Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Everybody Wanna Sound GRIMEY!

Back in the early 90's, G-Funk dominated the airwaves. You couldn't turn on the TV without hearing that synth or somebody rhyming reeeeeeal slooooow with a southern drawl bouncing in a lowrider. Even if an MC was from Michigan, that was far enough from New York to be "West Coast" and they were marketed as such. I'm from the Bronx, NY and that shit didn't fly right with me. I knew NY Hip-Hop was supposed to be on top but that gangsta shit was too strong so what did the east do? Go GANGSTA...BIG TIME! From the summer of '93 til about maybe mid-94 there was a fire sale on "grimey" which turned all my Hip-Hop into Grit-Hop. There was some good and some...uh not so good. Let's discuss.

Summer 1993: Young Animal Mother is working at the Wiz to pay for his vinyl and any other thing that needs to be payed for. There was alot of new music that summer and we always listend to tapes in the car stereo section. You couldn't go two feet without hearing "It's time to get LIKE A WIRE!" Onyx was the HOTTEST thing out and "Throw Ya Gunz" was the jam of the summer. These cats were crazy and all they talked about was smacking bitchez, stickin' hoes, and killin' punk ass mutha fuckaz...(the three elements of Hip-Hop! Just kidding Kris!) De La was on some next level stuff, L.O.N.S. were pretty much broken up and Q-Tip had just got thugged(beat the hell up) by Wrecx-n-Effect...yeah the Rump Shaker dudes. Everyone was a gangsta and it was either get g'ed or get gone.

The success of the 2X Platinum album Bacdafucup had a ripple effect in the rap game. While it wasn't Chronic numbers, it showed that East Coast Rap was still a viable commodity. And with success comes alot of imitators and band wagon jumpers. Does anybody remember 14 Shots To The Dome? I guess Uncle L needed a scope because 12 of them missed. The album wasn't "wack" per say but it was not LL Cool J. With lines like: "...kill dead! Kill dead! Try to battle me I gots ta buck you in ya head!", was it any wonder that the two best songs and biggest hits from it were Back Seat Of My Jeep and Pink Cookies in A Plastic Bag...? Cuts with LL being LL talking about lovin' ladies and bein' too cool for this gangsta mess.

Even the great Run DMC had a career misstep when they adopted their bald headed army jacketed personas that year. They sent mixed signals with their "we're down with God." message and DMC saying: "So I pulled my jammie out cuz I'ma murda the man!" on Ooh, Whatcha Gonna Do? The worst offenders were the record companies that tried to cash in on this by having artists try to out thug each other in an attempt to duplicate or surpass the Official Nastees. None of this happened and you were left with alot of talented dudes syaing things that were already being said. Come on man, the smiling Blue Cheese rappin' guys came out in hoodies WITH MACHETES!?!

One group the record companies churned out of the thug mill was Raw Breed who I liked from the start. Their first single Rabbit Stew off the Lune Tunz LP was a real upbeat joint. It was kind of an Onyx-lite with a bunch of guys talking about dicing MC's and puttin them in pots over an infectious beat complete with Reggae toaster Shawnie Ranks. Their whole gimmick was kind of a Looney Tunes on PCP. Other good songs on that album were Jimmy Crack Corn and my personal favorite How Many Lumps? I actually enjoyed their lyrical wordplay and enthusiasm but in the end, it wasn't enough to distance them from other groups at the time that wer ebasically on the same page.

Another notable Grit-Hop collective were Hoodratz who were basically Onyx minus two. I don't know if these guys intentionally came out like this or it was the record company's doing but they didn't even try to sound different. On the Sneekee Muthafukaz LP they had cuts like Bootlegga(Come on, I loved that shit. "If ya bootleg ya get ya leg broke!"), Street Smart Dumee and Murdered Over Nuttin'. The album was basically a collection of gun talk and murder fantasies to the nth power. After their album and R.A. The Rugged Man's Crustified Dibbs experiment, there was a testosterone overload and the Hip-Hop community quickly tired of this trend. As with anything too much of a perceived good thing is BAD.

