There was a brilliant period in hip-hop and electro records where the engineers seemed determined to warp and distort the original track to near unrecognizable forms, splattering echo and gated snares on the walls of some long-forgotten underground cavern. Let’s call it the Spelunker Period. The labels often provided not so subtle clues about what we could expect, announcing ‘Zootie,’ ‘Stubb,’ ‘Burnt’ and ‘Psycho Dust’ versions of their vocal counterparts. The following are selection of abrasive, dusted drum machine and scratch experiences that demonstrate the beauty of that thing sometimes referred to as The Dope Noise.
The process of recording a rap album for a record label has often been fraught with artistic compromise, clueless A&R’s and misguided promotional campaigns. While what goes on behind the scenes has often remained a mystery, the arrival of the ‘Advance Promotional Cassettes’ in the early nineties offered a glimpse into ‘what might have been’ for a number of albums. I can recall reading reviews of several albums, only for some of the tracks mentioned to have mysteriously vanished by the time the album was released. A prime example of this was Show & AG‘s Goodfellas album, which had six of the tracks from the advance copy either replaced or remixed before it hit the shelves, while the sampler tape for Mobb Deep‘s Hell On Earth was largley comprised of songs destined for other peoples releases (‘Recognize and Realize,’ ‘Live Nigga Rap’) or soundtracks.
Breakbeat Lou: Lenny I’d met at Saul’s Record Pool, back in the early 80’s. There was a feedback committee meeting that we had and everyone was talking about regular rap records and regular music. That wasn’t what he was really into, he was more or a less a ‘in the house’ kinda DJ. There was a comment about a particular record and I said, ‘Yeah, I know that record.’ He said, ‘How do you know that record? You don’t seem like you’re into that particular thing.’ I was already DJing regular stuff. I’ve been in the game a long time – a DJ since ’74, hardcore digger since ’78, producer since ’80. That’s where the connection with breakbeats came in between him and I. He was already involved in going to the jams, ‘cos Lenny used to hang out at Bronx River. First it was bootleg 12’s that were being released – we released ‘Big Beat’, before that was ‘Funky President’ and ‘Long Red’ on Sure Shot Records. We also released the guava ‘Apache’ copies, ‘Chinese Chicken,’ ‘Impeach The President,’ the [Magic Disco Machine’s] ‘Scratchin” one sided 12′, the ‘Rocket In The Pocket.’ (more…)
The Wu-Tang Clan have been through more than share of ups and downs over the years, but there’s no denying that they brought back a much needed grit to rap music when they hit the scene in in 1992 with their self-released ‘Protect Ya Neck’/’After The Laughter Comes Tears’ single. RZA’s master plan to get everyone separate solo deals on different record labels was inspired, although it clearly worked out a lot for better for some. Fast forward to 2015, and all of the original squad (with the exception of the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard) are still releasing music in some shape or form. What I’m interested to gauge is who you consider to have done the best job at keeping themselves lyrically sharp? Who are you still hyped to hear a guest verse or a new track from? Are you tired of hearing Ghostface rapping with bands? Has Raekwon become over-exposed? Has GZA become a an angry old wino who’s best days are behind him? Will Method Man ever make an album worthy of his talents?
For a jam-packed four year stretch, The Sugar Hill Band was the most powerful force in recorded rap, providing the beats for The Furious Five, Funky 4+1, Treacherous Three, Crash Crew, Spoonie Gee, The Sequence and more. With it’s core membership consisting of guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish, drummer Keith LeBlanc, percussionist Ed ‘Duke Bootee’ Fletcher and arranger Clifton ‘Jiggs’ Chase, the Sugar Hill Band were assigned to replay and re-arrange the hot breaks of the day, as advised by the likes of Grandmaster Flash based on what the crowd responded to when he deejayed. Unfortunately, some of their finest work such as ‘Funk You Up’ and ‘It’s Nasty (Genius of Love)’ was never issued in instrumental versions, but I’ve done my bets to cobble together what I could from the vaults.
