--- --- --- ---- ---- CCCCC OOOOO RRRR EEEE
| H | / A \ | R | |D \ C O O R R E
|---| |---| |--/ | | C O O RRRR EEEE
| | | | | \ | / C O O R R E
--- --- --- --- -- -- ---- CCCCC. OOOOO. R R. EEEE.
Vol. 3, Issue 3 April, 1995
The electronic magazine of hip-hop music and culture
Brought to you as a service of the Committee of Rap Excellence
Section 1 -- ONE
Table of Contents
Sect. Contents Author
----- -------- ------
001 The introduction
A Da 411 - table of contents staff
B Da 411 - HardC.O.R.E. staff
C Yo! We Want Your Demos staff
002 Monthly Articles
A Regional Report: Atlanta firstname.lastname@example.org
B Regional Report: Europe email@example.com
C Back to the Old School firstname.lastname@example.org
D Homeboy from Hell Monthly email@example.com
1. Last Poets - Last Poets
2. Last Poets - Holy Terror
E Flash's Video Review firstname.lastname@example.org
F The Singles File 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU
G Inside Scoop (interview) email@example.com
- Michael Franti
H Roots-N-Rap firstname.lastname@example.org
I Some Shots From the Industry email@example.com
003 HardC.O.R.E. Editorials
A Eazy E, R.I.P. firstname.lastname@example.org
B What happened to Def Jam? email@example.com
C Where Headz Fear to Go... firstname.lastname@example.org
004 The Official HardC.O.R.E. Album Review Section
A B Versatile email@example.com
B Bedroom Records firstname.lastname@example.org
C Big L 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU
D Catalyst Entertainment email@example.com
E Friday firstname.lastname@example.org
F KAM 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU
G New Jersey Drive, Vol. 1 & 2 email@example.com
H Nine firstname.lastname@example.org
I Nonce email@example.com
J Ol' Dirty Bastard firstname.lastname@example.org
K PhatKat email@example.com
L Portishead firstname.lastname@example.org
M SOMA email@example.com
N Southpaw Sampler firstname.lastname@example.org
O Sudden Death email@example.com
The C.O.R.E. creed
We at C.O.R.E. support underground hip-hop (none of that crossover
bullshucks). That means we also support the 1st Amendment and the
right to uncensored music.
The C.O.R.E. anthems
I Used To Love H.E.R. Common Sense
Mass Appeal Gangstarr
True to the Game Ice Cube
Outta Here KRS-One
How About Some HardC.O.R.E. M.O.P.
Time's Up O.C.
Straighten It Out Pete Rock and CL Smooth
In the Trunk Too $hort
Remember Where You Came From Whodini
E-mail: to subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with this line of
text in body of your message:
Aight, let's say you got a hip-hop demo that you've been trying
to shop around. A few people like it, but nobody with some clout is
buying. Or let's say you know someone who's got some skills, but you
don't know what you can do to help 'em get on. Suppose even further,
that you've got an internet account and want to give you and your
friends' efforts a little publicity. Well, have we got a deal for
HardC.O.R.E.'s review section isn't just for the major labels.
In fact, some of us would much rather review what the independent folks
are making, since they aren't affected by the A&R and high level decisions
of major labels.
So we want to hear what you guys are making. A few groups are
getting their demos reviewed here among the likes of Gangstarr, Heavy D.
and the Boys, A Tribe Called Quest and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Who knows?
You might even hear bigger and better things from The Mo'Fessionals, DOA,
Raw Produce, and Union of Authority before you know it. With all the
people subscribing to or reading HardCORE, you never know who might
want to hear your music.
Give us a shout. You can e-mail me at email@example.com or Flash
at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll let you know where you can send
your tape. Keep in mind that we're pretty honest with our reviews
(if we think your shit is wack, we'll say so to your face), but if you
think you got what it takes, you'll see a review from us before you know
it. All you have to lose is a tape, right?
Peace... the HardC.O.R.E. Review Staff
Section 2 -- TWO
Martay the Hip-Hop Wiz
THE ATLANTA SCENE
Notorious B.I.G. was in town with an all-star (Craig Mack,
Outkast) and not so all-star (Questionmark Asylum) lineup, warning
people of the dangers of AIDS and raising money for research in a
benifit concert at the ROXY. The timing of the event was ironic to me
as we are only now beginning to see concern from the rap world for
AIDS awareness after losing one of the more colorful personalities of
rap, Eazy E. Perhaps there will be more concern in the future now
that people realize that even "real G's" can get HIV.