About a year later, a fat dude from BK took those gangsta fantasies and weaved them with tales of being smooth and mackin ladies. Coupled with his intelligent wordplay and distinct delivery, he released an album entitled um...I think it was called Ready To Die but I don't remember much more about it. It did however signal the end of "Grime Time" for most rappers and heralded the beginning of the playa/shiny suit era but that's another post for another day.

In the meantime, enjoy the best of a not so original time in Hip-Hop.


Raw Breed-Lune Tunz

Hoodratz-Bootlegga (m4a only)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Somebody Beat The Biz: 2 Lawsuits Change Hip-Hop FOREVER

"Alone again...naturally." Remember that single from Biz Markie? It's on his 1991 album I Need A Haircut...No? You really shouldn't. It was never released as a single and the man on the left made sure that it would be removed from future pressings of the album forever. Is he a villain or just a pissed off artist who had every right to say that he didn't want to be associated with that noise they called "Rap Music"?

Biz was riding high off the huge success of the "Just A Friend" single and I'm pretty sure that Cold Chillin' Records wanted to capitalize off of that with his next album. The formula of Biz and comical hard luck stories would equal gold for them again but lightning didn't strike twice. When "Haircut" was released Hip-Hop fans were ready and I remember rushing home after school to listen to what the Diabolical had done this time. It was the usual silly, light-hearted Biz fare like Toliet Stool Raps, What Comes Around Goes Around, etc. but I really liked that song "Alone Again". Was it the clever wordplay and thumping beat? No, it was the fact that he was rhyming over a song that my mom used to sing when it came on FM93 WPAT, the easy listening station. Unfortunately Gilbert O'Sullivan, the man who recorded "Alone Again (Naturally)" didn't like it as much as I did.

After O'Sullivan got wind of the song, all hell broke loose and before Biz could say "A one-two..", the case of Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc was filed and Hip-Hop would never be the same again. The Irish singer felt that even though only three words from his song were used along with a part of the beat, it was an outright theft of intellectual property and that it was willfully done after he denied usage. The New York State Supreme Court felt this way too as the ruling stated: "it is clear that the defendants knew that they were violating the plaintiff's rights as well as the rights of others. Their only aim was to sell thousands upon thousands of records. This callous disregard for the law and for the rights of others requires not only the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiff but also sterner measures." The case was then referred to the US Attorneys office for criminal prosecution due to the intentional copyright infringement. This would cause a huge shift in Hip-Hop as sample heavy producers like the Bomb Squad had their production budgets crippled by clearance costs.

O'Sullivan's case was actually the second strike against Hip-Hop as just two years earlier The Turtles sued De La Soul for sampling the opening of their hit song "You Showed Me" for their interlude "Transmitting Live from Mars" from the 3 Feet High & Rising LP. Although the Turtles won the case, it wasn't nearly as ugly as the O'Sullivan one. They sued and got what they wanted and let De La keep the song. Never removing from future pressings or re-releases. They even explained: "We don't hate sampling; we like sampling. If we don't get credit, we sue, and all that stuff (a share of the royalties, plus punitive damages) comes back to us."

In my humble opinion, I think both outcomes differ greatly because of the way the samples were used. While neither act at the time obtained the proper clearance, De La used a snippet of the Turtles hit song and were very creative with it. "Alone" on the other hand was just a straight jack minus the bridge and the "Impeach" break just slapped on behind it. I'm glad the Turtles outcome was positive for both parties but I'm not entirely mad at O'Sullivan. The ruling forced producers and beat makers to become more exploratory and wiser with their sampling choices. It fostered the creativity of guys like Primo and Pete Rock. And also encouraged more ingenuity from musicians like Dr. Dre and later on Timbaland.

Alone Again (Naturally)-Gilbert O'Sullivan

Alone Again-Biz Markie
You Showed Me-The Turtles
Transmitting Live From Mars-De La Soul

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My First Cube: Kill At Will [EP]

What in the HELL was goin' on back in winter of '90? I was in high school with minimal prospects of getting laid. We were about a month away from the Gulf War(which I was old enough to participate in as my pops constantly reminded me). and there was no N.W.A. Dre, Eazy, Yella and Ren were still there but there ain't no N.W.A. without Cube !