My old drinking buddy Phillip Mlynar penned Lyricist Lounge: An Oral History this week, which reminded me of just how disappointing the actual album dedicated to that place was. As a record buyer during that period, I fondly recall that period in the mid to late 90’s when MF Doom, Juggaknots, Jigmastas and Scaramanga were releasing some cutting-edge music. But I also remember that, as it’s always been, 85% of the singles released during the ‘indy rap renaissance’ were either generic, corny Backpack Rap or weirdo Company Flow type nonsense. When the Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1 album in 1998, there was a fair amount of hype behind it and in what would turn out to be one of my more regrettable purchasing decisions I decided to shell-out for the 4 LP edition only having heard the breezily enjoyable ‘Body Rock’ single with Mos Def, Tash and Q-Tip. (more…)
This sounds great but I can’t help but wonder why Chopped Herring and other labels don’t offer stuff like this on CD as well. It’s not like a bunch of demos off an old cassette are going to playable in a club, is it?
DJ Spinna and Kriminal provided the 1996 indy stand-out single, ‘Beyond Real’/’Dead Man Walking,’ which proved to be the one of the highlights of an extensive discography over the next six years. Spinna was in high demand during this period for his signature lush production style which combined restrained sampling and original riffs for an atmospheric canvas of sounds, while Krim provided the most compelling verbal contributions from a wide range of vocalists who utilized the Beyond Real catalog. Ignoring the hackneyed ‘conscious’/’underground’ cliches that came to sully much of the ‘independent as fuck’ mantra of the day, Kriminal maintained a refreshingly honest style of Brooklyn brag rap that wasn’t afraid to boast of of ‘putting a dick in your girl’ during a time of tiresome politically correct posturing and underground flag-waving. (more…)
I didn’t get hip to Stetsasonic‘s brand of BK brilliance until I heard KRS-One shout them out and tracked down their In Full Gear album, but On Fire is worth your time for the classic ‘Go Stetsa’ and ‘My Rhyme.’ Here’s the stripped down demo version of their debut single, ‘Just Say Stet,’ which eagle-eyed Unkut reader P_gotsachill just put me up on. Now with added Human Mix Machine Wise!
If you’re nerdy enough to collect records and comics, then the Power Records catalog would be your holy grail. In my newest Cuepoint article, I’ve researched the label responsible for some classic childhood memories and some great samples for rap records.
Following on from last year’s interview with former Beatnut Al’ Tariq, I finally got a chance to speak with Psycho Les about the ups and downs of one of rap’s greatest groups. Turns out that Les’ history foes back even further than I thought, as he revealed he worked at Music Factory during high school and produced his first record in 1988…
Robbie: Do you feel like Al’ Tariq’s comments about his time with the Beatnuts were accurate?
Psycho Les: It was pretty much right. Me and Al’ Tariq never had a problem. The problem was between Juju and him, they didn’t really get along. When people don’t get along shit ain’t gonna happen.
He mentioned some subliminal stuff between him and Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul?
There was subliminal shit going on but it was more on Juju and Fashion’s part. That had nothing to do with me, I always stay away from any negative shit. I ain’t out to diss nobody.
What made you want to get involved in hip-hop?
Just being a kid from the streets. When I was coming up in mid ’80s the streets was the only place you could find hip-hop. You would go to the parks and we would have the cardboards, people breakdancing and the guy with his boom box playing tapes of Cold Crush and Spoonie Gee and Kool Moe Dee and all that shit. I was into everything of the culture, man – from breaking to graffiti, I did it all. I just fell in love with the music, just watching the DJ and all the power he had. I started messing with all the DJ’s that lived in my building. I would go to their apartments and watch them DJ. From there I developed the whole dream to have turntables and mixers and collecting records. (more…)
The Def IVNice & Hard album was always something I went back to when it was released in 1988. As the fourth album released on the Rap-A-Lot label, this group of New York transplants, which consisted of two brothers – Vicious Lee and Jon B – beat maker and DJ Lonnie Mac and vocalist Prince E-Z-Cee (DJ Ready Red was apparently an early member before being recruited by the Ghetto Boys). Given that three quarters of the group were DJ’s, it’s no surprise that there is a lot going on musically, with many tracks delivering a layered, sophisticated sampling style, constant scratches and extra breaks thrown in all over the place to keep shit moving. (more…)
What with Brad Jordan releasing his biography, Diary of a Madman recently (which he discusses with ego trip’s Gabriel Alvarez here), it seemed like a good time to take another listen his first single, released on Lil’ Troy‘s Short Stop Records back when he was still calling himself DJ Akshun. The a-side would later be slightly reworked for the Grip It! On That Other Level album when Scarface became a Ghetto Boy, while ‘Put Another Head To rest’ was relegated to the crates of Houston locals and ebay borks until Lil’ Troy pissed off ‘Face by including the song on his Sittin’ Fat Down South CD and things degenerated from there. (more…)
Concluding my discussion with Tuff City Records founder Aaron Fuchs, he talks about working with The 45 King, Lakim Shabazz and the Flavor Unit, the ‘Crack It Up’ single, the Ultramagnetic compilations and the highlights of his discography.
