaminated dust and smoke."  He eventually died of lymphoma caught while rescuing people during the 9/11 terrorist attack.  This man seriously deserves more recognition than he's been getting.

But getting back to the record, it sounds great.  The production is perfectly simple, with Jazzy Jay juggling some killer James Brown/ JBs samples: "Funky Drummer" drums and a super funky bassline.  Then he cuts up a subtle but fresh vocal sample for the chorus, it sounds like it was literally just recorded with two turntables and a microphone.

There's also a B-side called "Dance To the Groove," which is exactly the kind of song you'd expect from the title.  It's produced by Jazzy Jay again, though, so expect some more raw, funky samples.  Naturally, it's more upbeat with Sundance getting a little freer and lively, though still slipping in some positive messages under the radar as Jazzy Jay blends back and forth between a couple fresh sample sets.  Sometimes it's the same groove as Biz Markie's "Albee Square Mall," then it shifts into a classic disco sound, or a harder hip-hop riff, or a chunky piano loop, all over "Apache" drums with some nice, subtle scratches by Jay.

No picture cover, nothing fancy, just two hot and very different tracks, with both instrumentals included as well.  This record wasn't made for the radio, but it definitely shouldn't be as slept-on as it is.  So if you're looking to add something to your crates this holiday weekend, this one's not that rare or pricey.  And Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time to give Sundance some props.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Invincible's Dandelions

(Some more new music, and this time it's pretty left of center.  Actually, Portals was awfully left of center, too; but this one's on a much more serious tip.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hip-Hop's Dr. Strange

(More new music, this time from one of the original Cella Dwellas, who's basic on the bizarre, mystic tip.  Censored Youtube version is here.)

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Thing… From Another World?

(Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!  Here's a spooky little 80's record you've probably never heard before… Youtube version is here.)

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Long, Long Awaited Return of Written On Your Psyche

Remember a couple years ago when I got super excited to discover a terrific, contemporary NJ hip-hop record but a group I'd never heard of at a record sale?  Well, that group was Written On Your Psyche, and while I discovered it in 2011, it had actually come out in 2005; and that was their newest record.  Admittedly, there had been a couple of solo mix-CDs and mp3-only stuff in the meantime, but that's still eleven years since their last official release.  You couldn't blame a fan for feeling discouraged.  But they're back!  With vinyl!

If you remember in my first Written video, I talked about how after going through their earlier material, I found that they had distinct musical phases.  Instrumentally, at least, first album Written On Your Psyche didn't sound like second album Written On Your Psyche.  And yep, this is another new phase with an all new sound.  Although if you heard their online-only album Superman Is Dead, that does go some way towards bridging the gap.  But still, this sounds completely different from Grounded, I'd say largely because they're not working with the incredible producer they had at that time, Saheeb.  So really, they've got a tall mountain to climb to live up to those days.

And do they pull it off?  I'd say pretty successfully, yes.  It's not 100% equal to their classic "In Control" 12".  But this time, handling all their own production, they've come up with a fresh sound for themselves that really clicks.  There's a cool consistency to this EP that not only says these songs belong together, but are also distinct from their previous records.  It's got a very atmospheric (the record opens with ambient sounds, for God's sake) intellectually calm kind of vibe, with a lot of moody synths.  Like something the BBC would score an 80s sci-fi miniseries with, plus boom-bap drums.

If you're not that familiar, Written is two guys, Poet Substratum and Bolical Jenkins.  I could be mistaken, but it feels to me like Poet's really taken the lead in conceiving the songs here.  My favorite track is the opener, "Mystery," which takes the basic battle/ rapping about rapping core to new, metaphysical heights, using wild space and time imagery to push the limits of our reality.  This really is as good as the Grounded material, just in a different way.  "Only God Knows" has a great sound, and "Star Speech" is some fun, crazy new age rap shit.  The title track is actually my least favorite song, though it's got a great hook ("it's that rhyme by the candle, but the mountain breeze don't blow it out, though"), and I can see why it became the thematic link for the full EP.

