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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Craig G's Infinite Playlist, Part 1: Craig G & Barkim?

Guys, seriously.  Check out the Guest Spots section on my Craig G page; I've just been updating it.  And without exaggeration, I ask: could this be the most guest verses a rapper has contributed to other artists' tracks in the history of Hip-Hop?  Is this the honest to God record?  Should we have an intervention?  I mean, some rappers have had a year or two where they were netting some crazy numbers.  Like Grand Puba or Canibus.  But then they kinda flamed out after a couple years.  But Craig's numbers keep rising.  And that list only counts physical releases that've actually been made available on CD, cassette and vinyl.  Think of all the random stuff on obscure rappers' Youtubes, Bandcamps and Myspaces that must be out there that we've never even heard of!

And if your question is, Werner, do you actually own all of those?  Nope.  I'd like to meet the man who does, if such a person exists.  But I do have some of them.  So I thought I'd make a little mini-series of posts looking at some of the random, curious entries.  I mean, okay, a guest spot on a Sadat X solo album kinda goes without saying, but there's a lot of big question marks on that list.  In fact, a post I made a couple years ago already fits, so check out this 2010 post about Craig G's record with Strippoker.  What, you've never heard of Strippoker?

But today I'm starting with a different record, Craig G's record with Domination Statuz.  You've probably never heard of them either, but as far as I can gather, they're two guys from the Bronx.  This is their only record, released in 1999 on the slightly infamous label, Echo International.  Apparently they went on to release an mp3-only EP in 2001 called Operation Domination... you can read it getting a pretty negative review in German here.  But happily, the criticisms, at least about the production - Google translated: "monotonous beatbox production, cold computer stunts and simple synth effects" - don't apply here.  This record has strong drums and nice, crispy samples.

Now, the sticker cover says both songs feature somebody named Barkim, and Barkim also gets sole writing credit for the song.  But there's only two voices (not counting Craig), so even though it doesn't help that he doesn't say his own name on any of the tracks to identify himself, I think Barkim is actually one half of Domination Status.  And the other guy seems to be named Shine (guessing on spelling).  Is it possible this Barkim is the guy down with Nas?  Listen to "Represent" and he says, "Barkim, my brother Jungle, Big Bo cooks up the blow," and the 2001 song "Gangsta Tears" (from the Exit Wounds soundtrack) is all about how his man Barkim got shot.  And he also ran with another guy named Barkim who got locked up (yeah, they're two different people).  Now, Craig is from Queens and has made records with just about everybody from there, but these guys do refer to themselves as being from the Bronx, so maybe it's a different Barkim.  After all, it is an actual first name a number of guys have.  Or maybe he moved, who knows?  Maybe somebody who actually knows these guys can comment and shed some light on this mystery.

Whoever these guys are, they're not bad.  But they're not exceptional or anything either.  This is a pretty solid NY street record.  Domination Status are a little basic, but a strong track with some a tiny piano loop and a number of layers, plus the cameo by Craig on a harder record then you usually find him on add up to a nice, little single.  It's a typical, this-is-the-dirt-we-did-to-become-iced-out kind of record, with some bland punchlines like "kicking the real shit like Bruce Lee."  But Craig comes in with a slick message in his verse that's sincerely heartfelt enough to not come off as preachy.  Craig is also on the hook, so it doesn't feel like a phoned in cameo where he just emailed them a verse; and in 1999, I guess cats weren't doing that yet anyway.

There's a B-side called "Murda He Wrote," which has some more solid production, though it hurts for another Craig G appearance.  They shout out Biggie and 2Pac just like they do on their 2001 EP, so lyrically these guys are on the same tip.  The other credited artist, China Mist, is a girl they have singing the hook.  She's pretty good, and matches well with the instrumental.  It's not gonna classics like "One Love" or "Sugar Hill" out the box, but it's actually pretty good.  I actually recommend this record.  It's got Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions for both tracks.  And I would say it's a shame Domination Statuz never put out anymore records, but after hearing what's supposed to be the best track off of Operation Domination (it's on youtube), maybe it's just as well.  But this 12" is kinda nice, especially since you can pick it up cheap.  Craig G fans will be happy to add it to their crates.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Overlooked Princess of Brooklyn

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(It's been a little while, but nothing's changed - here's a look at one of Brooklyn's most underrated female MCs: PreC.I.S.E.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flippin' PHD's "I'm Flippin'"

This is one of those posts I'm writing as much for my own benefit as for any of yours.  See, "I'm Flippin'" is a dope song from PHD's underrated 1991 album Without Warning on Tuff City Records.  And it was a single.  I mean, they practically released singles for half the album, but this one had a video and everything.  Raw, Queens street rap about dealing long before the rise of Queensbridge criminology and Cuban Links, Illmatic, AZ, Tragedy's reinvention, etc.  I mean, this was after Kool G Rap's "Road To the Riches" and "Streets of New York," so I don't want to oversell this as completely inventing a subgenre or anything; and I know Rick Ross and everybody has turned pushing weight into kiddie pop music nowadays; but I remember it was fairly eyebrow raising to have a music video be that detailed about hustling drugs at that time.

