Friday, August 26, 2016

Omniscence's Elektra Emancipation From Dope Folks

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

West Coast Rap's Mysterious Dynasty

In 1992, Rhino Records released a pretty sweet series of compilation albums called West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty.  This was in an age when compilation albums were big, because suburban kids who missed out on all the rare 12"s could get whole bunches of them on single tapes or CDs.  But unfortunately, almost all of the old school rap comps featured the same handful of songs: "Rapper's Delight," "The Message," "White Lines," "The Breaks"... Sure, these are great classic songs that belong in any serious Hip-Hop head's collection, but how many times could they keep selling us just the same few songs released over and over again? And they usually weren't even the full-length versions, but short radio edits.  But by focusing on west coast history, and just some more obscure stuff in general, these albums were full of great, and still historically important songs that most of us didn't already have.  I mean, okay, some of you old school west coast DJs might be waving your hand like, "I had 'em all," but not a lot of cross-country kids had stuff like "Feel My Bass" by DJ Matrix or "Groovy Ghost Show pt. 1" by Casper.

So Vol. 1 and 2 came out together, then Vol. 3 came a few months later. To give you an idea, it featured artists like Rappers Rapp Group (and their many spin-off acts), LA Dream Team, early 2 Live Crew, Rodney O & Joe Cooley and Ice-T. In fact, there was a lot of Rappers Rapp because member DJ Flash was involved in producing these compilations.  Clearly some bias in the selection.  But that's fine with me, because Rappers Rapp were great and totally slept on, so they were mostly the highlights for these compilations to me... although, as an essentially "greatest hits" series of west coast classics, highlights abounded.  But anyway, then came the maybe the weakest, but also the most fascinating and important, final entry in the series, not called Vol. 4, but West Coast Rap: The Renegades. The title change was because entry included newer material, so it was no longer the "first dynasty."  But what made this one so "fascinating and important?" It features a bunch of unreleased material!

But actually, the unreleased material started sneaking through the cracks back on Vol. 3.  I'm pretty sure two of the tracks had never been released, certainly one hadn't.  The liner notes even refer to it as "the odd man out," their bonus unreleased cut at the end of the comp. It's "Tainted Love" by X-Calibur (spelled on these albums as Excalibur) featuring King MC of the Rappers Rapp Group.  Yes, it's a rap version of the 80s pop song by Soft Cell.  Apparently it was originally recorded in 1982, but updated in 1990.  It's pretty fun - a rap version of "Tainted Love" really works, though the lyrics are a little corny, and the updated beats are a little tacky.  Frankly, I wish they would've included the original 1982 version, but I'm happy to get this instead of the song remaining completely lost forever.

So that's the only song they list as unreleased, but as far as I can figure, DJ Flash's "Hittin' Hard" has never been released either.  The notes say it's from 1985, and it's sort of like "Scorpio," in that it's all slowly rapped vocoder rhymes over an electro-influenced beat, and he references other old school west coast records like "Egypt, Egypt."  I've looked, and I'm pretty sure this was never a B-side or anything on other records.  Either I'm getting senile, or this has never been released before either.  It's popped up on a couple subsequent compilations, which are essentially re-releases and variations of the First Dynasty series.  But I've never been able to find a DJ Flash or Future MC's record with "Hittin' Hard" on there.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because now we come to Renegades.  Although, the entirety of the Renegades album isn't unreleased.  A good chunk of it is just more compilation of west coast hit records like "Your Chance To Rock" by Rodney O & Joe Cooley and "Naughty Boy" by Uncle Jamm's Army. And those are "first dynasty" era, but they also include newer material like Madrok's "Skin Tight" featuring The Ohio Players. That was on his album and it was his big single.  But then they also have another Madrok song, that was never on his album or ever released before at all called "I.E.'s In the House," about Inland Empire, which is okay but a little too reliant on "Atomic Dog" for my tastes.  In 1993, though, it wound up being featured on the soundtrack to a Lou Diamond Phillips action movie called Extreme Justice.