Now, this is 2016, so of course there is a digital counterpart to this EP that you can download from bandcamp.  But apart from coming in an attractive picture cover, the limited (only 250 copies) wax release also has an exclusive vinyl-only bonus track called "F.I.N.E."  You can hear immediately why it's a bonus track, separate from the body of the EP.  Instrumentally it's less ethereal, and lyrically it's, uh, even further in that direction.  It's sort of like an update of Kool G Rap's "Truly Yours."  Yeah, Kool G Rap already did an update of "Truly Yours" with Pete Rock, but that was for the 90s, and this one speaks to 2016 audiences, with updated lyrics like, "The chick was bad, but she was crazy, too. I'd find her home crying about every day or two. Depressed as Hell, paranoid as shit; but while I'm deep inside the pussy I ignore the shit.  Can't ignore those hips, and yeah she has prescriptions for this; of course daddy issues."  The titular acronym stands for "Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional."  it's distractingly immature, but it works as an upbeat closer - a sort of undercutting antidote to a much more serious work - though I wouldn't want a whole album of "F.I.N.E."s.

So if you're a fan, you'll definitely want to score the wax while you can.  And it does also come with a download card for a convenient digital copy.  And if you're a more serious fan, you might also want to look into Psyche Visuals, a slim poetry book by Substratum collecting verses from a bunch of his past songs.  Each page has lyrics to one of his past songs (some unreleased solo stuff, and a few from Superman Is Dead), and the reverse has a nice, if brief, paragraph explaining each song.  He's also collected all of the songs into a free compilation on his bandcamp so you can listen along to the book.  Pretty classy, but I'd say that's more for the die-hard fans.  For more casual listeners, I just recommend the Mountain Breeze record, which you can cop here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Little Bit Frustrating, A Little Bit Awesome

Here's a dope record you've probably never heard of!  Ironclad's Ghetto Life, The Album from 2001.  Except, it's not really the album like it says right there on the cover.  But that's just a taste of the slightly confusing and frustrating aspects of this mysterious little EP.  What's more frustrating about it than the misinformation on the front cover?  How about the misinformation on the back cover, which lists all the guest artists appearing on this project, including Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Akinyele, Mark the 45 King, Shaqueen, Triple Seis, Davy DMX, DR Period, Kangol of UTFO, Clark Kent, BGF (who I'm guessing = G Rap's Black Guerilla Fam), Clark Kent and a bunch of artists I've never heard of.  Well, out of those, guess who's on this record?  Yeah, pretty much just the artists you've never heard of.  Except Big Daddy Kane, he's actually on here.  And to be fair, since the labels don't include production credits, I'm not sure about the producers.  Maybe one or two of them really did make a track on this.  But yeah, you see this record at the store (or online) and see all the artists promised, then take it home, put it on the turntable, and find out it's all lies.  What's up with that?

Well, to start with, Ironclad aren't exactly the artist on this record, though they sort of are.  It looks that way, certainly, from the cover, with "IRONCLAD" in all caps on the front and back cover.  And I'm clearly not the only dude who got that impression, since it's listed that way on discogs and by most sellers on EBay, etc.  But Ironclad, besides being the label, Ironclad Entertainment, is more of the extended posse.  You know how Killarmy is part of the extended Wu Fam, but a Killarmy album isn't really a Wu-Tang Clan album?  Ironclad, which is a bunch of young MCs who know, you're not supposed to have heard of, are all over this record, but they're more like the Killarmy to the main stars, Boriquaz 4 Life.  See that circular logo on the top left?  You're supposed to notice that more than the giant "IRONCLAD," I guess.  And I know, you haven't heard of Boriquaz 4 Life either.  There's a lot to unpack here, but I promise it will be worth it.

So, why do I say this isn't Ghetto Life, The Album, even though it quite clearly says it is?  Because I've heard a good chunk of the album, including the song with Kool G Rap, which is dope and remains unreleased!  Like the title says, both frustrating and awesome.  So the album was recorded, but only some tracks have made it online.  So Ghetto Life, The Album is an actual (if shelved) full length album; and what we have here is the only thing that was actually released, a 6-song sampler EP.  But this sampler is the only way to even get six of those cuts, and there's some really great material on here, so it's definitely worth picking up, even though almost none of those awesome artists listed are on it.