So anyway, besides being on the album, "I'm Flippin'" was released as one half of a cassingle I already covered on this blog, "Do It Any Way You Wanna Do It."  That single featured a couple remixes of "I'm Flippin'," or at least one.  It was a little confusing because I think at least one of the tracks on there is mislabeled.  And then there's the 12" single, which features six versions, the names of which definitely don't coincide with the previous single.  And it also calls two versions the Vocal Remix version.  So, it's just one of those 12"s that features the same tracks on both sides?  Nope.  Despite having two tracks called the exact same thing, they're different!

And that's why I'm at least partially writing this post for myself.  This is old music I don't exactly spin daily these days, and having three different releases (including the album), with alternate versions of the same song, several seemingly mislabeled, I can never remember what's what.  I can remember several years ago playing all the versions and working it all out for myself, and today I've forgotten.  So this time I'm making a record of what's what, so from now on I can just look it up on my blog.  And, you know, you guys can read along with me.  😎

So let's start with the album version.  That came out first, and it's a tight track with with hard drums, a cool bassline, a tight piano loop and another, crackly piano sample over the hook.  Like the rest of the album, it's produced by the HD of PHD, DJ Hot Day.  It's great, and it's actually a wonder they remixed this one at all because the original one works so well; I really have that extra hook sample.

So then we come to the 1991 "Do It" B-side.  It's interesting to point out, by the way, that this tape is mislabeled, and the music on the A-side actually plays on the B-side and vice versa.  Anyway, first up is the Vocal Remix, and it's largely the same as the album version with the same drums and piano loop.  But it doesn't have that older, jazzy piano sample on the hook, and instead makes a bit more of a meal of a new, poppier bassline.  Also, and I imagine this is why it's called a "Vocal" Remix, it features all new clean lyrics.  "Nigga with an attitude" becomes "trooper with an attitude," and a lot of "fucks" are replaced.  It's a decent alternative, and I guess it has a little bit more of a "cleaner" sound that would work better for a single and video, but I prefer the album version, lyrically and instrumentally.

Next up is the Instrumental Remix, and you'd expect it to be the instrumental of that Vocal Remix we just heard, right?  But nope, it's an all new instrumental remix, and it's really tight.  Bit horns and and shit.  We actually here this version with the vocals on the third and final version of "I'm Flippin'" on "Do It," the Original Mix.  So yeah, it's definitely not the album version, but a killer remix that easily tops the last one, even though, disappointingly, it also uses the clean lyrics (which makes it all the more confusing that they label it "Original").  Also, according to the notes here, it's also produced by Hot Day.  That's gonna come up again.

So finally we come to the 1992 12" single of "I'm Flippin'," which again, only features six versions of "I'm Flippin'."  First up is the Vocal Remix.  This is definitely not the Vocal Remix from the "Do It" 12", but a whole new remix, with a funky, more 90's sounding remix and a bit of a Pete Rock influence.  A very familiar, rolling bassline (it's the same one from Master Ace's "The Music Man," but shown in a very different light here) and soft echoing horns.  As the song starts, it's my least favorite version, but the extra horns and samples they bring in on the hook sound great, though; and there's a hot change-up that kicks in for a few moments where the sample set completely changes. Lyrically, it's still the clean version.

Next is the Instrumental Remix, which isn't the same as the Instrumental Remix we had on the other single, but the instrumental for the latest remix we just heard.  Then there's Acappella Mix, which is exactly what it sounds like.  And yes, it's the clean version.

Flip the record over, and we come to the Video Remix.  This is what was labeled as the Vocal Remix on "Do It," with the poppier bassline and yes, the clean lyrics again.  After that is another track labeled Instrumental Remix, but it's not the one from side A, but rather the one from the "Do It" single with the blaring horns.  And finally another track labeled Vocal Remix, which this time is that full blaring horns version of the song.  And yes, once again, clean lyrics.