Robbie: The 45 King had a big impact on the Tuff City discography. How did that relationship begin?
Aaron Fuchs: He was R&B driven, which I loved. Red Alert was a DJ of rare honesty, he played a record if he liked it. You didn’t have to pay him. He was partial to The 45 King so making records with The 45 King wasn’t rocket science. Where I made my contribution was my role in the creation of the Lakim Shabazz persona. Listening to hip-hop shows, so many dedications came from prison – people with Islamic names – so it was like, ‘Let’s get a rapper like this.’ So MC La Kim became Lakim Shabazz, with all due respect to his legitimate involvement with his Islamic faith. But we played it up.
How successful was Lakim Shabazz’s Pure Righteousness album?
I think that that was the first hip-hop album that ever came out without a hit single. At that time, the wall of a record store called Music Factory in Times Square was an international communications medium. I had first seen that wall’s responsibility for the transition of west coast hip-hop, from being years behind the east coast, to catching up. In ’84 they came to the New Music Seminar and they were just ripping records off that wall, and it caught them up with the east stylistically. I knew that was happening and that European tourists shopped there too, so I made the Lakim Shabazz album just so I could put him in a picture with a kufi and a dashiki. It broke the album internationally. (more…)
Aaron Fuchs‘ Tuff City label was the David to Def Jam‘s Goliath in the early 80’s. The label would go on to deliver important records from the Cold Crush Brothers, Spoonie Gee, The 45 King and Lakim Shabazz, to name but a few. Aaron talked extensively about how to keep your head above water in the record game and offered some interesting opinions about where hip-hop might have ended up if Harlem hadn’t gotten involved.
Robbie: What’s the longest that you’ve been in one location?
Aaron Fuchs: Five, six years. In New York City, no matter what business you’re in, you also have to be in the real estate business. It’s just chaotic keeping an office address for more than a few years at a time.
What are your proudest achievements as a record label so far?
I was very proud to be on the scene around ’82, when the electronic drum machines came on the scene. I described it as ‘a thousand flowers bloomed.’ You previously had all your DJ’s just looping or sampling beats from the same body of records, and when the electronic drum machines came in, all of a sudden it seemed like the unique sub rhythms of the DJ’s ethnic backgrounds – because hip-hop is a very Pan-Caribbean music-came to the forefront – it was wonderful to be working with Charlie Chase and Master OC, who were Puerto Rican; Pumpkin, who was Costa Rican;and Davey-D who was American black. It was really reflected in their different approaches to rhythms. What a wonderful time to be making music.
How had you met all these guys?
Hip-hop was incredibly small when I got into hip-hop, circa ’78. The communications medium for hip-hop was a 7 x 5 sheet of paper called The Phillip Edwards Report. He was the guy who had the bright idea to list all the stores in the metropolitan area and create a list of records that they were selling and distribute them around the boroughs. When I told Bambaataa, I wanted to sign an MC crew, I didn’t know he’d bring me the greatest of all-time, the Cold Crush Brothers. When I befriended Barry Michael Cooper, because we were both music critics for the Village Voice, I had no idea that he had cultivated a friendship with Spoonie Gee, who was the most influential of hip-hop artist of the old school era.