The Roots were in town representin' lovely at the Masquerade
showin' their mad jazz/hip-hop fusion skills. Definitely a good show
if it comes your way. They hung out at the Yin Yan Cafe while they
were in town, but they didn't want to perform at the informal
gathering (at least they know the jazz spots).
Common Came! Common Came! Hell yeah, Common Sense did a dope
show at the Velvet, Just Com (did we need anyone else), I'll just say
that his show and freestyles, which were hampered by a sore throat,
were so nice that I didn't even think about the other show in town.
That show featured Ol' Dirty Bastard and Artifacts at Vertigo. Who
knows? Maybe I did miss something, but I wasn't even sweatin' that as
Com delivered the goods like UPS.
In real local news (these are the groups that you probably
don't know about) Raheem the Dream has a new label, *again*! Though
you may not see his new LP in a store near you, "Down South's Comin'
Up", you can't miss the cover; a map of GA with Raheem standin' on
Atlanta. He had all the headliners at his recent B-day/record release
party: Too $hort, Shy-D, Jermaine Dupri, Outkast -- everyone but Phife
Goldy from Too $hort's Dangerous Music camp has been makin the
rounds of local radio interviews; and his new LP "In the Land of
Funk", seems to be bumbling on the underground tip with that ol' West
Definitely look out for J. Bond and DJ Goldfinger with Slick
Lee -- they are just about to release their single "One Mo' Gen" in
time for Freaknik '95. I'll be reporting on it next time. Oh boy!
Check out this flyer that I got today for a concert at the Warehouse:
DJ Magic Mike, MC Shy-D, DJ Smurph, and KMD? Stay tuned...
THE EUROPEAN SCENE
"Farmers, Hip-Hop and Plastic Guns"
Typical sounds of a traditional Austrian wedding party beat my
eardrums when I got out of the car with a plastic bag full of hip-hop
CDs in a small village 20 miles north of Salzburg. But I was not
really surprised, because a friend who invited me told me that the
main part of the restaurant will be crowded by "rednecks."
Some small posters attached to the wooden fence surrounding
the restaurant building lead me the way: A "Gangsta Rap Night" was
announced in a separate bar also belonging to the restaurant. At the
entrance some girlies with typical rap gear sold self-made tickets
with a big G on it. They were good for a beer.
Somehow I was really amused by the strangeness of this event --
white, European, rural area kids gathering and listening to Black,
American, big city music. When I went up to the DJs who organized the
event, though, they said the main problem with the perception of Hip-
Hop in Europe is all too evident. One of them, 20 years old, proudly
presented a plastic fake gun he wore under his belt. Some minutes
later a magazine named "Gun Digest" with tons of plastic gun
imitations circled around. Girls were impressed, and once again The
Message was misunderstood, while the head nodding frequency of two
older guys in their 40s increased steadily with each beer.
Everyone seemed to liked the tunes of GangStarr, Lords of the
Underground and Method Man, but I always wonder what people would say
when they understood the lyrics -- like a translation of N.W.A.'s "The
Art of Sucking Dick." Europe is considered to be less prude (at
least not that hypocritical) concerning sexual behavior than the U.S.,
but still, I doubt that a rapper actually doing the translated version
would ever be able to appear in public again.
Therefore, U.S. rappers have the "benefit" of unintelligible
languange in Europe. Usually concerned parents just see it as a new
fashion and seem to have little problems with their kids listening to
rap (well, besides labeling it as loud and simple "music" which anyone
who can to turn on a computer could produce).
But back to our "Gangsta Rap Night." After some hours of real
hip-hop more and more people disappeared until the DJs mainly played
for themselves. The crowd never really got into it. Many people in
Europe consider hip-hop a fashion, without realizing the deep social
human backgrounds of a music which I often refer to as one of the very
few real and true things on this planet.
Ryan "Laze" MacMichael
BACK TO THE OLD SCHOOL
There have been a fair amount of books written on hip-hop in
the last decade, and though most of them deal with the old school for
at least a short while, rarely do they give very much information at
all. However, three books written in the last year cover hip-hop from
old school up until today in a very complete and knowledgeable manner.
Even some of the most intelligent old-schoolers will find out
something within these pages.
THE NEW BEATS by S.H. Fernando, Jr. was released in September,
1994. In the first chapter, "Return of the Boogie Down," Fernando
spends 30 pages covering the way-back old school up through BDP's
"Criminal Minded." He tells an interesting story, which I had never
heard about before, about how KRS-One and Scott LaRock got together.