Plus, you actually have heard of Boriquaz 4 Life!  Don't shake your head at me.  It's true, because Boriquaz 4 Life is made up of two previously established artists.  You know those Next Plateau 12"s by a guy named The Microphone Prince that're in every hip-hop bargain bin ever, but you check out because Marley Marl is credited on one?  Yeah, he's one of them.  And the other guy's an even bigger deal: The Devastating Tito from the original Fearless Four!  Yeah, I've been doing these posts lately about what Peso's been up to, but here's what Tito was doing in the 2000s.  And no offense to Peso, but Tito's comeback definitely wins.  It's actually really surprising how he's able to rock the mic here; he's killing it and not at all in an old school, throwback way.  In fact, I honestly didn't believe he was one of the cats rapping here until I did some research and confirmed it multiple times over.

Yeah, Tito and TMP are ill lyrically, and their Ironclad guys, who are basically all younger artists they were managing and raising up under their wing, are too.  I think they're making a concerted effort to channel Big Pun, and that's always a good thing.  Like some of the best, indie NY hardcore random rap from the 90s vinyl days.  I mean, one of the dudes whose flow was clearly heavily inspired by Mystikal named Blue I is a little corny; but overall this is an EP of mostly posse cuts where everybody kills it.  "We At War" features a non-stop line-up of who knows, but they all sound great.  "All out Warfare," "Flow 4 the Streets," and "We Ballin'" are all along the same lines except without quite so many MCs, and are all hot.  A couple moments of nice scratching, too.  "Floss Game" is the one with Big Daddy Kane, and he kicks a really slick, high speed verse.  That song's just him, Tito and TMP, plus some girl named Boo Styles on the hook.  Unfortunately, production-wise, it doesn't live up to the MCs or the previous songs.  It could really use a remix, but it's still good.

The other song on here is the title cut, "Ghetto Life," which is more of a serious "The Message"-style track.  Tito comes off particularly well, but the production is annoying with a driving xylophone loop and Lil Tito, Tito's eleven year-old son, singing a terrible hook.  A remix could really turn this one around, too.  But even as it is, the lyrics raise it to at least "good."  Nothing on here is wack; and most of it is surprisingly impressive.  Especially when you look at the corny photo montage cover and the generic names doing so much of the heavy lifting.  Oh, and besides the 6 songs, you also get radio edits of two of the tracks, "We Ballin" and "Flow 4 the Streets."
Check out these two promotional images I was able to scare up online for the lost full-length.  Yeah, more ugly graphics work, but they make it clearer that TMP and Tito are the primary artists.  Oh, and look at that: Cormega was apparently on it as well.  It's really a shame that it never came out, but don't sleep on the EP.  The Devastating Tito in 2001, who knew?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Salt N Pepa Got Dissed

(Here's a fun, lesser known diss record targeting Salt 'N Pepa. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Father MC's Been Watching Howie Tee's Girl

Not only am I not out of Father MC records to talk about, but I haven't even finished covering all the singles off his first and most famous album!  But that's about to change right now, as we look at the fourth and final Father's Day 12", "I've Been Watching You."  I'm actually kind of surprised this exists, actually, because most major labels weren't getting to four singles back in '91 when this came out, especially if you don't count promo and plain sleeve stuff.  But here's a big, glossy picture cover after Father had already racked up three hits.  And this one doesn't have the big, catchy feel of the other singles at all.  It's got a clunky, discordant piano loop instead of the smoothed out, new jack R&B music, and it's the only song off the album with another rapper on it, as opposed to a singer.  Well, actually, Lady Kazan was sometimes a singer; but she just raps here.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of this type of record, and it was one of my least favorite tracks on the album, so add that to my list of reasons I was surprised to see it come out as a single.  It's one of those battle of the sexes back-and-forth duets Positive K and MC Lyte used to make, or Young Zee and Rah Digga like to do with each other. The basic concept is fine, but the main reason I never get into them is because neither MC ever really gets to flow.  It's always just one or two lines, then pass the mic, then pass it back, each one finishing each other's rhymes and punchlines.  On paper it's neat, in practice neither of them rap long enough for you to get into it and it's more of an intellectual exercise/chore than a song to groove to.  You know, like spoken word.