And Captain Rapp makes a comeback here with "Bad Times - Part 2 (The Continuance)."  "Bad Times" was on Vol. 1 and is a pretty historically important, early west coast message rap.  It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis before they blew up.  Now, the original "Bad Times" 12" from 1983 had a "Part 2" on it, but don't let that confuse ya.  That was basically just a shortened instrumental version of the original song.  This is a newly recorded song with all new lyrics.  Even the girl who sang the original hook, Kimberly Ball, is back to sing essentially the same words the same way.  They probably could've saved some money and just sampled the original hook, but hey, it's cool to have her back. Anyway, the instrumental is essentially the same as the original, but a little sped up and modernized, but Rapp has all new raps referencing Rodney King, etc.  His verse about Jeffrey Dahmer gets morbidly detailed, verging on horrorcore:

"I hit the script that rips and grips the paradox, a fiend with a scheme like a scene from Hitchcock.  A serial killer who unleashed the apocalypse! A gory story to depict his crypt: a tiny apartment, six graves with no tombstones, and held a cellar who's full of guts and bones.  A psychopath whose tests[?] get hideous, undaunting and flaunting, he was sick and insidious.   He charmed, disarmed and turned and tricked 'em.  His kills brought ills to sixteen victims.  Strangle, dismember, and eat the body parts.  Drink the blood that flowed the human heart.  Families mourn after questions, why?  Remains in a barrel were left to acidify.  He's locked in prison, but streets aren't calmer.  Somewhere out there lurks another Jeffrey Dahmer!"

Ummm, wow.  Okay.  Overall, it's pretty cool, but so close to the original that it's hard to get very excited for it.  Kimberly also has "I Can't Stand It" later on the album, which is essentially the same song but with just her singing extra verses to replace Captain Rapp's contribution.

Perhaps the strangest inclusion is two new songs by a completely unknown artist named Kid Solo.  Not only had he never done anything before this, he never has since.  I guess this was a kid DJ Flash was managing maybe, because he has production credit on one of the songs, and again, Flash's fingerprints are on every aspect of these albums.  So maybe he was just showcasing his new act.  One of the song's is a rap version of "That's the Way I Like It" and neither of them are very good.  He's a very poppy dance rapper, sounding inspired by acts like B.G. Prince of Rap and C&C Music Factory, and doesn't seem worthy of inclusion here.

Or, no.  Actually I think the strangest inclusion is "Hold Back the Tears" by a duo called P.A.N.I.C. Like Kid Solo, this is their only song anywhere, and it's a dedication to Magic Johnson.  DJ Flash's name isn't even on this one, so I'm extra puzzled why this was here.  It's not very good, with some corny rhymes ("you don't have to be a Tinkerbell to get a virus from Hell") and a really awkward hook.  I guess this album was an excuse for Rhino Records to throw in whatever west-coast related stuff they had on hand?

Anyway, it's not all material by nobodies.  Egyptian Lover made a new megamix of some of his earlier hit records for this album, called "Egypt's Revenge."  He later wound up including it on his album Pyramix, though.  And remember when I said I wished they'd included the 1982 version of X-Calibur's "Tainted Love" on Vol. 3?  Well, I think they heard me and decided to do the opposite: they recorded and included a newer Dance Re-Mix, which downplays the rap vocals.  And DJ Flash made a new track specifically for this compilation called "The First Dynasty- Mega-Mix," which like its name implies, is a mega-mix of a bunch of the hits from the previous three albums.  But interestingly, it has new verses by 2 Bigg MC, Hammer's former hype-man who put out a record in 1990.

Finally, they've got two unreleased songs by King MC, one serious: "Ghetto Drama", and one silly: "Double-O Seven," which is another rap song using a James Bond theme.  And unlike, say, "I'm Large," he also raps about being James Bond in the lyrics.  King MC moved to Europe after his stint with The Future MC's, and he put out some records with dance and club artists over there.  These are from that period, but a little more traditionally hip-hop.   Not his best work, but good enough that his fans will be happy to get them.

So, I wouldn't recommend Renegades to casual listeners.  I would recommend the Rap Dynasty albums, especially if you missed a lot of these records the first time around.  But most people can stop after Vol. 3.  But for serious fans and diggers interested in the history, Renegades is kind of a slept on treasure trove of exclusive odds and ends.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Halloween the Prequel

Finally, a record I am really super amped for: an exciting unearthing from Dope Folks! (Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sugga and Spice and JJ Fad Ain't Nice

Alright, we just covered an NWA diss, now how about a JJ Fad diss? Today's record is the second 12" single by Sugga and Spice from 1988 on Dream Team Records. Check out that bad-ass cover. Even the dog has shades and a phat gold LA Dream Team chain on! I think that's Rudy Pardee way out in the background there; and look in the upper right-hand corner: they've even got a special anti-JJ Fad logo. How can you be an old school Hip-Hop fan and not want to hear this record?

