Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 6: The Lost YZ/ Shaq Collaberation

Here's an interesting limited vinyl (and CD) release I almost passed over: the unreleased EP by The Rat Pack called Porno Stars From Mars.  Okay, but who the heck is The Rat Pack, you ask.  It's a crew YZ put together in the late 90s.  It's four up and coming (well, at the time) MCs, specifically Delowe Marshalis, Sean Pender, The Third aka Boo the Product and Canon, with YZ producing them.  Can YZ even produce?  Has he done it before?  Well, he's had co-production credit on a lot of his earlier work, so maybe?  Surely we'd rather he rapped, but well, let's find out.

Porno Stars From Mars is an EP worth of material: six songs and a skit from 1998.  And actually the production's pretty solid.  The opening track in particular sounds hot, with a great chopped piano loop over some crispy drums, and the smooth vibed "Supa Shine."  With four MCs you've never heard before, I can't say any of them really distinguish themselves; only the guests do.  And this EP has some noteworthy guests: Taji from Souls of Mischief, Keith Murray who sounds really good on here and, yes, Shaquille O'Neal.  He sounds like his usual clumsy self, "The conceitedness of Brick City's Wells Fargo.  Get it, motherfucker?  'Cause I got a lot of dough.  And all y'all hatin' ass niggas, y'all be makin' me sick.  But since y'all pussies, squeeze your balls and cut off your dick."  Um, okay.

Overall, it's a pretty solid EP.  The production's better than I was expecting, and you definitely won't be able to listen to some of these tracks without nodding to them.  But I really wish YZ was rapping on here.  These guys are on a cool, hardcore tip, but sometimes their content's a little too basic.  The EP's limited to 500 copies, the first 100 of which come in full color picture covers pressed on translucent red wax.  Both the vinyl and CD also come with a photo postcard of the group (the one pictured above), and you can also buy a bundle which includes a T-shirt as well.  This is all on the Nustalgic record label, with all the B-Fyne material I covered on Day 1, which brings me to some other CDs they have on there I want to touch on briefly.

There's another group on there, who you've probably never heard of anymore than The Rat Pack, called Good Biz.  Well, Good Biz is actually a project B-Fyne was doing around 2010, basically a pair up of him and a guy named KP.  There's also sometimes a third member who sings some of the hooks; I think she's part of the group like Miss Jonez was part of The Get Fresh Crew.  But she did make it onto two of the covers.  Anyway yeah, they have a bunch of material: two EPs (Principles & Interest and Checks & Balances), a CD single ("Mr. Original"), and a full-length album (Sound Investment), plus another digital-only remix EP (Soul Proprietor) and KP solo album (Slaps).

I've been going through their stuff, and it's good but not great.  B-Fyne is a better MC than KP, and a lot of their production sounds kind of cheap.  But some tracks stand out with richer production, and there's some very interesting guests interspersed, including YZ (on a couple songs), Crusaders For Real Hip-Hop's Rahzii Hipowa, UGK's Bun B, Cool Nutz (remember, B-Fyne has a Texas connection) and Brother J.  Some of the more noteworthy songs are "Mr. Original" with YZ about sneakers and B-Fyne doing a little Special Ed homage, and of course the song with Brother J.  A lot of the production is by The Are, who they say is "of The Track Masterz," but I'm pretty sure The Track Masterz consists solely of Poke, Tone and sometimes Frank Nitty.  I think this might actually be the guy from K-Otix.  Some of these tracks also have some nice, subtle scratching on them, which is a plus.

Anyway, it's good to hear more material from B-Fyne and YZ.  It shows they've still got it.  But I also actually kinda hate some of the music here, like "Y'all Can't Ball" and "One For the Money."  They've got the kind of roster I love to cover on this site, but musically, I'd say it's better to pick through this material than go nuts and buy everything.  Most of the digital versions of the Good Biz projects are free, so you can download all that, and see if any of it inspires you to throw a CD in your cart while you're picking up some of the bigger ticket items, like the Blaque Spurm and Rat Pack.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 5: Redman Going Solo

Here's a really interesting record: Redman's "It's Like That (My Big Brother)."  What's so interesting about it?  Well, let's work our way up.  One thing that's interesting is that it's pretty typical for a major single to have a promo version and a nice picture cover version.  But the promo doesn't usually have its own, unique picture cover.  Red definitely can't complain that Def Jam was fronting on the marketing budget for his upcoming third album; this is down-right excessive.  But, hey, it's cool for DJs and collectors to have something more than just a black and white no frills label in a plain sleeve.