Apparently, they were in a shelter where Scott was working as a social
worker, and they began arguing. Kris accused Scott of being a house
nigger and not knowing anything about the hip-hop culture. Scott set
him straight by telling Kris that he DJed at a club called the
Broadway RT. He then threw in a little dis: "I see all you rappers
and you come a dime a dozen." After the smoke of their verbal battle
cleared, they calmed down and decided to start working together. So,
along with the help of Ced-Gee, later of Ultra-magnetic, "Criminal
Minded" was born in a month's time.
The second chapter covers rap's raggamuffin roots (much like
is done here within the pages of HardC.O.R.E.) quite thoroughly --
almost another 30 pages worth, actually. As the book progresses,
sampling is covered, as is the NOI influence, gangsta rap, a Hit Squad
tour, DJs and their skills, and much more. This particular book is
very, very complete and entertaining. It's $14.95 US, $18.95 Canada,
and is published by DoubleDay.
BLACK NOISE by Tricia Rose covers "Rap Music and Black Culture
in Contemporary America." It's on a more textually researched level
than THE NEW BEATS (it has an eight-and-a-half page bibliography and
26 pages of notes). Rose uses maps, many lyrical quotes, and in depth
interviews to cover a large chunk of history of the music.
What's the most interesting, perhaps, is the range of analyses
she uses on hip-hop. She covers a gender analysis (attacking Village
Voice writer Nelson George for his lack of recognition for woman
rappers), technological and moral analyses of sampling (which is very,
very interesting), and a political look at the many radically charged
artists in the music. This book may be less historically based than
THE NEW BEATS, but provides compelling supplemental reading. BLACK
NOISE is published by the University Press of New England.
IT'S NOT ABOUT A SALARY... RAP, RACE, AND RESISTANCE IN LOS
ANGELES by Brian Cross takes a bit of a different approach. After a
lengthy comparison of the New York and Los Angeles old schools, he
presents interviews with many hip-hoppers (new and old school), and
there are quite a few good photos. Interviewees include King Tee,
Skatemaster Tate (?!?), Freestyle Fellowship, Roy Porter and the late
Eazy-E. There's also an old school roundtable (Chino, Rudy Pardee,
Flash (not Grandmaster), Captain Rapp, Lonzo, Lovin' C, Michael Mixxin
Moor, G Money, and Cli N Tel). Also intertesting is the epilogue by
female rapper T-Love (who apparently has a record deal with Polygram)
where she covers her love for the music back in the day as well as her
experiences with freestyling then and now.
IT'S NOT ABOUT A SALARY... is an overall decent book with
interesting viewpoints on the old school to the new school from a good
variety of artists. It is available from Verso Publishing.
These books are all very good reads and quite informative for
old school facts, photos, and opinions.
HOMEBOY FROM HELL MONTHLY
*** Part One ***
This is good stuff.
This time: _The Last Poets_ by The Last Poets
Next time: _Tricks of The Shade_ by The Goats
_Enta Da Wu Tang (36 Chambers)_ by Wu Tang Clan
_Cypress Hill_ by Cypress Hill
Last time: _Paid In Full_ by Eric B and Rakim
_Strictly Business_ by EPMD
New Jacks: _Hiphopera_ by Volume 10
_Boxcar Sessions_ by Saafir
_Blowout Comb_ by Digable Planets
_Black Business_ by Poor Righteous Teachers
Distinctiveness: Oh, yeah.
Dopeness Rating: Phat+.
Rap Part: Phat+. Good lord, but this is lyrical steak, cooked
the way you like it and seasoned to perfection.
Sounds: A perfect complement. Phat+.
Rotation Weight: Again and again. Oh, and again.
Message: I would think so.
Tracks: 13 at 31:29.
Producers: East Wind Associates
The Last poets.
Now *these* guys represent history. It's always funny to listen to
young hip hop heads who act like rap began in 1988 with _Straight
Outta Compton_ or maybe "a few years earlier" with Run-DMC. But it's
just as funny to hear a slightly more knowledgeable hip hop head
confidently correct them by talking about the Sugar Hill Gang and the
rest of the "old school."
In fact, it's downright cute.
Now the rest of us, if forced to point to the first real rappers will
probably decide to start with The Last Poets. These brothers were
rapping over a beat--and an African, jazzish beat at that--before a
whole lot of y'all could even talk. The legend is that they were
formed on Malcolm X's birthday in Harlem in 1968. They have survived
in various forms ever since.
