Friday, January 5, 2018

Chino On Metro

So I thought I'd follow-up on my recent Chino XL post, about his brief stint on Warner Bros with this one about his one 12" on Metro.  So, like I said then, Metro is the indie label he wound up putting his second album (I Told You So) out on after Warner Bros, well, changed their minds.  Essentially, Metro didn't bother with any singles for that album, since Warner Bros had already done that job for them.  They just released the CD.  But there was this one, little promo 12" for "What You Got."  And the B-side?  "Let 'Em Live" with Kool G Rap again.  What makes this 12" interesting, besides being the only way for serious Chino fans to get "What You Got" on vinyl since I Told You So was CD-only?  Exclusive remixes.  But before yo get too excited, let's have a closer look.

I'll start with the A-side, since A comes after B, even though I'm sure we're all much more interested in "Let 'Em Live."  But "What You Got" is actually a pretty fun track.  It's just Chino going off showing off his skills in full braggadocio freestyle mode, naturally packing in as many punchlines as he possibly can.  Yes, that gets a little corny.  "Give ya more blood clots than two Jamaicans arguin'," "what I do to push your hairline back Rogaine won't help," "I'll turn on channel 2 if I wanna see B.S.," etc.  I mean, that last one might get a pass in some kind of politically minded song where he was actually commenting on the media; but here it's just a cheesy pun that has nothing to do with anything, thrown in because he fills his music with every pun he can think of.

Despite that, though, it's actually a pretty good song.  Like "Let 'Em Live," the beat is again created by Nick Wiz without any instrumental samples.  I specify instrumental samples because the hook actually makes use of some great vocal samples from Carlito's Way, which is a huge part of the song's appeal.  The rest of the track is carefully constructed studio sounds.  It's got more of a catchier, upbeat feel than "Let 'Em Live," but it's the same kind of thing.  And that upbeat feel might throw you off at first.  It sounds like something better suited for a junior member of Terror Squad to boast about his bling on than a battle rapper like Chino.  But I kind of like the unexpected merger of a hardcore rapper over a poppy beat; like Yah Yah with 5th Lmnt.  A pop rapper over a pop beat is crap; but there's a cool contrast on songs like this, with Chino flowing ruthlessly over the track, both elements feeding energy into the other.  It works.

It's obvious why Warner wanted it to be his next single.  I mean, I'm not sure it would've been a great idea even if they had done it.  Putting Chino on more of crossover track would smell like mainstream appeal to a corny label exec, but I think a more savy Hip-Hop A&R would realize the two elements would probably cancel each other out commercially.  The kids who were making "Wobble Wobble" and "Whistle While You Twurk" the #1 rap songs of the year weren't going to latch onto Chino XL rapping about how, "at a lynching I smile, cut myself down, murder your guest list."  But the whole thing's too damn jiggy for the underground screwfaces and purist backpackers who would've been interested in listening to complex battle rhymes.  Especially with that music video.  No wonder why Warners quickly drew back like whoa, we made a mistake with this one.

Oh yeah, did you know there was a music video?  As far as I know, it never aired, but it was included as an Enhanced CD bonus on Chino's next album, Poison Pen, which came out in 2006 on another short-lived indie label, Activate Entertainment.  I got the autographed "2 DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION" there (sorry, the shiny silver lettering doesn't scan very well), but the video is on disc 1, so even if you've just got the standard release, you've got the video.  And by the way, I've got a lot of shit to say about Poison Pen, but that's a whole 'nother blog.  So for now, just take a look at this video:
And yeah, that image is the full picture quality.  We're talking about an mpg hidden as a bonus track on a music CD in the year 2000, so it's relatively decent.  But the actual video?  It's clearly where all the label's budget went instead of clearing samples, with a dozen bikini models dancing in sandals around a rented mansion's swimming pool and driving around Miami in a company sports car.  Who would have listened to Here To Save You All and thought all it needed was a "Pumps and a Bump" make-over to blow up?  Well, somebody did.  It ends with a giant "© 2000 Warner Bros Records, Inc" screen, making you wonder if it was even legal for Activate to put it on their CD.  Probably not.