The next reason is that it marks the comeback of K-Solo.  He'd basically disappeared when his deal with Atlantic wrapped up in '92.  Plus, when EPMD split, he seemed to side with PMD's less successful Hit Squad than Sermon's powerhouse Def Squad.  Not that he made any appearances on Hit Squad projects either.  But now he was coming back on the most anticipated release from any of these guys, and it was on the Def Squad side, not Hit Squad.  The beat for this is co-produced by Erick Sermon and Redman (though it's basically just a slight tweak of Mantronix's classic "Cold Gettin' Dumb" for Just-Ice with a little "Top Billin'" laid over the top).  Did this also mean the Def/ Hit Squad split was healed?  Had everyone gotten back together and was an EPMD reunion next on the way?  Fans were understandably excited; and yeah, next year EPMD was Back In Business.  But K-Solo's career got left in a closet somewhere.  All he got out of it was a guess appearance on Stezo's indie 12"; and that guy was more on the outs that Solo.

So anyway, you already know the song on the Muddy Waters album is called "That's How It Is (My Big Brother)."  Redman and K-Solo trade verses back and forth over "Cold Gettin' Dumb."  But on the promo 12", the song has an alternate title: "That's How It Is (It's Like That)", and one of the versions on there, besides Instrumental and Acappella, is "(My Big Brother) - Radio Edit" (the Dirty version's on there, too).  So, that begs the question, what is "That's How It Is (It's Like That) - Radio Edit," a completely separate track without the "(My Big Brother)" part?

Let's look at the retail version.  Here, we get entire different sets of song credits for "It's Like That (My Big Brother)" and "That's How It Is (It's Like That)," even though they have identical writing, production, mixing, mastering, publishing and sample clearance credits.  There's just one difference.  Only "It's Like That (My Big Brother)" also credits additional vocals to K-Solo.  Yes, both 12"s have the duet you're all familiar with from the album and music video on them.  But they also have an alternate version with the same beat, but minus K-Solo.  Redman's verses are all the same, but since removing K-Solo would make the song about 90 seconds, he also has all new, additional verses at the end.  The song also has a different hook and is missing the "Reggie Noble's stinking ass" intro.

I'd love to know the story here!  Did Redman record the song solo, and then K-Solo came around last-minute, so they re-edited it to cut him in?  Or did they record the duet and then remake it without him?  Was this the result of the tumultuous Hit Squad/ Def Squad drama still bubbling, or maybe Redman just wanted a solo version so he could tour with the song when Solo wasn't around?  Which version came first?

Anyway, I've always been a K-Solo fan, so I like him being on there.  I mean, his return was what made the song so exciting in the first place, and the two of them going back and forth with their distinct voices gives the song more energy.  If the song's not a duet, it's a little too much like just an unnecessary "Cold Gettin' Dumb" rehash.  But on the other hand, any Redman fan is going to also want the solo version with twice as many bars of him going crazy like, "I go down to White Castle to get a bitch who's on the dick for the whip. The lyricist is shit; I explode at full blitz to put Time Warner on the fritz."

Both 12"s have exactly the same track-listing, which is unfortunate because, while they come fully loaded with the instrumental and radio edits of both versions, they only include the Dirty and Acappella versions of the K-Solo song.  And yeah, I like that one better; but it means we don't have an uncensored version of the Redman solo song; and as you just read, he definitely throws in some words that they had to cut out.  Still, either 12" is a big step up from only having the album and the one, famous version of the song.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 4: Old School Blue

(It's time to take it back, way back, to an obscure, 80s Camden group... who may actually have roots in Philly, but never mind.  It's Dirty Jersey Week Day 4!  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 3: More Wax

Okay, now that we're past the novelty rap, how about some brand spankin' new Jersey Hip-Hop?  The Custodian of Records is one of the contemporary producers I've been most excited about in the last couple years; he's produced for projects you've me carry on about like 7 Immortals, Sparrow the Movement, Shawn Lov, and the Written On Your Psyche guys.  Now he's finally hitting us with his debut solo vinyl release, Less Work, on his own imprint, Adult Edu.  You might remember me tweeting about his GoFundMe campaign for this record last year.  Well, it reached its goal, the whole project's completed and donators are now getting their wax.  And happily, since I never like to spoil it for myself by listening to any digital musical samples in advance of a physical release, it lives up to expectations.