Today, I'd like to review their first album, _The Last Poets_, from
1970. The poets at this time were Abiodun Oyewole, Alafia Pudim and
Omar Ben Hassen (who released _Be Bop or Be Dead_ in 1993 as Umar Bin
Hassan) with Nilaja on percussion. You can still find this album on CD
if you look hard enough and, to be honest, it's well worth looking
for. Much of this stuff is as fresh--on both the political and
musical tip--as any stuff you're likely to hear today.
Let us begin.
We start with "Run, Nigger" a short, dynamite piece of poetry. It's
been oft-sampled, used by everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Yomo
and Maulkie. And it doesn't take long to understand why.
"I understand (tick tock) that time (tick tock) is running out
I understand (tick tock) that time (tick tock) is running out
I understand (tick tock) that time (tick tock) is running out
Running out as (tick tock) hastily as (tick tock) niggers run from the man
Time is running (tick tock) out... on our (tick tock) natural habits"
This track highlights one of the best qualities of early Last Poets: a
riff-like overlapping of voices and words that manage to come off like
well-prepared randomness. It's incredible stuff to listen to.
"I heard someone say, 'things were changing' (changing)
(things are changing) changing (changing) (changing)
(changing) from brown (tick tock) to black
time is (tick tock) running (tick tock) out on bullsh*t changes"
Run, like you run
when the liquor store's closing and
it's Saturday Night
'Cause time is running
Run like time
never yielding or forgiving"
Oyewole's voice is commanding here as it is on all the tracks where he
"Time is running, running, running
running, running, running, running
Time's done run out"
Nice stuff, this stuff is. Anyway, Oyewole yields to Pudim for "On
"Me knowing me
Black, proud and determined to be free
could plainly see my enemy
Yes, (I've seen that nigger sssomewhere before) yes
Yes I know him
I once slaved for him
body and soul
and made him a pile of Black gold
off the sweat (next stop) of my labor
(next stop) he stole
But his (next stop) game,
his (next stop) game is old (next stop) "
More of that jazz-speak.
"Can he be saved?
(No! No! No!)
Next stop, 125th street"
No losses so far. This brings us to our final poet for the day, Omar
Ben Hassen with "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution." This is, of
course, a classic.
"Niggers are scared of revolution
But niggers shouldn't be scared of revolution
Because revolution is nothing but change
And all niggers do is change"
His voice is as strong and forceful as his compatriots and just as
unique. This is five and a half minutes of non-stop lyrical pipe.
And, as always, the background percussion and voice-insertions work
"Niggers shoot guns and rifles on New Year's Eve
A new year that is coming in
Where White police will do more shooting at them
Where are niggers when the revolution needs some shots?
Yeah you know niggers are somewhere shooting the shit"
Yet another absurdly well-written track.
"I love niggers
Because niggers are me
And I should only love that which is a part of me
I love to see niggers go through changes
Love to see niggers act
Love to see niggers make them plays
and shoot the shit
But there is one thing about niggers I do not love
Niggers are scared of revolution"
Just damn good, ya'll.
Omar remains on stage for just a moment with "Black Thighs."
"Black thighs making me forget all pain"
It's a very short track and makes a nice introduction for "Gashman"
which, through Oyewole's slow, relaxed speaking seems to advance a
somewhat different perspective on the whole subject.
and leaving a long stream of blood
from corner to corner
stoop to stoop
bed to bed
and gash to gash
Ummm, it feels so good
as sweat trickles down your back
with your revolution being dug
out of your wax-filled ears
and your bleeding mind
speaking strongly of death
and allowing blood to clot
and crust on the gash"
You kinda have to like it.
"All over, b*tches with big fro's
and nice bodies
turning would-be revolutionaries
Same song yesterday."
Pudim takes point with "Wake Up, Niggers."
"'Save me a corner' you shout
as the light goes out
'cause you ain't paid the electric bill
and the rats and the roaches move on in for the kill
as your lips struggle to claim that last drop from the wine bottle
and you rose snake-eyed, never realizing that you blew
Wake up, niggers, or you're all through"
Another good track. As with every other track, there are on-point
lyrics, a nice beat and an absolutely beautiful jazz-like cadence of
voices and background sounds. How can one go wrong here? The answer
is: one can't.
On to Oyewole's "New York, New York."