Amerikkka's Most Wanted had gone platinum off the success of the title track and Who's The Mack?(which is still a funny ass video and song today) and I thought to myself: "OK, Cube got his shine on. Now he'll go back and they'll make more hits, right?...right?" That wasn't about to happen and in December of 1990 Cube put out the Kill At Will [EP] With production by the Bomb Squad and Cube himself, the album hit hard and showed his growth as an artist.

The first single: Jackin' For Beats was Cube goin' East Coast on our asses rhyming over familiar samples from D-Nice, EPMD, Public Enemy, X Clan and a few others. This was my favorite song back then. I didn't think anyone was gonna do a song like that for a long time. It was hot and it hit hard and Cube was saying he didn't care, he was gonna rhyme over anybody's beat. Other highlights include Dead Homiez (a serious song about coping with the death of a friend) and Get Off My Dick And Tell Yo' Bitch (Remix), whose title pretty much defines the whole cut.

The Product is now my favorite piece from the album. It describes a troubled black male from conception to a life of crime(an unfortunate consequence of poverty). As a young black male from the Bronx, I often laughed at the gang banger shit out west because I always thought it was kind of corny. Cube laid it out for me and the lyrics in the song showed the futility that many men in that situation faced. My least favorite is the Endangered Species (Remix) featuring Chuck D. While the message is good, the song just didn't hit me and it's the one I always skip. The album ends wit the 3 plus minutes shout outs on I Gotta Say What's Up!!! where he name checks everyone who was hot at the time in the Hip-Hop community.

This was the first Cube album I purchased and it forever changed the way I viewed West Coast rap. As a lyricist, Cube was the exception and I never really cared about N.W.A. again after that because he was the driving force that made them what they were. Of course he went on to release Death Certificate which had No Vaseline (The GREATEST DISS TRACK EVER!) and the rest as they say is history.

To enjoy the full range of Ice Cube's talent, please seek out his discography and purchase it. Even though he comes off as a hypocrite now, he's still an important part of the Hip-Hop puzzle.

Ice Cube-Kill At Will [EP]

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Single That Never Was: Plumskinzz

K.M.D. was an enigma to me. I wasn't quite sure what they were, but I liked them. They were into the whole black pride/power thing but they weren't "Blackety-black and I'm black y'all!" like X Clan. They didn't have the following of Brand Nubian or Poor Righteous Teachers (Whom I thought weren't as interesting as Zev & Co.) but I thought they had a better chance of making it by being down with 3rd Bass, another error on my part.

Peachfuzz hit hard in the winter of '91. Every weekend Clark Kent or Red Alert got it into their mix show. I was excited about getting the album but Mr. Hood just didn't do it for me. I wasn't really feeling the songs and I ended up only liking Who Me?, Humrush(yeah, it's weird but I like Bert humming) and Peachfuzz of course. After releasing Who Me? as a single and video(which didn't hit at all), I thought: "What could they possibly release next?" There wasn't anything I could imagine being worthy to be released from the album.

Much to my dissappoinment, Nitty Gritty was the next single. Never cared for it. Even the re-mix with The Now Rule Mob AND Busta Rhymes did nothing to pique my interest. Being the vinyl rat I was, I still bought it and kinda dismissed it to my "not for partyin' crate". As far as I know, there was no video for Nitty and it was never requested when I DJ'ed. There was this one song I kept hearing though during Clark's show that he kept putting on to talk over during the station I.D. breaks. It was a heavy samba-like break reminiscent of Mas Que Nada by Sergio Mendes. I taped it and took it to Beat Street and the cat that worked the counter listened to it and said: "That's K.M.D.! You have that already don't you?" It was the Plumskinzz (Instrumental) on the Nitty Gritty single.

I was so disenchanted by Nitty, I never listened to the other tracks. Not only was Skinzz a more enjoyable song than the single it was attached to, but there was also a great re-mix to Peachfuzz on there as well. Plumskinzz is not on the Mr. Hood album. My guess is: it was either a late scratch or something they did after the release of Hood. It is featured on the BL_CK B_ST_RDS album as well their Best Of album(inexplicably cut in half for some reason).