Every time I cover an instrumental album, which isn't often at all, I mention that I'm not a huge fan of instrumental Hip-Hop albums in general.  Hip-Hop instrumentals are usually more simplistic and repetitive than other forms of pop music because the lyrics are so much more dense and require concentration.  And that all works great for complete songs.  But when you get a break-beat album, you're like, "this is a nice little loop, but these three seconds are just going to replay unchanging for the next four minutes?"  Even DJ Shadow albums and the like, yeah they have more change-ups and samples swapping in and out, but they still seem to ask you to vibe out to some pretty basic grooves for long periods of time.  And all that's fine if you're a DJ buying a breakbeat album to mix or produce with; but it leaves regular listeners a bit cold.  Or at least to me, it feels like reading a screenplay instead of watching a movie.  But Less Work is more in line with, say, DJ Jazzy Jeff's "Touch of Jazz" in that it's meant to be listened to and keep you hooked.  Except without the scratches.  Maybe next EP, Custodian could add some cuts.  But then again, listening to this record, it doesn't need any.

Less Work is eleven tracks deep, though in terms of length, it's essentially an EP, as most are two minutes or less.  So that helps keep the pace up.  But more than that, it's just that these tracks are  more complex than just break-beats, with lots of vocal and instrumental samples coming and going.  And the tracks fit nicely together despite having really different types of drums and moods.  The fact that it keeps shifting definitely makes it feel alive, so you're rewarded for paying attention and you want to.  It's actually disappointing every time you hit the end of a side of the record, because it's pulled you in and left you wanting more.  It's definitely not often you find albums you can say that about.

So as you can see in the picture above, this comes in a fresh sticker cover.  This is available even if you didn't contribute to the original campaign, but it's super limited; only 100 copies were pressed.  So that doesn't leave a you a big window of opportunity to jump on this.  If you want to order a copy, new copies are being sold through discogs.  That's about it; it's a pretty exclusive release.  And very much worth it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 2: No Foolin'

Whoops!  Did Dirty Jersey Week happen to fall over April 1st, the holiday I always post some silly, crazy rap thing?  Where am I going to find something completely crazy, ridiculous and yet absolutely real from New Jersey?  Oh, don't worry, I've got just the thing!

A lot of you younger folk probably don't remember Joe Piscopo.  He was a New Jersey-born early Saturday Night Live cast member, who went on to have a career mixing stand-up and impressions.  He's also dabbled in movies (Dead Heat with Treat Williams is a lot of fun), and he also did a couple of comedy records.  And these days?  He's preparing to run for mayor to replace Christie (no foolin'!  Hey, he'd have to be an improvement).  Naturally, he also made a couple comedy records.  Like, he would do skits or sing rock & roll songs as Frank Sinatra covers.  He had some big budgets in his prime, so when he would do a Bruce Springsteen cover, he had actual Springsteen band members playing on the record.  If you ask me, though, it's all crap except for one masterpiece.

In 1985, he released "Honeymooners Rap" featuring Eddie Murphy.  It was the lead (and only) single off of his 1985 album, New Jersey.  The concept is pretty simple, they rap with Piscopo doing a Ralph Kramden impression and Murphy doing Ed Norton.  But surprisingly, if you're willing to tolerate a complete silly song, it really works.  And that's thanks largely to the budget and who Piscopo was able to collaborate with again.

Yeah, there's a seriously legit Hip-Hop artist involved who turned this into a real rap song as opposed to the cheap, tin-ear stuff most novelty rap songs are made of: Grandmixer DSt.  Yeah, the guy with The Infinity Rappers who made some of the earliest and best Hip-Hop records of his time, including some big singles like "Crazy Cuts" and most famously "Rockit" with Herbie Hancock.  In fact, this is a very "Rockit" style instrumental, full of busy instrumentation, a leading electronic keyboard riff, big, rudimentary scratches (hey, this was 1985; don't come looking for any reverse crab flares) and heavy, heavy drums.  And it's not just DSt.; if you read the credits, there's a bunch of guys playing synths, horns, drum programming, etc.  In fact, they've got The Uptown Horns on here!

And to Piscopo's credit, A) he does a legitimately good Kramden impression (Murphy's Norton not so much, but it works well enough for the song), and B) really took his time writing the lyrics.  Each verse details the plot of an actual Honeymooners episode, as told first person by Kramden and Norton.  Like, they didn't knock this out in five minutes.  Somebody sat with tapes of old episodes, found the jokes and the sources of the most famous references, and then made a really complex Hip-Hop instrumental for it.  I mean, I remember as a little kid genuinely, non-ironically like this song, and I have to say, if you appreciate 1985-era Hip-Hop, it still holds up.

Now, this 12" was featured on a lot of compilations (where I first heard it), including Laff Attack: Rappin' and Goofin' and Rapmasters 7: The Best of the Laughs.  Curiously, they don't credit Piscopo at all, and list the artist as Lost Episodes.  I've listened to them all thoroughly, and we're not talking about two different "Honeymooners Raps" here.  One isn't a knock-off or a cover.  And the Piscopo album and single never ever makes a reference to "Lost Episodes" in their liner notes, so I have no idea what that's about.  Are the compilations somehow avoiding cutting Piscopo and Murphy a check by listing a fake name?  I mean, those Rapmasters tapes were broad, nationwide releases on a major label.  That sounds like the kind of trick a little white label would pull.  And you'd think those albums would sell a lot more copies if they could've had Eddie Murphy's name on the cover in the 80s, so it's not like they'd want to obscure the real credits.  It's very strange; I'd love to know the story behind that someday.

