Filed under: Features,No Country For Old (Rap) Men,Not Your Average,Web Work
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The rap 7″ scene is outta control and I’m calling shenanigans.
The rap 7″ scene is outta control and I’m calling shenanigans.
The sad truth is that there are legions of unpaid interns working for ‘culture’ websites whose prime objective is to scour the lyrics of Drake/Kanye/Jay-Z for anything even vaguely resembling a subliminal diss. While a lot of late eighties rap could be relied on for rival MCs to straight-up call out the competition by name, there were times when politics and/or the possibility of series violence between crews and neighborhoods meant that these shots had to be a little more subtle.
The unfortunate side-effect of this development meant that over-zealous fans now had the opportunity to concoct intricate fantasy scenarios about lyrical beefs that never actually existed. I remember a friend of mine attempting to convince me that MF Doom and Ghostface were waging a serious campaign of subliminal warfare against each other on the grounds of who owned the right to model themselves after a comic strip identity. While the theory was obviously shot to shit when they later began working together, it goes to show that a conspiracy can be constructed about anything if you want to find it badly enough.
The career of The Jaz aka Big Jaz aka Jaz-O is tricky to summarize. On one hand, he had to deal with being eclipsed by his young protege, which is always going to be a blow to the ego. On the other hand, Jay-Z did seem to attempt to repay the favor by offering to put him on at Roc-A-Fella, even though Jaz turned down the deal and decided to air-out his former student and effectively get himself black-balled from the industry as a result. If you notice, his discography of production work stops at exactly the time that he fell out with Mr. Carter. And if this detailed account of his handling of Council’s Tommy Boy deal (found in the comments section), he was also doing some bad business.
Nevertheless, as a rapper we saw Jaz evolve from the Brag Rap era through to the Conscious Rap era before eventually adopting the Street Hustler style. As a producer, he made more of a lasting impression, proving to be equally adept at delivering laid-back, moody joints as he was hyped-up sonic aggression. Special mention goes out to besting AZ at his own game on the 80’s R&B flip for ‘Waitin” and delivering Brooklyn’s answer to the Money Boss Player‘s ‘Killed in The Crap Game’ on the incredible ‘Council Era.’
Eric ‘Vietnam’ Sadler was the Bomb Squad‘s secret weapon. It was his programming expertise that kept their ‘wall of noise’ production style in the pocket, assigned to translate Hank Shocklee and Chuck D‘s musical chaos into sharply welder tools of war. You can pick the tracks which have Eric’s heavy fingerprints in the way that the drums swing and the finely-woven loop changes, perhaps best demonstrated by his work on Ice Cube‘s first solo album.
In this interview with Flatline from 2007, MC Serch talks about working with the Bomb Squad on the first 3rd Bass album:
‘Eric was, to me, the producer. Keith was the street guy who made sure the street was gonna love it and the beat was hot – the engineer. Hank was the guy who kinda put the stamp of approval, who did the final mixing, came in and listened and then was on to other things. I loved working with Eric Sadler. It was a great pleasure being in the studio with him, watching him make “Oval Office” and “Steppin’ To The A.M.”.’
This is re-enforced by Sadler’s recollection of picking up Ice Cube and Sir Jinx for the recording of AmeriKKKa’ Most Wanted in Check The Technique , Volume 2:
‘When I picked them up at the airport, Cube was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He thought he’d only be working with Hank, Chuck and Terminator X on the album. He didn’t know that I did 99% of our music.’
To complete the theme that I’ve running with these past few weeks, here are fifteen rap songs which were either scrapped altogether, released as promo only or re-recorded for the album. It’s limited to one pick per artist, otherwise this would have ended up as yet another compilation of Ghostface and Nas songs that couldn’t be cleared.
*LL Cool J voice* You didn’t think I could do it again, did ya? [laughter] Another Zippyshare album! [laughter] The jokes on you jack!
Following on from last week’s Demo Versions comp, this is a collection of original versions of rap songs which had their beat completely changed for the album. Unlike tracks which have to get redone because of sample clearance problems, these tracks all seem to have been decided not to be musically strong enough and were taken back to the lab. In the majority of cases, the final versions are far superior, but there a few songs here which were deemed to be ‘too old sounding’ and suffered from shitty remixes before they were finally released. Since most of you would have have had the retail versions of these songs imprinted on your brain after years of constant rotation, it can be both disconcerting yet refreshing to hear them over totally different beats.