I've included the entire 12" single here as well as just the instrumental to listen to because I really liked it that much. Listen, enjoy and if you like these cats and you don't have Mr. Hood or BL_CK B_ST_RDS hunt them both down and purchase them.

Nitty Gritty/Plumskinzz 12"-K.M.D.

Plumskinzz (Instrumental)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Know Your History: Givin' Pot Bellied Props

Quick: What do Kid Capri, Main Source, A Tribe Called Quest and a large portion of the Hip-Hop community have in common? Bad publishing deals? No, Lou Donaldson. More specifically, Donaldson's often sampled "Pot Belly".

In 1970, Lou recorded Pot Belly for his album Pretty Things on Blue Note Records, a veritable jazz mill. This song had every element you could ever want in a jazz piece. Funky bassline and lots of high hats? Check. Signature Donaldson alto sax? Check. Psychadelic organs? Big check. The only thing missing from this song is a pair of dark sunglasses and a hand rolled cigarette. It was that cool!

When A Tribe Called Quest released People's Instinctive Travels and Paths Of Rhythm in '89, they were sampling jazz heavily. It was only a matter of time before they got to the Donaldson classic. The B-side of their second single "Can I Kick It?" was "If The Papes Come" which was basically Pot Belly being rhymed over. There was little tweaking to the song which was simply a loop of the original with Q-Tip and Afrika Baby Bam flowing over the beat. It wasn't on the intitial vinyl release and subsequent re-releases of the song have been the "re-mix" with Bam's vocals removed. It showed up again in 1990 on Main Source's "A Friendly Game of Baseball" and Kid Capri's (Yes, he had an album where he rapped!) "The Joke's On You Jack"

Pete Rock actually took the song and dressed it up nicely when he sampled it in 1992 for Heavy D's Blue Funk. I prefer what the Chocoloate Boy Wonder did with it than what the other producers had done previously. Instead of just picking out a section of the song and just looping it, Rock added his signature percussion, scratches and a sample of women singing to make you say: "Hey wait a minute! That's that song..." Like the jazz musicians before him, he took something and improvised and embellished on it to make it a part of what he does. He went on to use portions of the composition in remixes for Da Youngsta's "Pass Da Mic", and "Iz U Wit Me?" As well as House of Pain's "Jump Around".

So let's give props to Lou Donaldson. The great alto saxophonist who's one song in particular has been done and re-done so many times, you could probably make a full length disc of pieces that utilized it. It's the Kim Kardashian of Hip-Hop breaks: You know mad cats used it but you still want to use it yourself. I included the original version as well as "Papes" & "Blue Funk". Please go out and find some of Donaldsons albums as well as these Hip-Hop classics. Enjoy!

Pot Belly-Lou Donaldson
If The Papes Come (feat. Afrika)-A Tribe Called Quest
Blue Funk (Produced by Pete Rock)-Heavy D & The Boyz

Monday, May 14, 2007

Famous Firsts: Jay-Z

Michael Jordan started out as the best player in the universe, didn't he? No? Well...Bill Gates always had more money than god...he didn't? Sean Carter wasn't always Jigga, S. Dot, Hov or even JAY-Z for that matter. Back in 1990 he was JZ and he was Jaz-O's (The Jaz back in '90) sidekick. Yes, Young Hov was someone's Robin or Tonto if you will. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Following the success of Hawaiin Sophie off the Word To The Jaz LP, Jaz-O released his follow up album:To Your Soul. The album was full of Afro-centric, positive rhymes as well as clever word play. Again, he let his boy rhyme on two tracks called The Originators and It's That Simple and the kid showed promise. "The miggity more that comes the miggity merrier right? Right." JZ ripped his verse on that song. Their deliveries intertwined perfectly to make one memorable single that I was so happy to get on VHS that I played it ad nauseum after school until I got the single. After this song, I didn't hear from Jaz until A Groove (This Is What U Rap 2) (which had a superior remix that was kinda Soul II Soul-ish) but there was no Jay on it. He moved on and the rest as they say is history.