Finally, I have talk about the 12" specifically.  It's on CBS/ Columbia Records, and as you see comes in a pretty unexciting picture cover.  It's worth noting that the 12" puts Eddie Murphy's name right up front, when he isn't even credited on the New Jersey album.  But most importantly about the 12" is the Captain Video Version.  There's also an Album Version, which like its name implies, is the one on the album; and all the compilations feature the Album Version.  So does the 45".  But the Captain Video Version is an extended version with an all new verse, based on another Honeymooners episode (where Ed and Ralph buy a TV together and yes, Norton becomes Captain Video), plus an extended breakdown with some new cuts and instrumentation.  There's also a King Of the Castle Version, which is essentially just a dub mix, but Piscopo and Murphy improvise a little extra dialogue at the end that's only on that version.  So if you do appreciate this nutty song, you'll definitely want to track down the 12".

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 1: The Blaque Spurm Catalog

It's Dirty Jersey Week, folks!  I'm celebrating my home state with a week's worth of posts of underrated NJ Hip-Hop.  I've doing old stuff, I'm doing new stuff and I'm doing new releases of old stuff, like today's entry.

Blaque Spurm is some deep, underground Jersey legacy.  I first discovered front man B-Fyne on the Crusaders For Real Hip-Hop album.  Actually, I probably heard him first on the Fu-Schnickens first album, but I didn't pick him out as anybody of note until I started digging deeper into Tony D's career in the late 90s/ early 2000s.  Like, I grew up on YZ's first album, but I had no idea B-Fyne is the guy he was talking to on "Back Again," even though he clearly says his name.

Anyway, B's crew, Blaque Spurm, were briefly signed to American Records/ Ill Labels back in 1994.  Like every Hip-Hop act on that label, it was a short lived association, and they released their only other record on Tony D's indie label, Contract Records, the following year.  And apart from a couple other guest appearances and some self-released stuff you probably had to catch them at a show to cop, that was all they put out.  Two slick, well regarded underground 12"s.

That is until their Spurmacidal Tendencies album, anyway.  This is a collection of their previously unreleased 1994 recordings collected onto one, full-length CD released by Nustalgic Records.  And yes, that includes all three tracks from their two 12"s as well.  A couple of the tracks are produced by unknowns (including one or two from their singles, so you know those are still dope), but the overwhelming majority is by Tony D himself.  The crew is somewhat hardcore, but definitely on some serious 90s backpacker shit.  Songs like "Nonoxynol Rhyme'n" definitely reminds me of the days of collecting tapes by crews him Masters Of the Universe or Living Legends.  But those guys never had the benefit of the rich, polished production Tony D provides.

Is this album dated?  Oh yes, and that may add to its charm or be a serious weakness.  Lots of easy pop culture punchlines "I'm like that purple dinosaur Barney; I'm large" and nerdy super scientifical lines like "I hover over tracks using levitational skills."  Young artists today would never write songs like these, and that's not me being an old guy shaking my cane at today's generation; that's a compliment.  But if you lived through that period like I did, it's going to nicely swan dive into nostalgia value.  But even if it doesn't and hearing that stuff just makes you wince now, there's still undeniable skill on hand here; and most young MCs who have the advantage of living in more sophisticated times would still be lucky to write a verse half as compelling as B-Fyne does consistently here.  Like check "Awh Fuck It;" it's like his "Greatest Man Alive."  He kills it (and yeah, even though it's a group album, B-Fyne is definitely the star, with several solo songs).  My only criticism is that Spurm allowed themselves to be too influenced by the trends of their time.  Now, this CD's kinda been making the rounds for years on the down low.  But this new version has an unlisted bonus track called "Nearing the End;" so if you never copped it before, now's the perfect time.

And that's not the whole story.  Before Blaque Spurm was Blaque Spurm, they were known as The Funk Family.  They even had a 12" out in 1992, which I'm not gonna front, I knew nothing about until recently.  And in addition to Spurmicidal Tendencies, Nustalgic has also compiled a full album of The Funk Family's unreleased recordings from 1991 to 1993, called Everything'll Befyne.  Yeah, guess who's the star again.  Again, he has a couple songs, and again, Tony D produced almost the entire album.  Two were produced by The Baka Boyz.  But there's a big difference.  Despite the small gap of time between the two periods, The Funk Family stuff is much hyper.  They're yelling over faster, high energy beats with crazy, fluctuating styles, clearly influenced by crews like Fu-Schnickens, Rumpletilskinz, Das EFX and LotUG.  Some songs are slower, but it's still a big jump from Blaque Spurm.  Both albums are dope; I'm not sure I have a favorite; but they're definitely distinct.