"New York, New York (the big apple)
16 million feet (New York, New York the big apple)
nationals, tom mcanns, florsheims (New York, New York the big apple)
stepping over each other (New York, New York the big apple)
rejoicing over the death of one nigger toe"
that knocks up sisters
and knocks 'em in the head
For an opportunity
that takes them home
with dope in the arm
and Clairol on the brain"
"Where Queen Liberty
standing in the middle of pea-green water
telling a brother he's liberated
(the statue of a liberty is a prostitute)
Yeah, he is liberated
from the old Mississippi to the new Mississippi"
"New York is a state of mind
that doesn't mind f*cking up a brother"
Sometimes you just have to let things speak for themselves.
"Jones Comin' Down" is next, featuring Pudim again.
"I've got to ease my mind
Is that the kid I hear cryin'
Shut up kid
You want the super to call the man
and have me pull another bid?
So what if you're hungry
Sh*t, my jones is down on me
I ain't your old man
I don't know how where the dude is
If he knows what I know
he's out gettin' his"
Good lyrics as always and you could just hear that and be impressed,
but with the percussion and background mumblings a damn good track
becomes a damn great track. These brothers knew what they were doing,
Despite the CD booklet's claim, I gather the next track is "When The
Revolution Comes" featuring Oyewole. This takes it's place by "Run,
Nigger" and "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution" as the best stuff on
"When the revolution comes
Jesus Christ is going to be standing
on the corner of Lennox Ave and 125th street
trying to catch the first gypsy cab out of Harlem"
"When the revolution comes
When the revolution comes
But until then
You know and I know
party and bullsh*t
and party and bullsh*t
and party and bullsh*t
and party and bullsh*t
Some might even die
before the revolution comes"
Omar returns after a long break with "Just Because." Just one more
"You say you don't want to die because
I don't want to die because
You say you don't want to die because
there's no cause to die for
Now what would cause you to say that?"
"Just because you're singularly satisfied
that's no cause
to forget who is the cause of Black people
being exploited and depressed
There have been many causes men have chosen to die for
But many Black men are dying for a cause
and because you think there is no cause to die for"
"I hope you get a cause to die for soon
Because you're gonna die anyway"
"It's glorious to die for a cause
But not because"
Yep, yep. Pardon me, whist I genuflect.
Anyway, Omar then takes us to "Black Wish," a slightly different track.
"I am the wish that all Black people are wishing for
I am the wish of freedom
Yes, I am the wish of Black freedom
And I wish and I wish and I wish
and I wish I know and I know I wish
and I wish I know and I know I wish
and I wish and I know and I know and I know
that that wish will come true"
We quickly move to "Two Little Boys." Oyewole returns to the
microphone again for this one. Nilaja makes an even bigger difference
this time around; working perfectly with his voice.
"His mom is somewhere drinking
and talking about survival
pop's in jail or downtown at the Y
the little boy chases white ghosts with his friend
and they get high"
"Come together and create"
Pudim has the job of ending this effort with "Suprises."
"And we are loved for being ignorant
And hated if we are militant
But promises can do nothing for me
It's time to set ourselves free"
To no one's surprise, it all comes off.
Damn, what a good album.
So, what's the bottom line? There are almost no out-of-date political
ramblings to be found... and where there are, they are soon followed
by incredibly on-point, relevant lyrics and stories. Teaching and not
preaching. And to top it all off, it's all put together beautifully.
Phat, phat, phat. You could have released this in 1988 pretty much as
is and put _It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back_ to shame.
You could release this in 1995 and, well, put everything to shame.
OK, kid, here's your chance. Pick it up.
Pick it up.
But that's just one Black man's opinion--what's yours?
*** Part Two ***
This time: _Holy Terror_ by The Last Poets
Next time: _Hiphopera_ by Volume 10
_Boxcar Sessions_ by Saafir
_Blowout Comb_ by Digable Planets
_Black Business_ by Poor Righteous Teachers
Last time: _Non-Fiction_ by Black Sheep
_Genocide and Juice_ by The Coup
_Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age_ by Public Enemy
_Illmatic_ by Nas
_Hard To Earn_ by Gang Starr
_Be Bop or Be Dead_ by Umar Bin Hassan
Catch Ups: _Tricks of The Shade_ by The Goats
_Enta Da Wu Tang (36 Chambers)_ by Wu Tang Clan
_Cypress Hill_ by Cypress Hill
Dopeness Rating: Phat. Really, what else is there to say?
Rap Part: Phat. There's a weird mixture of styles going on
here and they don't always mix as well as they
could, but in the end, it's still phat.
Sounds: Phat. Goooood music.
Predictions: Not enough folks will buy it 'cause most of the
world is lame.