Suprisingly, alot of people don't remember this single and tend to believe that Jay burst upon the scene with Can I Get Open by his cousins group Original Flavor. Nas said on H to tha O.M.O. (A Jigga diss track) : "Back in the days you used to rhyme like Fu-Schnickens..." Nah Esco, he was diggity-in and biggity-in before Das and Chip-Fu. Jay had talent and eventually his talent rose above all the others around him.

Really Young Hov

This is an example of a display of raw talent that would evolve and eventually dominate the rap game. Enjoy this song and if you can find To Your Soul, give it a listen. Not just for Jay but for Jaz, an overlooked MC who never got his due in my opinion.

The Originators-The Jaz (feat. JZ)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Better Than The Original (Ultra Shandilere Edition)

Future Without A Past was the seminal release from Leaders of The New School and it was a well crafted first album. The first single: Case of The P.T.A., made it impossible for you to just sit down and listen. You had to bob ya head and east coast stomp til it was over. This was their signature hit and they never had another song hit as hard.

Sobb Story was kind of a mellow song. Very melodic and easy-going. It went along with the time it was released(summer of '91) and was perfect for driving. Even the video made you wanna chill and ride a bike.(Should a video about cars make you not want to drive one?)

However, when you hear that "Oh my god! Oh my gawd!" it made you jump out of your skin. The International Zone Coaster (Ultra Shandilere Tango-Trixx Mix) was that shit! It so eclipsed the original, it seemed like they're two totally different songs and let's be real, Busta's verses killed it. The original was so non descript, I was surprised that it was released. It didn't stand out on the album and I was unsure about paying $5 for the 12". Dante Ross and Co. added a sinister heavy baseline, new kicks and snares and a distinctive chime that gave the song a facelift and made it the banger it was. The original might as well have not been on the album this version makes it irrelevant.

Compare and contrast and leave your comments for me:

International Zone Coaster (Album Version)-Leaders Of The New School

International Zone Coaster (Ultra Shandilere Tango-Trixx Mix)-Leaders Of The New School

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Have You Seen Me?: Bo$$

"I don't really wanna beeeeee your..." No disrespect to the Chili Peppers but if you're into Hip-Hop, that's Bo$$. It was 1993 and like the song said: "everybody wanna sound grimey..." Onyx had the market cornered on the growling, gutter sound that was turning rap into Grit-Hop. You had the aforementioned Official Nastees, Hood Ratz(Bootlegga) and Raw Breed(Remember Rabbit Stew? OK other than any of their relatives and me, do you remember it?) There was no female representative of that hardcore genre until Lichelle Laws a.k.a. Bo$$ stepped up to the plate and she did just that, REPRESENT...then she Keyser Söze-d.

Early summer of '93 I got my hands on the "Deeper" single and I was impressed. This was a woman who was talking about strugglin', , drinkin', gun violence and didn't give a shit if she was fly or not ("so who the fuck cares that I got gray hairs and can't sleep"). Her no-nonsense attitude and lyrical contenet was embraced by the masses. She was for female empowerment but took a different route from Latifah and others by calling herself a bitch. Born Gangstaz was a bonafide hit for the female MC(soundscan of 370,000+ uheard of for a female back then) but an unflattering article in the Wall Street journal, a huge Hip-Hop publication(*gagging*) made it a wrap for her.

It turns out the thugette from Michigan wasn't as "hood" as the purists would have liked her to be. She came fromn a *gasp* middle-class background and was raised by both her parents(WHAT?) She also had a decent education and participated in many extra-carricular activities such as dance, etc. Funny thing is: THIS WAS ALL EXPLAINED IN THE FIRST TRACK ON THE BORN GANGTAZ ALBUM VIA A RECORDED PHONE MESSAGE FROM MOM DUKES! I guess people thought it was funny hearing an old lady talk about someone they just knew had to kill like 50 people before she dropped her first single. All rappers are killas, dealers and pussy beaters right? Bo$$'s second album never came to be and she wasn't heard of after '94.

In these days of Killa's living in Connecticut and thugs walkin around with security details, does she seem like such a travesty now? This chick could rhyme better than most chicks then and probably could hang now. So what she didn't rhyme about men treating her right or how everybody wants to eat her, she rapped about what she liked and more importantly WE liked it...for the moment.

This is my favorite song from her "Deeper", of course. Check it out and give Born Gangstaz a listen even if it's just for nostalgia.