There are some weird moments, like when they group does a very disharmonious rendition of a Sequence routine.  And Tony takes the mic a couple times.  Disappointingly, this leaves off one of the four songs from their original 12"; and curiously, the previous version of this compilation had a very different track-listing, with a bunch of different songs.  I wish we could just get everything; but I guess they just have too much music from this period.  maybe they'll do a Volume 2 down the road.

And that's still not the end.  Nustalgic has one more CD: Wake Up Call by Baby Chill.  Baby Chill is a member of Funk/ Spurm and actually B-Fyne's brother.  He's tragically passed away, but this CD brings back a full album of material he recorded in 1993 with his Secret Squirrels crew.  Production is entirely by Tony D, so it has a real nice sound as Chill seamlessly transitions from smooth to playful to serious.  It's more in tune with the Blaque Spurm sound than the Funk Family; but it's definitely it's own thing.  Really good.  The album's thirteen tracks long and has been floating around the internet for ages; but now it's got an official pressing with a bonus track: the "Good Morning Vietnam" posse cut from Tony D's mp3.com album.

It would be nice if there was vinyl for all this; but these CDs are packed, so at best we could've probably just hoped for EPs missing a bunch of the tracks anyway.  The CDs also come with some stickers and postcards with group photos and stuff, but they've also added all this stuff to ITunes and probably some other mp3 outlets if that's more your thing.  Me, I still demand a physical copy for my collection, so I had to have the CDs; and it helped that they were on sale (still are as of this writing) from their official online store.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Learn Along With Werner, part 9: One and One More

Several years ago, I blogged about the two records by a somewhat obscure, 90s duo called One and One.  It was actually sort of a secret comeback record for UTFO's Doctor Ice, who signed with a new label (Next Plateau) under a new name with a new, updated style.  The other member was his cousin, and they called themselves Harry Balz and Sonny Boy (Doc = Sonny), which he later changed to Sonny Bumz.  The records were hot, especially their debut single "Phenomenon," but you know Next Plateau wasn't exactly launching careers in the late 90s, so they never got the recognition they deserved, and they just had the two records.

...Or so I always thought.  But recently I got to have another one of those awesome moments where the internet showed me a record I never knew existed back in my day.  Apparently, before signing to Next Plateau, they pressed up their lead single independently, and used that to get industry attention.  It makes sense, as that's exactly what Doc Ice had done just a couple years prior, releasing his first solo comeback single on his own label, Rely On Selph Records, before getting it picked up on Wrap/ Ichiban and coming out with his second solo album.  It's actually pretty impressive that Ice could keep resetting his career and with a single 12" get a new record deal, considering most rappers go their whole careers struggling to get signed once.  But even if you don't like his style, think he's too old school or maybe some of his humor's corny; that guy's an undeniably talented MC.  And so here we have "Phenomenon" by One and One on a little label owned by Tyrone Thomas called Streets Of Sound Records.

So, "big deal," I hear you say.  "A rare, early pressing of the same single that came out wider a little later on?  Maybe you can get your collector jollies on, but otherwise it's just the same song, right?"  And it is.  I listened to them back to back, and the it's not even an alternate rough mix or anything.  "Phenomenon" is exactly the same, including the spoken intro.  It even features the same four versions: Radio, Album, Instrumental and Accapella.  But this original, indie pressing has something the later records haven't got: an exclusive B-side.

So forever, I thought One and One only had three songs to their name (well, unless you count that weird, Absolut vodka compilation album).  But no, there's a fourth!  And by the way, this record also teaches us something else very interesting.  The Next Plateau single always credited the production of "Phenomenon" to Swing Of Things Productions, whoever the heck that was.  But this early record label spells it out; it's Mark Spark, along with a partner named Hasan Pore.  And they produced both the tracks on this 12".  And the instrumental's on here, too, for those wondering; though it's more of a TV track.