If Uptown was determined to make a fourth single, why not the title cut.  I always liked that one a lot better, and since it's more hardcore and not R&Bish at all, it still showed off Father's versatility, if that's what they were after.  And no offense, but it's not like Kazan's name was a draw; she never had any records of her own out (although I would've copped 'em if she did!).  You know, if he'd done the same record with Pepa, you'd say okay, they're bringing in her fan following.  She was actually Howie Tee's wife, but all most audiences knew about Kazan was that Chubb Rock rapped " Lady Kazan, my home girl, peace!" on "Treat 'Em Right."

The concept of the sing is simple enough; it's just like those Positive K records he's copying.  Father hits on Kazan, and she shoots him down.  The title comes from the premise that he's been watching her at a bar or club for a while before coming over to talk to her.  But really, it feels like an opportunity to play R&B trivia, because they just keep making references to modern R&B singers to each other the whole time.

Father: "Even though you make me sweat, like Keith Sweat said, I won't gas your head."
Kazan: "Tryin' to get in these boots, but you gotta spread your wings and fly like Troop."
Father: "That girl's old news, and now like Tony Toni Tone she's giving me the blues."
Kazan: "Play like Soul 2 Soul and keep on moving."

So if you're in the mood for some light-hearted 90's nostalgia, this song has definitely got you.  My favorite line is one that could only have come from that decade, "I know you're single, so why you frontin' on the mingle?"

I guess the reason they chose to release this is because they actually came up with a nice remix, which is here on this 12".  In fact, there's a couple mixes.  Well, first of all, you've got the album version, which was produced by Fresh Gordon.  Then you've got two mixes, the Daddy Remix and the Redhead Kingpin Remix.  The first is so named because Puff Daddy's involved with the mixing, but actually both of those remixes were produced by Redhead Kingpin, and they're actually basically just minor variations, using the same instrumental.  But it's really good, and a little more in keeping with Father's previous singles, with a smoother piano sample laid over a cracking breakbeat.  It's a nice track, and I imagine more collectors would be interested in it if it wasn't stuck behind a flowless battle of the sexes rap.  This is the version they include the Instrumental of, so that's good.

The only other mix is the Fresh Gordon Remix, which is a different set of samples and a cool variation, but very much in keeping with the feel of the album version.  Again, this production would be better appreciated with a different vocal track, and it's cool to see how far Gordon had come from his old 80s sound.  And yeah, the difference between the two Redhead mixes are really minor.  The Daddy Remix is a censored radio version (though all there is to censor is Kazan saying "ass" once), and the Redhead Kingpin Mix trims some of the talking at the end, where Father talks to Fresh Gordon, telling him, "that girl's got it going on," and Gordon says, "yeah, but she doesn't have it going on with you; that's Howie's girl."  The Redhead version drops the "Howie's girl" part.  It's a little frustrating, because it means that there's no way to hear the song with that (the best) instrumental without it being slightly edited.  The other two versions are unedited; but these two are tinkered with in a slightly annoying way.

So, at the end of the day, it's a good single with some cool, exclusive remixes.  But for Father MC fans only.  Nobody else is going to have time for this corny duet rap stuff; at least not while there's so many thousands upon thousands of better 12"s out there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MF Grimm's Vietnam Trilogy

(I don't know if you guys lost track of MF Grimm over the years like I have, but I've just caught up, and his new records may be his best yet. Correction: My bad! The first CD, Butter Soul, was actually produced by Architect of The Homeless Derelixx.  Though the second one's still by Drasar (with Ayatollah).  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Grand Killas From the Bay

(The march of new music continues on with a couple new releases by some of of the Bay Area's illest.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Have You Heard the Bankai Fam?

(In my continuing efforts to inject some new music to Werner's this Fall, I take a look at one of the most impressive new groups to hit the scene in a long time. Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Tilt! The Return of One of My All-Time Favorite Producers!

This is definitely one of the few albums I'm really excited about in 2016, and I didn't even see it coming!  You know, how you'll be waiting two to three years for your favorite guy to release that LP he announced, and you're constantly re-checking the calendar for that release date?  Will, this is the opposite of that, because I had no idea this was a thing until it became available to order.  On Tilt is the latest project from Luke Sick, the man who has a new group every month.  He's always great, so I'm already on board.  But what makes this one so much more special, is that it's a reunion with his original Sacred Hoop partner Vrse Murphy!  Yeah, every track is produced by Vrse, who's one of my all time favorite producers.  He's back, baby!