Oh, and didn't I say PHD's production credit would come up again?  Yeah, yeah.  Well HD naturally gets production credit on the 12", too.  But on side A it also says it's Remixed by Rashand "Algee" Smith.  He doesn't have a lot of credits, but has done some dope stuff like Organized Konfusion's "Fudge Pudge" and "Latifah's Had It Up To Here."  So my guess is that Algee just did the 12" exclusive remix, the one I said had a Pete Rock influence; but the label doesn't exactly make the distinction clear.  He could've done all the remixes for how it's written out.  But I think he just did the one.

So, for those keeping score, the B-side to the 12" is exactly the same as the "I'm Flippin'" side of "Do It."  The same three tracks appear in the same order, just with different, conflicting labels.  That does leave the 12" with an extra, exclusive remix, plus its instrumental and the acappella.  Unfortunately, neither of the singles include the original lyrics anywhere at all.  The original, curse-laden lyrics, as well as the original instrumental, are only available on the album.  But the exclusive remixes are dope, clean or not, so you should definitely still check for those.  And at least he re-rapped the clean version as opposed to them using awkward edits or bleeps that always ruin the flow of a song.  It's a hot track, so I recommend all of it.  All told, there are four very distinct versions of the song, and every single one is worth your time.  And even though the "Do It" single has nothing exclusive on it by way of "I'm Flippin'," it still has the remix of "Do It," so you'll want that, too.  Tuff City has all these obscure 12"s, and I'm always like, "do I really need this one, too?"  And the answers almost always, "yup.  It's Tuff City; just get it."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Portal Gun Reloaded

Alright, I did a video about UG's highly awaited new album Portals already.  Watch that if you're interested in my thoughts on the album.  But since then, the vinyl version has dropped, as well another new bonus CD.  All told, that's three CDs, a record and a tape, and a lot of different material between them.  So, I thought I'd do my thing and break down all the versions and all their respective bonus tracks in a little, comprehensive overview.

So, first of all, let's take a quick look at the LP.  Yes, LP.  I could swear I read when this was announced that it was going to be an EP, but I guess not.  Musically, the LP is exactly same as the main CD [left], all fourteen tracks including the skits.  So that was a nice initial surprise, when I was expecting a little "best of" 6-tracker and got the whole album.  It's limited to 300 copies and as you can see above, it's a dope picture cover, and the wax is a very cool splatter-colored vinyl.  They also included a some cool bonus stickers and a second poster with the order, which was nice of them, as I mentioned in my video, the posters included with the CD were bent and folded into the packaging.  This time they're nice and crisp, albeit unsigned.  Obviously the record itself is the important thing, but I appreciate when a label gets all the little extra details right like that.

In addition to the CD and LP versions, there's a cassette version.  I showed that in the video, but in case you don't feel like watching it, I'll repeat that it's a cool purple tape.  Not only does that match the album artwork, but it's a cool reference to the original Cella Dwellas purple tape cassingle that lead directly to Raekwon's famous purple tape.  The label describes the cassette as limited on their store, but I'm not sure to how many copies exactly.  Anyway, the tape introduces the first of the bonus tracks, "We Not Playing (Revisited)" featuring Ill Bill of Non-Phixion.  It's called "Revisited" because it's a sequel to a song they did together on Ide's 2011 album, Rite of Passage.  It's not just a remix, though, it's an all new song with all new verses set to roughly the same instrumental.

Next up is the Instrumentals album (titled Portals Bonus Material on the CD itself).  Yes, this features all 14 instrumentals from the main Portals album.  That's nice to have in itself, but then it also has four more bonus tracks on it.  First up is "Wordplay" featuring Ide, an all new song that they regarded highly enough to release as an online single.  It's not one of UG's "mystical" songs, but it's pretty fresh.  Then "We Not Playing (Revisited)" is on here, too.  Next is "Scripts N Scrolls," a song which was originally going to be part of Portals (it says so on the 2011 label sampler where it was first heard), but later wound up on Ide's album Uncovered Remains.  And yes, that is another mystical-style track.  And finally, the last track is "You Already Snow (2012 Version)," a remix of the duet UG did with Celph Tilted on Portals.  Not really a favorite song of mine in either incarnation, but it's a solid remix, production-wise.