So how's the new song?  It's cool.  It's definitely not clear to me why Next Plateau didn't choose to include it.  I mean "Phenomenon" definitely stands out as the cut that could really make noise in '96; but both are solid tracks; there's definitely no reason to bury "What's On Your Mind."  It's got some cool, moody production.  And it's a relationship song, but it's much closer to "Looking At the Front Door" than some pop love rap.  It's about the frustration of not being sure what your partner's really thinking even when she's saying all the right things.  Is she really cheating on you or just doesn't want to see you?  Doc does his first verse from the perspective of a man in jail writing to his woman at home, and he ends with a pure sex brag.  The whole record is on a surprisingly street tip you never would've expected from the UTFO guy in a lab coat and stethoscope.  Werner approves.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Return Of the Box Cutter Brothers

So, late last year I did a video about the ill, Vietnam-themed records MF Grimm has started coming out with.  As a bit of an addendum in that video, I talked about another project his producer put out on their label: a CD by The Box Cutter Brothers.  The Box Cutter Brothers is the duo of producers Ayatollah (who's worked with everybody from Mos Def to Moka Only to Rakim) and Drasar Monumental (Grimm's producer), and it was a breakbeat CD, where Ayatollah produced the first half of the beats and Drasar did the second half.  The one I had in my video was their first album, but they'd actually put out two more by the time I made by video.  Part 2 was also on CD, and I think Part 3 was mp3-only.  But now Part 4 is dropping, and they're putting it out as a proper, vinyl LP.

But if you've kept up with this blog, you probably know I tend not to get terribly excited over strictly instrumental hip-hop.  It can feel like holding the blueprints instead of living in a house; I want vocals, I want the full song experience!  I've discussed this before, so I won't carry on about it.  But if you want to see why Box Cutter Brothers 4 really got my attention, look at the bottom left-hand corner of the picture cover... "Vocal Version."  Yeah, every track on here is a full, vocal song!  And they didn't go the expected route of wrangling all their friends and connections to make a producer-themed compilation album, like Marley Marl In Control or that DJ Bazooka Joe album on Dope Folks.  They're doing all their own rapping; like when Diamond D decided he didn't need Master Rob anymore.

And I'd say the Diamond D comparison is fairly apt, because neither of them are going to make anybody's Top Fives, they both know how to flow over their own work enough to make a solid record.  Ayatollah goes for a very low, literally whispered flow over his smooth, somewhat dark beats.  It's got a very atmospheric, organic feel that draws you right in.  He re-uses his vocals for two songs at one point, but it all sounds good, which is what counts.  Drasar, on the other hand, takes a very different approach.  Here, each song is very distinct, and he has a more bombastic style.  I'm not talking Mystikal or Waka Flocka levels here, he's actually got kind of a Pete Nice style; but after the A-side, you really feel the extra energy.  And instrumentally it's the same; he rocks some pretty crazy loops on his side.

And it's not just rapping over breaks.  There's cutting, plenty of vocal samples and hooks.  These are full fleshed out songs.  But, still, the production is primarily what's on sale here.  I recognized a few samples... a stray piano loop on the Ayatollah side, and they sampled by homeboy 2XL.  But even when I was familiar with something, it was completely re-purposed and contextualized into a new, unique instrumental.  The only weakness to this album is that there's no real single to grab you.  You know, like JVC Force's whole album was hot, but "Strong Island" was that amazing joint that immediately got everyone hype.  Drasar hits some nice, head-nodding peaks (and substantive topics); but there's still no "Strong Island" equivalent here.  The whole album is one tight listen, but you have to be prepared to settle in for something subtler than quick thrills.

So yeah, this is a full LP in a picture cover available directly from Vendetta Vinyl, and I assume will start appearing at the usual online retailers soon.  AccessHipHop had the first two CDs, after all.  And there is also a CD version of this one, for those who'd prefer that over wax, plus an LP/ t-shirt combo.  The fact that this is labeled a "Vocal Version" does suggest to me that an instrumental version might follow one of these days; but nothing's been announced so far, and this is the ideal version for me anyway.  I was impressed by this record - you can listen to soundclips here - and I hope BCB 5 is a Vocal LP, too.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, The Final Chapter: Craig G Does Horrorcore?

I've only covered an album or single that I don't own on this blog three or maybe four times over the years, and it feels weird every time I do it.  But I'm doing it again, because I just had to include this one in my Infinite Playlist series.  Craig G's horrorcore song.  Now, Craig has flirted with horrorcore before.  He's theoretically on intro and outro of The Gravediggaz first album (though I've never been able to pick out his voice).  And years later, Prince Paul actually put out a Gravediggaz song with Craig rapping on it called "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark" (off the promo-only version of Gold Dust).  But Craig actually kicks his verse about New York City cops, and really the whole song's about racism; plus it's always it's debatable whether Gravediggaz should ever have been filed under horrorcore at all.