Rotation Weight: Well, it ain't light, homie.
Message: Um. Well, of course.
Tracks: 10 tracks and somewhere near 53 minutes
Producers: Bill Laswell
The Last Poets.
Well, they're back. The first rappers and the last poets, are back.
Now, last time, scant minutes ago by my reckoning, I reviewed their
first album, _The Last Poets_, from 1970. The poets at that time were
Abiodun Oyewole, Alafia Pudim and Omar Ben Hassen with Nilaja on
Now, it's 1995, a quarter century has passed. The album is _Holy
Terror_ and the poets are Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan (once Omar
Ben Hassen) and Grandmaster Melle Mel (yes, *that* Grandmaster Melle
Mel). They are joined by Bootsy Collins on guitars and bass; Bernie
Worrell on organ, piano, clavinet and synthesizer; Bill Laswell on
bass, beats, samples and loops; and Aiyb Dieng on congas, chatan,
bells, talking drum, doff, tambourine, gongs and percussion.
Now, I lavished well-deserved praise upon _The Last Poets_. It
was--and is--slammin'. Well, most of the things that made _The Last
Poets_ so damn good are here as well. In fact, really, only one thing
is missing: the feeling of a jazz-like interplay of the voices between
the poets. On the early stuff, one gets the feeling that, even though
only one poet is really featured on any given track, that they're all
in the same room and kind of making things up as they go along,
letting the moment lead them into improvisation. Here, one gets the
feeling that they're all in separate rooms.
That's seriously too bad, but, I'm happy to say, they're all in
separate rooms still dropping knowledge and usually impressing the
hell out of me when all is said and done.
We begin with "Invocation." This introduction features Oyewole giving
us a proper history lesson on The Last Poets.
"And a South African poet names Kgositile said,
'This Wind You Hear Is The Birth of Memory'"
The segues nicely into "Homesick" featuring Umar and Melle Mel.
"I see a slave that's on a ship
His back is getting whipped
His great great great grandson's a crip
That's a trip"
Well, there's serious muzak behind them this time, a far cry from the
sparse, if extremely elegant, percussion of Nilaja.
"So much blood
How can we forget?
A seat in the audience of the grammy awards?
How can we forget?
A news anchor job telling respectable lies?
How can we forget?"
It's so weird hearing the juxtaposition of Umar's sing-songy style and
Melle Mel's old school rappin'.
"Take that word insane and make it warrior
Take that word crazy and make it poet
Take that word suicidal and make it live"
"We owe no explanations
We owe no apologies
Ours has been a struggle of gun battles
and bullets whizzing past"
"Not afraid of giving too much too soon and looking too foolish."
And, yes, I made that point just so I could use "juxtaposition" in a
Anyway, Oyewole returns on "Black Rage."
"Grenades in their eyes
and death is their prize"
"There are bombs standing
on the corners of the cities
waiting to explode
at the slightest touch
baggy shadow street boys
stand cocked ready to fire
their eyes are grenades
and the pin is about to be pulled
Boom! The brother went off
pressure pulled the trigger
and the brother became a nigger
and no one could figure out how it happened
What went wrong?"
The music is particularly good on this one. It does what such things
should always do: set the proper mood. Oyewole does the rest.
"They are diamonds treated like worthless stones
They are rivers with nowhere to run"
Umar and Melle Mel juxtapose again in "Men-tality." This time Umar
gives in to Mel's peer pressure and makes certain that everything
"The truth becomes pretense
The lie becomes bold"
"The end becomes question
Morals are closed but then open to suggestion
Shady positions without shade in the trees
Major destruction in minor degrees"
Nice effort. This brings us to "Pelourinho" again with Oyewole. This
is, he tells us, "where they brought the Africans, where they tried to
make them slaves." He's starts off by kinda singing. Yes, well.
That doesn't last long and we get to the meat of the matter.
"You can feel the whip
Hear the cries
and see the blood in the red clay
the clay that holds the stones together is African"
"The chains did not break the spirit
Did not enslave the music of my soul
Did not shackle the will of my freedom"
It all works. In fact, by the end, one can even forgive him for
Anyway, we're shocked immediately by the strains of "Give Up The Funk"
as it's being sampled in "Funk." Well, *I* was shocked. Melle Mel
opens up before turning things over to a somewhat shocked-sounding
"Deep in that moment when funk becomes art"
You know... this is a funky track.
"Caught up in his funk
Caught up in his charm
Caught up in his magic
but not his alarm"
I think this time, the music trumps the lyrics and delivery, though.
