Sunday, December 4, 2016

Little Shawn Featuring Biggie But Not Big Daddy Kane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanking MC Sundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Invincible's Dandelions

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hip-Hop's Dr. Strange

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Thing… From Another World?

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Long, Long Awaited Return of Written On Your Psyche

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Little Bit Frustrating, A Little Bit Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Salt N Pepa Got Dissed

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

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Father MC's Been Watching Howie Tee's Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MF Grimm's Vietnam Trilogy

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Grand Killas From the Bay

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