Pretty Tone Capone in the studio with Real Live, 2004. Photo: richdirection
The infamous Pretty Tone Capone from Harlem’s Mob Style is about to return to the rap game. While I haven’t heard his new material yet, his work with the group and as a soloist has given us some of the most authentic street rap possible, as well as some amusing N.W.A. diss records. Tone discussed how he was born into the hustling lifestyle in Harlem, why Tim Dog almost got scalped and explains how drug dealers are the trend-setters that rappers want to be.
Robbie: What can you tell me about growing up in Harlem?
Pretty Tone Capone: Harlem was all about money. Hustlers and stick-up kids – everybody else was workers and people in the way. Young kids getting a lotta money – doing whatever we wanted to do, where ever we wanted to do it at – at whoevers expense. It was wild like that back then. Rapping was something we did for fun, after it took off, ‘cos the public liked it. We were the only – the only – cats that were in the studio having fun rapping. There were many real cats out here, but they wasn’t rapping.
How old were you when you got involved with the street life?
I was born into this here, man. I’m from a long line of gangsters. I’m from the hustling tree of Harlem, which is from the hustling tree of the world. Family members and all that, I was raised among them. I didn’t have to go that route, but I chose that route. I’m also very intelligent – I coulda been [a] top Goldman Sachs official or one of them [top] 500 company running guys. More or less I chose this life and I love every minute of it, regardless of the down pits and downfalls.
Nothing worse than seeing the names of rapper’s on the back of a hip-hop album and thinking to yourself, ‘Sweet! Looking forward to hearing this dude rap on this shit!’ Then you get home and it turns out that the ‘feature’ is just the MC in question performing the hook and doing a shout-out at the end of the song. Please note this list excludes the excellent hook work from Greg Nice, since that guy can turn a house party into a concert with his hooks.
Shout-out to Adam Mansbach for suggesting this topic.
Organized Konfusion feat. Q-Tip – ‘Let’s Organize’
KRS-One feat. Fat Joe – ‘De Automatic‘
Sean Price feat. Pharoahe Monch – ‘BBQ Sauce‘
Fat Joe feat. Raekwon – ‘Respect Mine‘
Remember that time that A.G. fired shots at Arrested Development in The Source for not mentioning Show when they won the Grammy for ‘Tennesee’? Here’s the remix in question, alongside fifteen other examples of Show’s production magic, ranging from his early big band horn-stab style through to his incredibly sparse, stripped down period and his more recent cinematic sound.
Because I have the maturity of a teenager, I present my list of suspect rapper names. Please add on where appropriate.
*Updated with comment section suggestions.*
So it looks like we can expect a video for every song from The Diam Piece.
Some of my favorite rap sprung from Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records, as the label incorporated organs, harmonicas and funk guitar with traditional breakbeats, creating a unique blend of east coast and southern hip-hop before everyone jumped on The Chronic bandwagon and started playing everything from scratch. Here’s a selection of my favorite moments from the early days of the house that J. Prince built above his car lot.
Here’s the complete transcript of my talk with Tom Silverman, who created the Dance Music Report and Tommy Boy Records in addition to co-founding the New Music Seminar, home of the MC and DJ Battle for World Supremacy. There’s a lot that I couldn’t fit into the NMS oral history piece from last month, so I thought it was worth printing in full seeing as though it paints an interesting picture of the
Robbie: What was your first exposure to hip-hop?
Tom Silverman: I went to the T-Connection to hear Bambaataa thing after learning about breakbeats in 1980, healing about this whole breakbeat phenomenon/b-boy concept in 1980 and wanted to find out about it. I called up Bambaataa and went to see him at T-Connection in the Bronx, and that’s how I first heard him and Red Alert and Jazzy Jay spinning the most amazing variety of music in a way that I’d never heard before. I just asked him if he wanted to make a record and that was kind of the beginning of Tommy Boy, when he said yes. To hear Kraftwerk and Billy Squier and Bob James and Cerone and The Monkees mixed in with normal James Brown and Sly Stone and all of this funk music was the thing that was the real revelation. And then to see how they cut it up and extended beats and found breaks and turned them into something more was just crazy at the time. Imagine seeing that in 1980 when no one had ever experienced it before? It’s like fire! ‘We’ve never seen fire before. What is that?’
When did the NMS begin?
The commencement was 1980, it was a one day event that year. In 1981 we did it in a club venue and it became a two-day event. The place was called Privates, and for the first time we did an event, it was called ‘a DJ spinning exhibition’ where we showed people what was happening in 1981 with spinning. We had a guy called Jeff Broitman, who was a disco DJ, showing how DJ’s mix records in a normal club situation. Then we had a guy called Whiz Kid – who later made records for us at Tommy Boy – who was a quick-cut DJ from the Afrika Bambaataa school of the Zulu Nation. He was from the Bronx and he was one of the greatest masters of fast spinning. It was a DJ’s exhibition to show how they did it, and people were just blown away. Nobody had seen people cutting two bars back and forth between records before. Everybody started talking about it, the room was packed to the gills and people were so excited about seeing it.