So, like I said, this is Sugga and Spice's second record (of two). There first was "Yes We Can," also on Dream Team Records in 1988. Both Sugar and Spice are MCs, and they're basically the LA Dream Team's girl group version of themselves. Sugar even has the same funky accent as Rudy. It was also featured on Joe Cooley's Hollywood Live compilation mix, and it basically has them updating the same "Yes We Can Can" Pointer Sisters song The Treacherous Three did back in 1982, with the same chorus and loop. And lyrically, it mostly sounds like generic bragging about how they can win a battle, but it ends with the line "hama lama assumin' I'ma that," which is clearly a "Supersonic" reference.

And just as an interesting aside, flip the record over to the back cover and Rudy starts out the shout outs with, "WHO I DON'T WANT TO THANK: Sweet "C" a real fake producer who thinks he had it going on. So quit it. You ain't with it. Your[sic] a real fake producer so don't forget it. You know who you are."

But anyway, bringing it back to JJ Fad. That's the only song on the first 12", but the second record has three songs. One is a "Yes We Can" remix by Snake Puppy, which is a little more interesting, just because even though it mostly still uses the same groove and hook, they take it a little farther from the Pointer Sisters record. And another song is "Boys Just Wanna Get Skeezed," which sounds like it's going to be a Cyndi Lauper answer record, but thankfully it's not and doesn't use her song at all. It's actually a pretty cool beat, and the concept of the song is just what the title tells you.

But the third song, innocuously called "That's Funky" is a straight-up, 100% diss song. Now, why are they going after JJ Fad? Just because they had a hit record and Sugga and Spice were newcomers looking to make a name for themselves? That's probably part of it for sure, but naw. The beef is that JJ Fad started out on Dream Team Records. "Supersonic" was first released on that label. Then JJ Fad split up and reformed on Ruthless Records, where they re-recorded "Supersonic" with the new line-up, and that became a smash it. So the Dream Team were a bit salty, and they had their new girl group go at 'em.

It's a pretty dope track, too. It uses the same core sample KMD used on their first album, but those guys smoothed it out more. This is more hype and hardcore, with funky horns and some nice scratches. Lyrically, on the song, the main thing Sugga and Spice diss them for is using ghost writers ("trying to diss with some lyrics that Dr. Dre wrote"), but there's lots of personal disses ("one's too short, too fat, too tall," "you Sassy C with the patched up head"). And they take a lot of specific shots at "Supersonic:

"Who ya think you're foolin'? I know better than that. 'Supersonic' sounds like the 'Planet Rock' track! In fact, I know ya stole it, and you wanna play big time? Bitin' and recitin' them walla walla wack rhymes."

It's pretty cool, mostly because it's a decent record even before taking the JJ Fad dissing into account. It's easily their best song. I can't say I'm too torn up over Sugga and Spice never getting an album out, but I'd recommend this single for "That's Funky." Some of the lines are a little corny, like all the baby references they make about Baby D; but overall it's a hot, little song.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 6: Was Ice Cube Tha 1 After All? (NWA DIss)

And we turn the tables one last time to conclude this Answer Record Week, with NWA getting some unexpected feedback from the ladies. Youtube version is here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 5: Further Sucker Deliberation

Of course you're familiar with "Sucker MCs," you may even be familiar with "Sucker DJs," but apparently in 1985, someone felt there was still more to be said on the subject. And they don't like Run DMC very much. Youtube version is here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 4: Who Was Sally and Why Did Everybody Diss Her?

This one isn't quite an answer record, though it has connections, and the A-side basically answers the b-side.  But it's a weird, interesting 80s rap situation that I've been meaning to talk about. Youtube version is here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 3: Ex-Jawns

An obscure, Jersey answer record from the early 90s… By the way, this is the only record on Trump-Rap Records, but TGK was on an stablished label called Trumpet Records, so I assume this was an offshoot of that. Oh, and the Youtube version is here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 2: Old School Gamers

Here's a nice old school pair of records. Not the first, but a very early gender reversal from hip-hop's disco era. Youtube version is here.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Answer Record Week 3, Day 1: Who Rules the World?

We start out Answer Record Week 3 with a bit of a two-parter: first a very famous one, followed by a rather obscure answer to the same record. Youtube version is here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Lost Juice Crew All Star

So, we all know the main artists who were part of The Juice Crew: Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Biz Markie, Master Ace, etc. And there's one lesser known MC, Glamorous, who still gets her credit. She was on the "Juice Crew All Stars" record and did that "Oh! Veronica" answer with Craig G. In fact, I just heard Craig shout her out in a video he did about the Crew's history. But there's another female rapper in the Juice Crew, who seems to be even more slept on: Debbie D.