I found myself singing the words in the background more than trying to
learn the words in the foreground.
This isn't the case at all with "If We Only Knew." Oyewole steps up
to the mic and he's swinging.
"We need to own the joint
Instead of working as a waiter"
"Trying to use common sense where life is insane"
He sounds oddly like Melle Mel. I find that disconcerting for some
Alas. Umar returns in very top form with "The Illusion of Self."
"The Holy Terror becomes the holy blessing
Family values caught in the act of undressing"
I like the organ.
"Yes, we once knew love
We once held it here inside
while beating it to death"
"Rational mind be quiet
Ego be still
Learn to accept
Learn to be real"
Umar continues with "Talk Show."
"A fashion model with a radiant smile
Concealing her darkness while exhibiting style
Pole dancers with the greatest of ease
Major intelligence becomes a minor striptease"
"Feeling that difference then feeling the same
Wanting the prize but not the game"
"Why do we make them outlaws when there really is no crime
Why do we try to deny them when we know we need them so
Why do we try to ignore them but are afraid to let them go"
Oyewole wraps things up with the outro "Last Rites."
"The children are singing our songs
In the absence of a movement
they rebel among themselves
We will change that
We will be the light to show them the way
We will be the fire for the torch
We will be the tidal of the wave
Ring the bell, the sh*t is on
And here we are at the bottom line.
What to say?
Well, the easiest thing to do, I guess, would be to compare _Holy
Terror_ to _The Last Poets_. I guess, _Holy Terror_ loses that
comparison. Of course, that doesn't tell one much since _Last Poets_
is all that and a bowl of hot grits.
And, of course, it's easier to like: it's got an angry intensity and
sense of urgency that one can't help but empathize with. _Holy
Terror_ is made by older people with older voices and older eyes.
Wise focused reflection always loses to young bravado and energy. I
suspect most fans of the latest hip hop will be more enamored with
the first album. In fact, I know they will.
But that's not really fair, is it? _Holy Terror_, when all is said
and done, stands on its own. Like _Be Bop or Be Dead_, it has its own
power and energy and is well-worth owning, not just by fans of the
Last Poets but by Hip Hop heads and especially those Hip Hop Heads who
appreciate and seek to understand the depth and breadth of the culture
that they profess to love.
If I could give the honored poets of today some advice, though, it
would be this: give me the impression that you're in the same room
mixing it all up. This stuff is great, but it's easy to see how to
make it better. There's magic in the angry, pointed lyrics found in
"Run, Nigger" and "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution"; however, the
real magic is in their jazz-like cadences and the interplay of each of
the voices. The emotion is in the words, yes, but much of it is in
the feeling that there's a group of people supporting each word and
That's my advice to the poets, given respectfully. And as for you,
reader, I guess all I can say to you is that you've got at least two
Last Poets albums to buy, don't you? And while, you're at it, pick up
_The Best of Gil Scott Heron_ and _Spirits_ by Gil Scott Heron and _Be
Bop or Be Dead_ by Umar Bin Hassan. You may find them under "H," but
if you don't, do what I did and look under "L" for "Last Poets."
I'm glad we had this chance to talk.
But that's just one Black man's opinion--what's yours?
(C) Copyright 1995, Charles L Isbell, Jr.
All my Hip Hop reviews are available on the World Wide Web. Use the
URL: http://www.ai.mit.edu/~isbell/isbell.html and follow the
Steve 'Flash' Juon
FLASH'S VIDEO REVIEW
("And that's why our brains don't work anymoooooooore!!!")
Digable Planets - "Dial 7: Axiom of Creamy Spies"
Maybe it's just me, but these guys seem to have a really good
knack for taking their songs and creating concepts which visually
represent the flavor texture and message to the fullest, either in
abstract or vivid reality. I was mad open to the grainy, rugged feel
of "9th Wonder" and the same is the case here. They've created a
surreal world of ghetto spies with binoculars, trigger cross-hairs,
bugged coversations (appropriate for the former insects) and rockin
the mic to the fullest on the down low. If you can't get with this
James Bond type shit, you aren't paying attention.