Photo: Alexander Richter
Sean Price exemplified everything that the Conservative Rap Coalition stands for. He was a fan of self-depricating humor, blocking people on Twitter for the slightest of infractions and refused to catch buses since they’re basically for old people. He was also one of the few MC’s who managed to improve with age. As much as I enjoyed the music of Heltah Skeltah, I can’t quote a line from either of their first two albums from memory. Sean P solo, however, was a cot-damn quotable machine. I saw him perform twice, and both times he delivered a strong, no gimmick display of great rapping. The first time in Melbourne, backed by PF Cuttin, and then at S.O.B.’s in 2013 for the Statik Selektah album launch. Later that evening Dallas Penn introduced me to Mr. Price, who appreciated my firm, man-style handshake and kept it moving, just as it’s supposed to be.
Do you ever sit around and wonder ‘What the hell happened to that marginally talented rap crew who released an album in the early nineties?’ If so, I’m here to help. It turns out that some of your old favorites didn’t all go back to working ‘civilian’ jobs after the roller coaster ride that is a recording contract. Some of them kept keeping on for another shot at fame, and a few are still releasing music this decade, believe it or not. I’ve previously posted modern efforts from The Legion and Freestyle Professors, but after donning my grey trenchcoat and developing a Columbo style wonky eye I was able to dig up the following:
There’s going to be a Sean Price album produced entirely by Lil’ Fame, which is a true reason for the CRC to celebrate since it means that we don’t have to hear Termanology waste any more Fizzy Womack beats for a little while, but also because they both continue to put in some fine work. That being said, some of these rap team-ups are inevitably better on paper than the finished result. I’m sure DJ Premier and Nas will get around to recording an album in 2050 to a captive audience of fifteen people, but in the meantime I’m still campaigning for an group featuring Grand Daddy I.U., Roc Maciano and Parrish Smith called Strong Island Styling, with Prince Paul on the beats. Since the build your own supergroup topic has already been done here, let’s stick to producer and MC combos.
Here are album five team-ups that I would pay money for:
Hurby ‘Lug Bug’ Azor played a big part in exposing a different style of Queens rap to the world as his Idol Makers crew concentrated on dressing fly, club hopping and bagging the opposite sex, largely favoring story-telling over the classic brag and boast technique. Hurby’s appreciation of go-go beats, DMX shakers and classic breakbeats produced some dance floor classics before he broke through to the pop charts with Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ and into the movies via Kid ‘N Play‘s Houseparty franchise. After producing a couple of records for MC Shan‘s white reggae artist Snow in 1995, Hurby vanished from the music scene altogether. Here are what I consider to be his sixteen finest moments behind the boards.
Some of my favorite moments in rap have been provided by crews who only ever managed to release one single (or spot on a compilation) before vanishing from the limelight. This collection of sixteen one shot winners are tracks that have stood the test of time, despite their creators never rising to the ranks of the greats.
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.
Here’s the full version of my Breakbeat Lou interview, some of which was used in my Ultimate Breaks and Beats: An Oral History feature.
Robbie: How did you meet Lenny Roberts?
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.’
Pumpkinhead and Sucio Smash [Photo by: Photo Rob]
As most of you already know, long-time indy rap champion Pumpkinhead passed away this week at only 39 years old, tragically leaving behind his pregnant wife and two kids. I’m not really qualified to speak on the man’s numerous contributions, but Chaz Kangas has put together a fitting tribute to the man for Complex, while some of his friends shared their fondest memories on Facebook:
DJ Eclipse: Some of us spend countless hours, days, months, years and even decades promoting others more so then we do ourselves. PH was one of those guys. Even though he made a name for himself in the battle scene and even made some records, it was his work here in NYC that I’ll remember even more. An integral part of the 90’s indie movement as well as today’s battle scene and a promoter of authentic acts and events, PH cared about the culture of Hip Hop. For him it was about your skills and how to improve on them. He was one of the ones that helped keep the foundation strong for others to go on and build careers.
Twelve non-LP Mobb Deep tracks that were officially released on someone else’s album, as opposed to the seemingly endless supply of stuff that never got a proper retail release.
UPDATE: By popular demand, now available as a Zippyshare Records and Tapes download…
Rofflecopters. I wonder if that 1800 number works?
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.
Is crowd funding your album any better than being a corporate shill?