Debbie D was also on that Juice Crew All Stars record; she has the first verse on "Evolution" as Harriet Tubman. And actually, at the time, she was pretty much the most established artist out of any of those guys on that record. Shan, G Rap, Craig G... it wasn't quite everybody's first record, but all those guys were pretty new: young artists on their way up. But Debbie D goes way back. You remember the group Us Girls in the movie Beat Street with Sha Rock and Lisa Lee? Well, Debbie D was the third Us Girl - the tall one in the black dress who raps first. Debbie's hip-hop roots go all the way back to days before hip-hop was on wax. There are clips of her performing with Wanda Dee on Youtube, but she was better known as one of The Jazzy 5 MCs . Not to be confused with the Jazzy 5 who recorded the classic "Jazzy Sensation" with Afrika Bambaataa, this crew featured Debbie alongside Jazzy Ace, Busy E, Darryl Dee (her brother), Sinister Rock and DJ Patti Duke.

And so what we have here is her debut solo record from 1986 on Reality Records, Doug E Fresh's old label. And look at the credits on the label, and what do we see? Produced by Marley Marl. Also, mixed by Marley Marl, co-produced and arranged by Tyrone Williams, a.k.a. The Juice Crew's own Fly Ty. Oh, and there's one more producer listed, somebody named J. Rivas. Who's that? None other than the Mr. Magic himself! So yeah, I'd have to say this record is pretty thoroughly Juice Crew vetted.

So how is it? Well... here's why today's post is a text blog instead of a video. Interesting to learn about, but nothing you need to hear. The song is called "The Other Woman," and lyrically it's pretty interesting. She's rapping about her man and how she knows he's cheating on her. "I still am the one he comes home to. But never the less, he still sees her, too. He doesn't think I know, but I get it all, especially from the ones right down the hall."

But she's using this whisper rap delivery, and the instrumental is very low-key, with this simple keyboard or xylophone loop laid over some basic programmed beats and recurring hand claps. It's just so low energy, there's no life to it. You have to push yourself just to pay attention to it. It's similar in tone to Doug E Fresh's love song "The Plane (So High)," but that has a much more captivating sample, stronger hook, and more emotion in Doug's delivery. On "The Other Woman," Debbie's doing the style just fine, I guess; it's really the instrumental that's letting her down. It feels like an unfinished rough draft of a song.

There's a shorter Radio Edit and a Dub mix, too; but you're not going to want to bother with those. She has a B-side, though, but unfortunately, it's too similar to the A-side. It's called "Tom, Dick & Harry" and it's basically about the same thing: her man's trying to play her, giving her the old Tom, Dick & Harry routine - essentially still trying to play the field. So her man's cheating on her again. An interesting premise once, but you really want to flip this record over and hear something else.

It's another slow, boring beat, which again is the real drawback. On the intro, Debbie D seems to be saying, "Gary Love, please, just if you will, give me a beat that fits my skill." And there's two names in the song writing credits: Debbie's and Gary Peterson. I thought he might be an in-house Reality Records guy, but I looked at a bunch, and his name doesn't seem to pop up on any others. Maybe he was her DJ? And maybe Marley and co. didn't actually make this beat? I mean, it's not bad. It's just slow and boring. But it's not sloppily made or anything. And it's too sonically removed removed from a lot of other stuff coming out on Reality.

At least Debbie D doesn't do the whisper thing on this one and uses her full voice. But on the other hand, she actually seems to be putting less energy into it. Or maybe it's just the beat pulling everything down. Ultimately, this whole record isn't embarrassing or anything; it's just kind of a misfire. It's too bad Debbie D didn't get another shot, because you can tell from her old school performances she could definitely deliver something a lot catchier.

Now discogs connects her with another Debbie D who recorded pop rap records on the Dutch label Rams Horn Records in the late 80s and early 90s, but those are two different people. The real Debbie D actually became a minister, and is now part of the "The Hip Hop Ministers Alliance" along with Kurtis Blow, Sparky D... oh, and fellow Juice Crew All Star Glamorous. Check out one of her sermons here! I kinda think it's too bad Marley didn't squeeze in one more track on In Control vol. 1 pairing up Debbie and Glamorous. It might've opened up a tough female side of the Crew with them signing to Cold Chillin' or something. But then again, I guess they only had room for one queen!