So, why is this an On Tilt album rather than an official Sacred Hoop album?  Well, look at the two dudes drawn on the cover.  That's not Luke and Vrse, that's Luke and a guy named QM, who's another Bay Area rapper, and this is just as much his album as the other guys'.  I'm not too familiar with his past work, but he's blipped on my radar for having a couple online songs with Luke and co., and he was one of the guys on the Mutual Daps album.  But he's actually got a deep history, as part of the Rec League family, then known as Cumulus, and his history of making records actually goes back like 15-20 years.  So we're not talking about some new kid getting carried on anybody's shoulders.

And the other reason this isn't quite a Sacred Hoop track is I suspect the deal here is that Luke & QM are rhyming over lost, unused Vrse beats from past years or something.  I say that for two reasons.  One, because while the liner notes do credit all production to Vrse, they credit "post production" to Richie Cunning (also of Rec League) and QM.  So that would make sense, right?  Vrse produced the tracks, then vaulted them, then QM & Richie produced the new recordings with Luke and QM rapping over them?  That's my guess, anyway.

And I also think that may be the case because I recognize one of these beats from seventeen years ago.  One of the first songs on this album, "Detox With More Liquor," features the same instrumental as one of my favorite Sacred Hoop songs (although admittedly, I have many favorite Sacred Hoop songs), "N.O.H."  That stands for "Not Our House," and it's about getting raucous at a house party with reckless regard because it's not your place.  It's one of their early collaborations with Z-Man, and it was on their cassette-only release Last Days Of the Hump Hut from 1999.  Almost every song on that tape wound up being included on the more widely released album Sleepover in 2001, but not "N.O.H.," because that wound up going to a compilation called Cue's Hip-Hop Shop instead.  So now it's kind of a rare Sacred Hoop song that's not on any of their albums.

And it still is.  Because "Detox With More Liquor" is using the same track, but it's an all-new song with all new lyrics and entertaining vocal samples for a hook.  And QM kicks fun, nihilistic freestyle rhymes like you can always expect from the Gurp City crew, but with a bit of a throwback 90s feel, "I'm unforgettable like scarin' a nun by airin' a gun.  Cum, I get busy like I got errands to run.  Vrse craft the beat like Dirk Dastardly; the flow make 'em say 'uhh, I'm Master P.  Um, actually, you must be fast asleep.  Ya feeling down, then load every last track from me.  Ya see Vrse he pleads the fifth and speaks with the beats, while me and Luke drops the speech that they loop to the beats.  That's word to me, Chuck and the Trav, gettin' drunk in the Aves like a couple of savs.  I don't fuck with the tabs, so that's more for you.  I detox with malt liquor, hit the store for brew."  I think I still prefer "N.O.H.," because you can't really top Z's energy on that song.  But two songs over a killer beat?  Yeah, I'll take that.

And to be clear, that's the only beat I recognize.  If anything else has been recycled, I think it's all unreleased material, so it's all brand new to my ears, which is just as good.  And it sounds great.  "Dank and Drank" has that classic Hoop feel, but really all the production is killer.  Some is dark and ominous, some is hard, and some is playful.  "Can't Go Home" has a sick human beatbox loop, and "Quest On Tilt" is a classic DJ cut, with DJ Quest cutting up over a chunky piano sample.  The whole thing ends with a tough posse cut featuring all the regulars: Lightbulb, Z-Man, Eddie K, Brandon B and TOPR.  It's a little album.  It's thirteen songs, but several of those are instrumental skits, and even some of the proper songs still clock in at just around two minutes.  So it's a breezy listen you're gonna want to repeat as soon as you hit the end.