Bo$$ if you read this holla at your lad.


Know Your History: Givin' Props

Let's take it back to 1988. All my friends were doing the skits from 3 Feet High & Rising verbatim...except for me because I didn't have it yet! I finally convinced my mom to take me to Caldors( there still a Caldors?) and let me get this tape. I bought it and DAMN, it was dope! I must have listened to it back to back for a week straight! I then got it on vinyl and started to use it for DJ'ing. I came across the Say No Go single and loved the way they used The Hall & Oates sample. WHO & WHO!?! Yep, the two white guys that sang Maneater(did any producer ever use that bassline? That was hot too!)

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) topped the charts in 1981 with it's sick bassline and soulful percussion. It was the duo's 4th #1 hit and knocked that god-awful Physical by Olivia Newton John out of the #1 spot.(That is the last time her name will ever be mentioned in a Hip-Hop blog.) I guess Prince Paul & Co. recognized the greatness of that beat and let De La rip it. I'm glad they did. It made 3FH&R an enjoyable experience.

...but wait THERE'S MORE!

Jump ahead to the summer of '90. That cute chick from the Buddy video dropped an album. Yup, Monie Love released Down To Earth and was riding the success of Monie In The Middle which was a huge hit. The second single was It's A Shame (My Sister) which I actually enjoyed more than the first one. The beat was dope and Monie kicked her rapid fire lyrics like they were made for it. It also had True Image(who I swore was Queen Latifah) singing the hook. This and the ensuing video mix would be the heights of her exposure. She never blew like I thought she would.

The song however has a great bit of history to it though. Not only does the title and hook owe something to the song It's A Shame by the Spinners but it sampled the opening guitar to great effect. And as an added bonus the backing beat is looped from Say No Go which as you now know comes from I Can't Go For That. So ya see kids, HALL & OATES ARE HIP-HOP...OK they may not be but they and The Spinners made an important contribution to it as you will be able to hear. The Spinners and Hall & Oates are just two of the many artists that Hip-Hop and it's fans owe a little gratitude to.

Please enjoy the originals as well as the songs they spawned:

Say No Go-De La Soul

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)-Hall & Oates

It's A Shame (My Sister)-Monie Love (feat. Tru Image)

It's A Shame-The Spinners

Let's Start With The Letter: A

As a young cat DJ'ing in the Bronx there were certain things you did to improve at your craft:

Listen to Radio Shows: In Control w/Marley Marl was mandatory shit. Marley always had good stuff on there before they came out on video, sometimes stuff that never got aired on Yo! or The Box. He even had a young dude on named Pete Rock...(what happened to him?) Also listened to Clark Kent and a few others...

WATCH VIDEO MUSIC BOX!: As I mentioned those other video shows before, I didn't have cable but I had UHF Channel 31 and Ralph McDaniels and the Vid Kid introduced me to more hip hop than any of those other shows could ever do.

That brings us to my first post: Akinyele-Vagina Diner. I remember Ak from Live At The BBQ from the Breaking Atoms LP. I even thought that voice dropping shit was gonna catch on.(What do I know? I thought the light skinned cat that did the bird call from Fu-Schnickens was the one with the future...) Anyway, Video Music Box made me go and search for this album by virtue of the two-fisted video Ak Ha Ha/Dear Diary. It was like a mini listening party. You had the fun-loving, infectious Large Professor produced first single with it's horns and playful video with Ak and his boys(including Extra P) jus' chillin. And then you had the grittier Dear Diary with Ak boasting about his skills while Rob Swift cut the hell out of Grand Puba saying "A yo bus it!" among other things. I was hooked and had to find it.

The album is surprisingly good with the production by the Large Pro and some of the stand outs include Bags Packed, Outta State, and Worldwide as well as the two aforementioned singles. Ak showed potential with his lyrics(C'mon, "I'm doper than heroin, so just take my name in vain" that was kinda sick for '93) and I thought he'd be a major player in rap. Of course he went on to have Put It In Your Mouth which blew up and became a cult classic but this is classic Ak for me. It was a good starting point for a cat who could have done big things.

Vagina Diner-Akinyele