But here's a guy for whom there's really no debate.  Richard Gein, a Texas "death rapper" who presumably named himself after the serial killer Ed Gein.  I don't know; I'm not gonna front like I've heard of him before.  But looking him up, he's got eight full-length CDs on discogs and even more on his bandcamp (and if you're interested after reading this post, physical CD copies of this album's seem to still be available directly through his bandcamp).  I've been going through a lot of his online catalog for this write-up and he's got kind of a put on, deep voice and a simple, direct flow.  His production is kind of slow, atmospheric sample-heavy stuff.  He pretty much sounds like what you'd expect someone with those album covers to sound like.  Think of a low energy Necro, or maybe more accurately Willus Drummond as inspired by Esham.  He's far from the latest generation's Rakim, but for horrorcore fans starved for material, you could do worse.  Shock value is really what's for sale here, and if you're looking for whole albums worth of songs like The Geto Boys "Chucky," Gein aims to deliver.

So Gein seems to have been doing this for years, developed a following, and it's only natural he'd start to pull in some guest verses, right?  Besides Craig G, he's also had Thirstin Howl III, Insane Poetry, Killah Priest and Prince Paul on his projects.  But we're here for Craig, and his song appears on what I think is Gein's... fourth? album, Killin Sluts from 2010 on Ruler Why Recordings.  Ruler Why is one of Gein's main producers, and that includes this song.  It also features another rapper named Blazey, who's one of Gein's labelmates and actually has a much smoother flow.

The song's called "Un-Optimisitics," which all you old school heads should get right away.  It's a quote from Craig's verse on "The Symphony:" "this jam is dedicated to all un-optimisitcs that thought I wasn't comin' back with some exquisite rhymes," and yes their DJ cuts that up for the hook.  So Craig G, a DJ cutting up classic Marley Marl records, you might think maybe this is a more generic, non-horror-themed outing for Gein.  But nope, it goes all out, and the fun part is, so does Craig G.  When he starts out, he sounds like he might be doing some regular Hip-Hop with just a little violent imagery, like MC Shan's "Hip-Hop Roughneck" or something, but he winds up going all in.

"Make a wrong move for that mic? We split your spleen.
Half of Craig G, the other half of Richard Gein.
Rappers run for cover every time we hit the scene.
We seal off all the exits so that nothing gets between.
Then we start slashin', sounds like cars crashin';
The way that your bones break is done with all passion.
Missin' Persons 10 O'Clock News is broadcastin';
'Cause of our killing spree, there's tons of lost action.
Ted Bundy, Buffalo Bob, you know Gacy.
Follow your favorite rapper's girl outta Macy's;
Snatch her in the back of a van, attachin' her hands
To the cuffs, then the blade's right in her guts.
I carry duct tape; the quiet don't allow screamin'.
Take her to my dungeon, give her somethin' to believe in.
Cyanide in her IV, I get psycho; her eyes closed,
She lost her motor skills like Bret Michaels."

Holy crap, Craig G wrote that?  I never thought I'd see the day.  The first half, maybe, but by the time he got to "the blade's right in her guts," I was like wowww.  Of course ending with that punchline feels like classic Craig, but the rest is a trip.  I think it's pretty cool that Craig was enough of a sport to play along and dive right into Gein's milieu, and I'm sure he was happy to prove once again how versatile he is.  And you know, if Craig G ever released a horrorcore album, I would buy that crazy thing.  This is why it's worth digging through Craig's "Infinite Playlist," because there's no telling what you'll find.  You think it's all gonna be a bunch of soundalike, east coast underground backpack rap, but no sir.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 3: Helpin' Marley Do the New Jack Swing

So, I was still young when I bought Force MD's Step To Me album (Tommy Boy, 1990), and honestly, I bought it before having heard even the single just because I was hoping they'd go back to some of their Hip-Hop roots and do some rapping.  That was a pretty optimistic blind-buy.  They changed their style album after album, but except for one brief Stetsasonic song, they never returned to their original, pre-major label music.  And that's fine; they made some great, classic R&B and some fun, pop New Edition-like music (come on, who doesn't like "One + One?").  And in 1990, they went full New Jack Swing.

This was their second album as a whittled down four-man crew, when their line-up consisted of just T.C.D., Trisco, Mercury and Stevie D.  So this was not only post DJ Dr. Rock, of course, but after Jessie had left.  Anyway, the A-side of this album is pretty okay, but the B-side basically sucks.  There's more of a leaning towards traditional R&B, which is fine; but it's not far enough to be actually good, and it ends with a modernized remake of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" with a corny rap verse (one of two cuts with them rapping that the MD's do deliver on this album, admittedly).  But, yeah, the A-side's better.  That's where their single is from, and they've enlisted some good producers including Full Force, who even sing with them on one song.