So, finally what we're really here for: the exclusive remixes!  Both songs feature Beat Shop Mixes in addition to the Album versions ("What You Got" also has the Instrumental), and despite the billion and one "Let 'Em Live" remixes I talked about last time, these official remixes aren't online anywhere.  Beat Shop is an alias a producer named Taurus occasionally used around that time, and he produced some stuff for guys like Guru and B-Real, so I assume he did these remixes.  Here's the thing, though.  They use the exact same instrumentals (and vocals, naturally).  Basically, they just beat juggle a little bit.  Like at the end of "Let 'Em Live," when they're saying, "knock 'em out the box, Chi?"  Well, now "Let 'Em Live" has about twenty seconds of that at the intro before going into the first verse, too.  That's the only difference.  It's maybe a one percent improvement for "What You Got," and I actually prefer the album version without that bit on "Let 'Em Live."  So don't all rush out and track this 12" down for the exclusive remixes.

The only other thing on this record, is at the end of side 2, is a short track called "Beat Shop Samples."  It's just little vocal soundbites that you used to see on those DJ battle tools records.  Like, a line from South Park and the sound of a gun shot.  None of these samples were used in the Beat Shop Mixes of the two songs or anything; they're just a random little bonus tacked on at the end.  So, all in all, an interesting footnote of a record, but not much more.  I don't know; it might seem like I'm bagging on Chino a lot here and last time, but I enjoy his stuff.  I bought his records for a reason.  Maybe I've grown out of them somewhat;...I think the whole genre's grown out of that jokey punchline simile style; but I wouldn't be going back to these records if I wasn't enjoying it.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Have a No Limit Christmas, Everybody!

(Happy Holidays, everybody - let's all have a No Limit Christmas!  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas in your culture, just give Master P and friends a chance to change your minds.  🎄  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Star Wars Rap!

So, hey, big surprise what the number one movie is this winter: another Star Wars.  This is their tenth movie, not even counting the weird DTV Ewok flicks, holiday specials, and what not.  So yeah, Stars Wars TV commercials, Star Wars McDonald's cups, Star Wars on every aisle of your super market.  Well, I hope you haven't come here hoping for a little break from Star Wars franchise marketing, because that's what I've got for you today.  Except, this isn't officially licensed merch, this is that off-brand, underground Star Wars rap, just barely flying under the litigation radar.  This is Walkmen's 1998 single "Fortruss" on Cybertek/ Atomik Recordings.

So, let's start with who the heck the Walkmen were.  Well, they were a Florida group managed by Celph Titled (who's all over this record).  In fact, Atomik was his label, and almost all of their releases were by The Walkmen and his own group, Equilibrium (with fellow MC DutchMassive a.k.a. Autologik).  According to their official bio, the leader of the group was Tino Vega a.k.a. Bloodsport the Spanish Prince.  And on this single, there's really only one other guy: Storm Trupa the Arch Angel.  I think he later got replaced by Murdoc, and maybe a couple other guys who were either a part of the group or just down with it; it's not entirely clear (a la Cappadona or Killarmy's relationship to the Wu).  Even their bio doesn't attempt to break down the line-up, just calling them an "ever changing collaborative crew" that has "gone through many transitions since then."  But for the purposes of this single, the Walkmen are a duo: Tino and Storm.

So yeah, these cats were from Florida, but they're nothing like The Jam Pony Express or that whole genre of Hip-Hop.  This is like anti-Miami bass, strictly representing very pure, traditional east coast Hip-Hop.  And for "Fortruss," of course, repping Star Wars 100%.

Produced by Celph Titled, the track is made up entirely of Star Wars soundtrack.  Little clips from the movie serve as the intro and outro, the instrumental is a blending key moments from John Williams' score, and the hook is more Star Wars soundbites being cut up by DJ Kramtronix.  It's seriously fresh what he does to R2D2.  And if you know Celph's work, you'd be right to expect a very polished, addictive sound.  He seamlessly blends some of the most famous, bombastic moments from "The Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme) to these light, exploratory flute riffs... all over boom bap beats, of course.  I've already covered other examples of Star Wars rap, but if you want to hear Star Wars music turned into rap beats, this is the quintessential track.