Another thing I mentioned in my video was an mp3-only bonus track that people who pre-ordered the original package got.  Well, if you missed it, don't feel bad, because it's now found a proper physical home on this new bonus CD, Portals: B-Sides and Remixes.  This is a full-length album of ten cuts, no instrumentals.  Four of these are remixes of Portals tracks, including my favorite song, "Super Gods," and "Mind Right" done by Nick Wiz himself.  There's also a remix of "Ready for War," which is cool, but the track doesn't really match the vocals, plus another version of "You Already Snow."  One song is "My Soldiers" an older track featuring Casual and Smif-N-Wessun's Steele that was originally featured on Ide's Addicted To the Vision album.  So four remixes and an older song means five all new songs, which is pretty exciting.  The first is "Intro," but it's not just some little 30 second instrumental, but a full song with vocals.  Then there's "Might & Magic Pt. 2."  "Might & Magic" was one of the best songs on Portals, and I think this one is even a little bit better.  "Close Your Eyes" was that mp3 exclusive, and it's another great one, even better than a lot of the songs on Portals.  The other two songs are cool, too.  There's "Space Ghost" and "Doc Strange" (hey, that's what I called him in my vid!) featuring DV Alias Khryst.  It would be going too far to say this bonus CD is better than the Portals album itself, but it gives it a good run for its money.

So pre-ordering Portals is a thing of the past, as all versions have landed, with the vinyl arriving on my doorstep just in time for Christmas.  But looking at their site, you can still buy either bundle or every individual item separately.  The tape, each bonus CD, just the t-shirt.  So you can pick and choose however you want.  I'd recommend the main album on whichever format floats your boat [just kidding; vinyl all the way!] and the B-Sides CD, or a bundle if you're really a fan.  I mean, if this is your thing.  I could totally get how UG's "mystic" stuff is probably too strange for most people who just want a relatable pop song or a tale of grim, urban reality they can take seriously.  But I love it; UG's got a unique talent and I already can't wait for his next album.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ringing In the New Year With... Who Else?

It's 2017, and what better way to celebrate than writing some more about Father MC?  Today's record is a little 1995 12" called "Sexual" on Spoiled Brat Recordings, the same label that released Kool Moe Dee's final LL Cool J diss and some of Kool Keith's earliest solo material. This is one of the singles from the strange case of Father's dueling simultaneous albums This Is For the Players and Sexual Playground, which you can read about here.  And, uh, be wary of the comments to that post, it's a bit of a minefield.

This is the promo version of the 12", where the label clearly hasn't been completed.  Not only does it leave off the specific track listing (this 12" features main, dub, instrumental and accapella versions), but the full song title, which is actually "Sexual Playground."  I'd stayed away from this 12" for a long time because I was associating it with the terrible club remix, simply titled "Playground" on the Sexual Playground album.  But this version, the original that was featured on This Is For the Players, is actually pretty good.

A large part of why it works is a large part of why a lot of Father MC records work: excellent sample selection.  This song uses almost the entire instrumental of Patrice Rushen's "Feels So Real (Won't Let Go)."  It's a huge lift, so detract some points for originality.  But what can you say?  When you loop a great 80s record, the rap version's gotta sound pretty great, too.  And, as Father is famous for, he's got another strong R&B chorus.  Now the album credits this to Danny Blanco, but there is clearly a female singer doing a duet with the guy on the chorus.  I won't say they out-sing Rushen, but they sound pretty good and it definitely comes together as a catchy, slightly campy redux.

I was also happy to see Father MC return to his slightly more romantic roots here.  This was his first album(s) after his time with Uptown; and at that point, he'd dropped the MC from his name and went from doing love and heartbreak songs to bragging about being a pimp and a player.  Here, you see the MC is back, and he's back to rapping about relationships over funky soul grooves with R&B singers on the hooks.  Short of him going all the way back to his 1st Fleet Crew sound, this is what I think all us Father MC fans wanted from him, and he delivered.

Not that it's a perfect song.  These singers are nice, but they're no Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.  And I called the song romantic, but that was a bit generous as the lyrics feature Father rapping, "now who wants the body, the body, the sexual irresistible player, women slayer" as the girl invites us to, "come on and play in my sexual playground." So it's not exactly Jane Austen, but you can't begrudge Father all his fun.  It's admittedly a bit corny ("if you wanna please me, you gotta squeeze me," "so if you want some TLC, creep wit me into ecstasy"), and it's one of those records where if you already own the 80s original, the modern day rap version can feel kinda pointless (you know, like Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage" or The Firm's "Firm Biz," where the best parts of the song are just what they lift from the original sources as opposed to their additions).  But it's all upbeat, cheerful and he never says anything too embarrassing.  It actually holds up fairly well, and I think I appreciate it more now than I did in 1995.  Good times.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

King Don a.k.a. KD Ranks Interview

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

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Hip-Hop Christmas Bonus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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