Oh, and they also got Marley Marl, which is how Craig G comes into the story.  Marley produced two tracks for this album.  "How's Your Love Life?" and it's not the better of the two.  It inexplicably starts with a keyboard refrain of "Hail, Britannia" before mixing in some hip-hop breaks with pop music about infidelity.  Marley does some cuts and it's not terrible - the MD's sound alright on their chorus over the "Peter Piper" bells, and there's some interesting live guitar - but it's disappointing.  The album's title track, however, is much stronger.  If Tommy Boy had given the MD's another single, that would've been it.  But unfortunately, this was the end of their major label run; and they didn't come back until years later with their oddball independent album, minus Mercury and Trisco.

"Step To Me" has a cool bassline and a smooth, coherent feel.  If "How's Your Love Life?" was a jumbled mess featuring everything including the kitchen sink thrown into a big, sloppy pot, this is a slick, refined song with some nice piano and sly vocals by the MD's.  It's also got two verses from Craig, so it's a little more than the typical R&B song with the token rap verse at the end that the genre would develop in the coming years.  And while lyrically, it's nothing amazing, he sounds really good. It almost feels more like a Craig G song featuring the MD's than vice versa, and could easily have fit right into Now That's More Like It after "U R Not the 1."  Everything about this song just clicks; you can see why they made it the title track.  And again, by all rights, it should've been a single, too.  "Are You Really Real?" (which even uses the same root sample that Teddy Riley did on "New Jack Swing") admittedly had more energy, and I dig it; but I could see a music video for this getting a lot more play on Video LP back in the day.  Sherry Carter definitely would've kissed it, not dissed it.

There's no 12" of this, though.  So interested heads will have to buy the whole album, which is fine for Force MD and new jack swing fans.  But if you're just into Hip-Hop and Craig G, you might just have to find an mp3 or something and call it at that.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 2: Drum, Bass 'n' Craig

So pouring through the endless list of guest spots on my Craig G page, this is probably not one of the records anybody would guess that I owned, but I do.  Mostly just because I was trying to fill a "buy 3, get 1 free" type of offer, and I spotted Craig G's name.  I had no idea who Woogie was, but what the heck.  "Free Your Level," 2003.  Craig G guest spot for free, D&D Records is one of the labels, should be pretty decent, right?

Well, when I first put this on the turntables, I thought I'd made a big mistake.  Even for a free record.  Woogie's not a rapper, or even a Hip-Hop artist at all, I realized; this is a Drum 'n' Bass record.  And not to dismiss the whole genre, but it's not my thing.  I'm a Hip-Hop head.  And this is just Craig G lazily freestyling off the top of his head over a DnB beat that doesn't fit the vocals at all.  At the beginning of the song, he proclaims that he'll "spit shit to anything, dawg, anything" and alright.  But I'm not sure people want to hear just anything.  Yeah, they mix in some classic Craig G samples (first the "Droppin' Science" remix, later "The Symphony," then back to the horns from the original mix of "Droppin Science") at certain points, but still, no thanks.

But fortunately I stuck with it to try out the B-side.  Because it is so much better.  The A-side is actually a remix by Mike & Ike, some drum & bass guys.  And look, DnB isn't my thing, but I can appreciate a really good DnB record.  But this mix isn't a really good DnB record.  Maybe there's a bit of novelty/ nostalgia in hearing Craig against some of his old school samples, but really, just listen to the original records, they're infinitely better.

But the B-side, which is actually the original mix, is kinda dope.  So, who/ what is Woogie?  I'm still not too familiar.  I've heard his other single, "Painting a Rhythm," and that's pretty generic Drum 'n' Bass.  But this Original Woogie Mix of "Free Your Level" isn't.  I mean, it still has a drum line that's atypical Hip-Hop and closer to DnB, but it's got much more of a Hip-Hop appeal.  It's got a really terrific, head-bobbing bassline and jungle sound effects looped in the background a la "Sounds Of the Safari" (though not nearly as complex or creative in that regard).  And Craig G sounds really natural riding over this beat; this must be the one he actually recorded to.  And it's long, like seven minutes of non-stop flowing from Craig.  If you're in the mood for something different, this one's actually pretty funky.

It's just the two versions of the song, one on each side.  No instrumentals or anything.  It's a 12" that plays at 45rpm, and as you can see above, comes in a sticker cover.  There's a full-length Woogie album, called Farmin for Beatz, which also came out in 2003 on the same label, Taciturn Records.  It has the original Woogie version of this, and that "Painting a Rhythm" song from 2002, too.  It has some interesting samples and stuff, but I wouldn't recommend it for non-DnB fans.  Just get the one 12" for the Craig G song, which you should be able to scoop up for under a dollar.  It's no Juice Crew classic, but it's worth more than that.