What's interesting about this song, lyrically, however, is how much these two guys are not on the same page.  Now, I don't know the Walkmen well enough to say whose verse is whose based on their voices, but I'll guess by their names and subject matter that Tino is up first.  He just spits basic battle raps, not even making slight references to Star Wars like "I'm a lyrical Jedi" or anything like that.  As far as he's concerned, I guess, this is just a basic rap record that just so happens to have a Star Wars-based instrumental. But Storm Trupa (again, I'm assuming) has just dived 100% into full Star Wars rap mode:

"While my squadron stands in a tight formation on the platform of an Imperial battle station, TIE fighters stand by for aviation... Then I annihilate.  Cloak my ship to investigate; jump into hyperspace, headin' back towards Echo Base.  This is my fortress, this is my place where we integrate with any other alien race.  Scouts give chase.  The Storm Trupa illuminates like a flare.  There's no despair when the Seventh Squadron is there!"

It's a weird oil and water combination, especially on the third verse, where they split it 50/50, and neither one is willing to give an inch.  Tino even brings in lyrical references to other franchises in his parts, "control your mind like a Sega, Street Fightin' all opponents like Vega."  Maybe nobody told him what song they were recording his vocals for?

There's a B-side, that isn't Star Wars themed at all, which is both a disappointment and a relief.  It's disappointing, because most people who copped this single probably bought it because it's Star Wars rap; and so for them, the second song doesn't deliver.  But objectively, I'd say it's a better song, and so it's a relief that the Walkmen get to be more than just a gimmick, and they've made something you can listen to while taking yourself a little more seriously.

"The Countdown Theory" is again produced by Celph Titled, and this time he raps on it, too.  The beat is smooth and this time more original, making nice use of Method Man's verse from "How High" for a hook.  There's also a remix of "Countdown," also produced by Celph, but it's not as good.  They get Kramtronix to add some more cuts, which is a plus, but he doesn't shine like he does on "Fortruss."

So the vinyl version features those three tracks, plus the three instrumentals on the flip.  I'm sure a lot of DJs appreciate getting the Star Wars beats to make further use of.  But here's the bummer: it only has the censored Radio Edit of "Fortruss" where the curse words are replaced by Star Wars sound effects.  That's actually a little amusing, but still I'm sure most heads want the uncut version.  Well, it's not on wax, but there's at least a CD single that put the uncut version into the world.  It has Street, Radio and Instrumental of all three tracks; so nine as opposed to the 12"s six.  It also gives us a picture cover with photos of The Walkmen (further confirming that the group = just the two guys at that stage), since the record only came in a plain sleeve.

The Walkmen only released one other single after this one: "The F-L-A-Team."  Get it?  It's like the Florida A-Team.  And yes, they created the instrumental out of The A-Team television theme.  I think that really shot them in the foot, because it made it look like they were a total gimmick act, only releasing music based on famous soundtrack themes.  Plus, it doesn't sound half as dope as the Star Wars stuff.  Celph produced it, too, and Kram did the cuts.  Storm Trupa's not on that one, but Murdoc is, plus a couple other guys on the B-side.  I can't say the end of The Walkmen was a huge loss.  They sounded alright, but Celph's a better rapper and even when they were doing Star Wars raps, their lyrics were kinda basic, "like Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, in any confrontation, I pull out my light saber."  You could get your little nephew to write that stuff.  The reason to get this single is Celph and Kram's slick re-working of the Williams score.  You know, listen to it on your way to see The Last Jedi in the theater, and then put it away 'till next year, when they release that Han Solo movie.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chino XL vs. Kool G Rap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Disturbers' Negusa Negast Is Real, I Swear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

World Renown 1.0, 2.0

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Halloween, You Cannot Escape Bigfoot!

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When the Grym Reaper and Paul C Were In the House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 5: Painting Puddles

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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