What can you tell me about your experiences as a music critic?
Criticism started because of Dylan and John Lennon. All of a sudden, lit. majors had something to write about with rock & roll. I always had a niche because I was one of the very few guys writing about black music, so while the review of the new Beatles or Dylan album was always taken, the review of the Wilson Pickett album or the Aretha Franklin album was always available. (more…)
Newest latest for the good people at Cuepoint is an in-depth look at the story behind Snap! and ‘The Power,’ covering Chill Rob G‘s response, how Penny Ford was recruited to add new vocals and an unfortunate incident involving Turbo B and some drag queens in Boston.
Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate was one of the more unusual extended rap crews, with a core membership that included everyone from old school veteran Donald D, ‘Caucasian Sensation’ Everlast, rapper/crooner dude Bronx Style Bob and acid casualty Divine Styler. According to the Syndicate Facebook page, which looks like it’s run by Donald D, the official role call is as follows:
Ice-T, Donald-D, Everlast, Afrika Islam, Darlene the Syndicate Queen, Bronx Style Bob, Divine Styler & the Scheme Team, Bilal Bashir, Low Profile (W.C. & Aladdin), Spinmasters (Hen-Gee & Evil-E), Hijack, Randy Mac, DJ Chilly Dee, MC Taste, Shaquel Shabazz, Nat the Cat, Domination, T.D.F., Mixmaster Quick, F.B.I. Crew, Lord Finesse, Nile Kings, Rhamel, Tre Kan, Bang-O, Toddy Tee, Monie Love, MC Trouble and Body Count.
Here’s a collection of my favorite Syndicate songs from that era, a reminder of when LA rappers were still trying to impress New York by rapping properly and when important issues such as how great it would be to have a sweet new Rolex watch were addressed with the seriousness they deserved. Sadly, despite having some great production from Aladdin and SLJ, Ice’s rapping had begun to fall into steep decline by the time he made Home Invasion, where he introduced some teenage chick rapper named Grip. I blame Body Count, obviously.
Here’s something from my drafts folder that I forgot to post from a couple of years ago…
For many people, Twitter is nothing more than a self-indulgent stream of fuckybergs telling the world how many pieces of French toast they consumed at brunch. Last Monday, that all changed, after some struggle “comedian” lady finally got “sanger” Chris Brown to shut down his Twitter account following a heated exchange revolving around his previous treatment of Rihanna (of “Rihanna Plane” fame, natch). Turns out this Jenny Johnson character has been trolling C. Brown for years, and the main flaw in her argument had nothing to do with what happened to Rihanna’s face and everything to do with her misguided attempt to correct Chris’ spelling:
@chrisbrown: take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE.
@JennyJohnsonHi5 It’s “HO” not “HOE” you ignorant fuck.
I found compelled to point out that there is in fact an “E” in “Hoe,” which resulted in an in-depth academic debate between myself, rapper/producer/author/drummer J-Zone and musical maestro/Ralph Lauren chandelier owner Just Blaze as to the correct spelling of the term according to old rap songs. While I was strongly in the “E” camp, J-Zone produced compelling evidence that it was only when used as a plural that the “E” was required, according to most Miami and mid western records (Geto Boys’ “Let A Ho Be A Ho”, Willie Dee‘s “Bald Head Hoes”). Not to be discouraged, I continued to produce examples of “hoe” in the singular, while Just Blaze played tennis umpire. It was a stalemate once we established that the East Coast favoured the “E” and the West dropped it, with the fact that Too $hort used to “Pimp The Ho” until 2011, when he suddenly adapted the “E.” (more…)
Unlike Cold Crush Brother‘s ‘Punk Rock Rap,’ this vaulted Cosmic Force entry into the ‘punk rap’ canon is redeemed by a lack of fake cockney accents, the always reliable vocoder and the fact that it interpolates Michael McDonalds’ ‘I Keep Forgetting‘ 13 years before Dr. Dre’s stepbrother Warren G enlisted Nate Dogg to give it that extra ‘G’ quality.