As you can see in the pic above, this is an orange cassette release, limited to 200 copies, with full color artwork.  You can cop it cheap direct from the label, Megakut Records here.  And, of course, it's also available online via their bandcamp.  But obviously the tape's, like, a thousand times cooler.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Wlid Retirement Album of Trenton's Shawn Lov

So, I'm trying to add a little more new music coverage to this blog.  You know, no plans to forgo all the stuff I usually cover or big sweeping changes, but this has always been about hip-hop of all eras, every decade, and over time I think the feel of it's veered off a little into being a strictly old school blog. There's always going to be non-stop old school and history here, but not at the total expense of what's going on now. Admittedly, Hip-Hop may not be in the best place right now, but if you're willing to dig, there's still good music to be found.  So, you know, last post we looked at the return of The Fearless Four's Peso, and the next couple will be new music, too.  So that's just a little heads up for what you can expect around here in the coming days.  And for right now, we have the latest and apparently final album by Shawn Lov, his 2016 retirement album, Escape From Never Never Land.

Now it's hard not to be a little skeptical about any rapper's announced retirement.  I'm sure we all remember when Too $hort made a huge deal about retiring and his Gettin' It being his final album, before going on to release about 13 more albums to date.  And Master P retired somewhere between albums #6 and 7, Mase retired then came back, and 50 Cent said he would retire if Kanye outsold him, but then Kanye did and he didn't.  And didn't Jay-Z retire at some point in the 2000s?  You know, we live in a world where Friday the 13th 4 is The Final Friday, and the most recent entry was part 10... not even counting the reboot.  But of course rappers do genuinely get out of the game (I think I'm just about ready to give up on Big Lady K's sophmore effort), and I don't see any particular reason to disbelieve Shawn.  He's left New Jersey now and has his own, non-music-related business.  I'm just saying, if you're a fan, there's always reason to hope.  Like, if they make a second Shady Corps album, I don't see Shawn telling those guys to fuck off, you know?

But certainly for now, if not forever, this is the Shawn Lov's last album, and he's definitely decided to go out big.  This album is packed with 25 songs, and yeah, one or two are on the short side, and one's more of a skit than a proper song ("1986," which is a recording of him rapping as a kid), but this is still a seriously dense collection of material.  And since these are essentially his last words, he's clearly determined to get everything there is left off of his chest.  So there's a lot of raw emotion on display, including bitterness and frustration to a degree I'm not sure I've heard another rapper lay out so bare, at least on a personal level.  Yeah, you'll hear it from artists like Dead Prez talking about socio-economic conditions and all, but not on such a bare exploration of his own ego, delving into his rap career and why he never blew up, etc.  He's not shy about suggesting that he resents not being where Eminem is now, for example.  It's almost like this album wasn't made for the public to hear... and maybe it wasn't. 

I mean, it's not 100% all about him as a rapper.  There's a posse cut and a couple other tracks that seem to primarily be just about flexing skills, plus a song for his daughter at the end.  There's variety here, and tons of the punchlines and wordplay he's known for.  But I'm just letting you know, you're going to have to be able to work up at least a little genuine interest in the life and times of Shawn Lov as a person to really get into this album.  Like a lot of artists might be writing about themselves emotionally, singing something along the lines of, "I loved my darling, though she didn't love me back."  But the message is universal, and the listener can relate in the sense that, hey, I also fell for someone who didn't feel the same way once.  I also left my heart in San Francisco or like the cars, the cars that go boom.  But in this case, it's very specifically about Shawn.  His first verse on his first song starts out with, "y'all love my joints 'Disco Queen' and 'Love Doctor." Them shits' before two thou; fuck'm I supposed to do now?"  There probably aren't a lot of people in the audience who also wrote songs called "Disco Queen" and "Love Doctor" in the 90s who this would apply to.  And plenty of other rappers have done the career overview thing in the past... like LL Cool J's "Funkadelic Relic" or K-Solo's "Can't Hold It Back."  But this is a like whole album.

That's not really a criticism, though.  I mean it'll probably turn some people off, but fortunately Shawn's an interesting character, so it's easy to get curious about his story: "I was rhymin' and stealin' in '99 when I was as skinny as Ally McBeal and since then I've only come close to capturin' how I was feelin' when I was out for the deal and my chance to shine was actually real."  Does it get self important, you ask?  It sure does: "I have to remind myself I'm fuckin' with children, and I've been draggin' bricks through the desert for so damn long I that forgot what I'm buildin'" (and by the way, all these quotes so far have still been from the first song... and remember, there's 25 of them!).  But that's actually part of what makes it so interesting; he's putting out there what anybody else would filter - what he's probably even been filtering all these years before he decided this was the end.  And it's not like he's been shy about saying what's on his mind on previous albums, but there are moments that feel like telling off your boss on the day you quit your job: "you might imagine why I want you out of my face; like I can't even tell you what a pork chop tastes like, so I don't give a shit what direction you pray towards.  I make knowledge born; you just stand up and say words; and I don't gotta listen."

To better understand where he's coming from with this album, it would probably help to know that Never Never Land is an mp3-only album.  And that's where the imagery of Peter Pan with a mic from this album cover comes from.  I think the general idea is that Never Never Land represents the Hip-Hop scene that doesn't want to grow up.  But it's probably worth at least going back to just the "Never Never Land" title track before digging into this album for a more complete picture.

If you've ever looked at his youtube channel, you've probably seen Shawn Lov's series on how to make beats with an SP-1200, so you can imagine how most if not all of these tracks were made, and they range from good to great.  Most of the tracks are credited to Raiden, with the slightly confusing liner notes putting it like this, "Beats by Raiden (Metal Gear Solid), produced by Raiden with Shawn Lov (Metal Gear Solid)."  I guess Raiden made the beats, but they worked together in recording and assembling the final versions of the songs?  A couple tracks are guest produced, too.  Shawn's new labelmate Melph produced one of the two big posse cuts, "Expect War" featuring Sol Zalez, Self and another labelmate named Psix.  It's got a nice groove, but overall I prefer the other posse cut, "Universal Rhyme Kickers," with The Cause, Kwytestorm, Raven, The Massive and Self again.  Speaking of Self, The Custodian of Records is the other guest producer, with three tracks on here.  In fact, one of his tracks, "Spirits of '93," is my favorite on the album.  Not many beats can make you bob your head and laugh at the same time.

There are a couple other guests on here, though across 25 songs, that still means it's mostly Shawn on his own for long stretches, which is appropriate for a retirement album.  A couple of these cats I've never even heard of: Aalon Boots, Fatboi Sharif, Knowledge, Zach Childs, Horizon... but everybody sounds good on here.  The biggest guest is Pace Won, who appears on two songs.  "Suicide" is okay, but he really steals the show on "#FOH," which might be one of his best verses since his classic Outsidaz days, but it's dead serious, not crazy battle lines.

Escape From Never Never Land is available on CD and not, I believe, digitally.  You have to cop it the old school way, which is definitely fitting for this album.  It's available direct from the label, Akkie Records, which I believe is situated in the Netherlands. This is a new label for Shawn, whose previous albums have all been on Nuffsaid Recordings; but of course it's also his final venture with them.  But I don't know, maybe if this sells well enough, they can convince him to come out of retirement.  I'm not fully convinced this man never wants to rap again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Albums By The Fearless Four's Peso

Yo folks, I've got a big update on my post from last summer about The Fearless Four's Great Peso.  Like, two new album's worth.  So yeah, so once again I was hooked up by Matt (cheers!); and you may remember that Peso had kind of quietly mounted an underground comeback in upstate New York under the initials TGP.  Well, now he's a little less under wraps, doing some shows in NY and Germany and he's got two new CDs (you might say mixtapes, but they're not mixed or blended at all; so they're pretty much full albums in my book) under the more recognizable name Peso 131. He's even got a full website now at peso131.com.

A lot of the pros and cons with the new CDs are the same as with the old ones.  It's really cool to hear Peso back on the mic, but the majority of the material are these kind of club songs I've never really been a fan of.  You know, air horns in the instrumental, titles like "She's a Hottie."  Maybe this is what's popping in his local scene, but personally I'd much rather hear some more traditional breakbeat and soul sample kinda stuff, or even something reminiscent of his really old school records.  But it is what it is, and there are still some cool moments are highlights.  Overall, I prefer This Is How I Roll, which is a little more hip-hop.  It's all original production by names I don't recognize, but who I assume are all part of his Plattsburgh Home Team crew, except the first track, "Still Peso," which us over the "Still D.R.E." instrumental.  That's definitely one of the best tracks, and remember that song I picked out from his crew's mixtape called "My Universe?"  Well, that's on here; and they've even made a video for it up on youtube now.

Then the next album, Fearless 4, I wasn't feeling as much overall.  But it does have the best song across both albums, a reunion of the group (the rest of the album, to be clear, is a Peso solo album) called "Club Slappa."  They all come off really nice on the mic, and while the instrumental starts out kinda generically club-ish like a lot of album; the beat changes up and they start mixing in beats like "Peter Piper," and then you're on board.  It's also got some live trumpet by DLB Jr., which might sound like a bad idea on paper, but actually kinda works.  If Peso reads this, more like this song, please!  Now, "Club Slappa" actually popped up online a couple years ago, and I believe a couple of these other songs may be older, too; which is probably why these albums are considered mixtapes.  But it's nice they've finally found a home.  There's not really a storefront or anything, but I'm pretty sure you can cop these CDs if you contact Peso through his site.

I also got to hear some other stuff from his Home Team gang (no, not that Home Team).  There's a Home Away From Home mixtape, which is actually a proper mix, full of solo songs and the big posse cut I wrote about last year's post.  It has two more Peso songs, but they're both on This Is How I Roll, so if you get that, you've already got 'em.  And they also sent me the solo debut of Phonix Orion, who had one of the best songs on the Summer Sampler from last year.  I wasn't too taken with his appearances on Home Away From Home, but hearing him on own project, I was definitely feeling him more.

It's a cassette EP called Cashmere Phoenix, and it's got more of a laid back, jazzy kind of vibe that's completely removed from Peso's stuff.  I suppose it's more in step with what contemporary hip-hop in general, which makes sense, but he's definitely taking chances with beats that blend into breathy choruses and stuff. Lyrically, I could've done without lines about "haters," etc - the worst influence of his generation. But production-wise especially, it's actually considerably more impressive than Peso's albums.  Although I don't think I'm suggesting they get Peso on this style of song necessarily.

But since "My Universe" is one of his best songs, and it's the one they've chosen to make the video for; I think Peso's already moving in the right direction.  So like last year, these CDs might be just for the serious fans and old school collectors who are excited to hear that Peso's back and what he's up to.  But pretty soon we might be looking at something I'd recommend for the more mainstream listener.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Omniscence's Elektra Emancipation From Dope Folks

So, previously we've looked at the restoration of Omniscence's unreleased Elektra album, his rare earlier material, and his new comeback stuff. But there's one more period left to explore, which we finally get to hear, thanks again to Dope Folks Records. The EP has the exceptionally self-explanatory title: Elektra Emancipation: No A&R and No R&B Niggas In the Studio. This is material recorded from 1996-1998, after his stint with Elektra Records, and was back on his own, recording independent music without label influence. But thankfully, he kept working with The Bizzie Boyz' DJ Fanatic, who produced every song here. It's crazy this was never released at the time; these songs on 12" would've sold like hotcakes on Sandbox and HipHopSite back then.

Omni hasn't greatly changed from his Raw Factor time, but these tracks do have more of a hardcore edge. Part of that's probably due to aforementioned lack of mainstream R&B cats. There are no sung hooks or anything here, just nice scratch choruses. But part of the edge is coming from Omni, too. I mean, he's not back on his "When I Make Parole" steez here - he's still kicking punchline filled freestyle rhymes - but he just sounds a little rougher and maybe even angry at times.  I like it.

This is another six song EP, plus an instrumental Intro by Fanatic. The only guest on here is KT on "We Could Get Used To This," and he actually sounds pretty great on here. Like, he might actually be outshining Om on his own record. They both come off, though, and it's got one the catchiest beats I've heard in a long time with a looped vocal sample. That and "Total Domination," where he just sounds great ripping it over a dark and ominous beat are the stand-out cuts, but everything here is solid. There's a track called "Glamorous Life," surprisingly doesn't sound like Shiela E or Cool C's "Glamourous Life"s, but it still bumps.

This isn't a brand new release; it actually came out in 2015.  But luckily it's still available, because I just copped it earlier this month along with that crazy, must-have Mykill Miers record. As per usual, this was limited to 300 copies, 50 of which were on orange wax, and the rest are standard black. No Omni fan will be disappointed. I hope Dope Folks isn't slowing down anytime soon, because I'm always excited to see what they're going to come up with next.