pH - 6, pHat
Panthers All-Stars - "Panthers"
We are the world, part two... yippe yay yo kyay. You know, I
always had a theory about why that song sold 50 million copies -- a
million die-hard fans of each artist involved had to pick up a copy to
make their collection complete. Well anyway, I couldn't give a fuck
if Mary J Blige, Brandy, or whoever the hell is up there in this
posse. Too many heads spoil my soup, and I'm not really checkin' for
R&B when I'm watching "Yo! MTV Raps." Besides, unless you like
pictures of a lot of beautiful people, this video is just static and
pH - 1, pHukkit
Notorious B.I.G. - "Big Poppa"
Again we have a method designed to get props in my book --
represent the concept of the song to the fullest in the video. Just
like Ill Al Skratch's "I'll Take Her," this joint has a mad funny
confrontation between two guys and a girl. While homeboy asks the fly
honeydip "what's your name, what's your sign," the girl by turn
ignores him and disses him. Then Biggie creeps up from behind while
he "buys that wine," MOOSHES the kid in the face without even looking
over his shoulder, and starts kickin it to the girl, "things to make
you smile, what numbers to dial". A bonus is seeing Puff Daddy lounge
in the hot tub sippin champagne with all the girls. It's either
blatantly sexually exploitative or mad wicked -- both, in my opinion.
I can't front, this video may get played way too often, but I
love the song and this eye-catching jammie.
pH - 5, pHunky
Spearhead - "Hole in the Bucket"
This one may only be a one-shot as far as MTV rotation goes,
and it's not going to be hot on The Box either, but it is arguably one
of the best videos I've _ever_ seen, and certainly the best Michael
Franti has ever done. Can we say "acting career"? Hello Cube, hello
2Pac, you've got comp! The "hole" of the title is in some ways a
metaphor, but by the end it becomes painfully clear what it's all
Franti goes to the store to buy some shit, including a needle
and thread (though he can't remember why). He passes a beggar on his
way in and out, at first thinking that this bum would just waste any
money he received on drugs instead of food. Later, recognizing the
disposability of his income and his own painful heartlessness, he goes
back to give the man his change.
I won't give away the ending, but check the facial expressions
of everybody involved and the imagery of money running and rolling
along the streets. Very dope. Makes me want to go out and pick up
Spearhead's "Home." (yes, I've been sleeping)
pH - 6, pHat
THE SINGLES FILE
Common Sense: "Resurrection"
Common's sophomore effort came out long ago back in '94, and
STILL too many people sleep on this kid. Most heads are all up on
Com, but not all, and that's not enough. Hopefully, the Ressurection
mixes will help change this. First of all, the regular '95 remix
changes lyrics, and damn, they're fresh. Also included on the single
are remixes by No I-D and the Large Professor, which are getting some
airplay. But wait, there's more! "Chapter 13" featuring Y-not and a
hella nice old remix of "Soul By The Pound" (off his first LP) are
included. This one cannot be passed up.
Masta Ace Incorporated: "The INC. Ride"
The first single from his upcoming "Sittin On Chrome" LP
release is out and is fairly promising. It's been a while since his
last one, and this album promises to be interesting. Ace is planning
on coming out with a new, different type of sound than before. Look
for a little smoother and laidback feel.
Dr. Dre: "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" b/w Mack 10: "Take a Hit"
The Doctor is in once again for the Friday motion picture
soundtrack. This song has a definite commercial feel, yet I'm not
totally against it. Some of the lyrics are on the wack side, yet
sometimes he comes with some fresh shit like when he's "got rhymes to
keep you enchanted; produce a smokescreen with the funky green to keep
your eyes slanted." Let's say its got its strong points and some weak
points. On the B-side of the 12", check out Mack 10's "Take a Hit"
and the song's fresh beat.
Ahmad/Ras Kass/Saafir: "Come Widdit"
One of the best cuts of the "Street Fighter" soundtrack, this
song is reworked several different ways and they're all fresh.
Versions include Fredwreck remix and Joe Quixx remix. Check the
jazziness on the Fredwreck remix -- kinda nice. If you haven't heard
much of this song, then pick this up! Ahmad is nice on it, Ras Kass
shines, and Saafir comes with the ill rhyme schemes. An excellent
Scarface: "Among The Walking Dead"
You got it. Scarface is on *another* soundtrack, this time
for "The Walking Dead." The single holds the radio version, LP
version, instrumental and acappella. Scarface's flow is what
solidifies this song because, even though I like the beat, it's very
Ryan 'Laze' MacMichael
An interview with Michael Franti of Spearhead
At 4pm I went by the Great Hall to see if I was going to get
hooked up with an interview with the Digable Planets and Spearhead for
the school paper before the show at 9:00. Unfortunately, after an
hour of patient waiting, I was told by the student entertainment head
to come back later because a lot of things were going wrong. I was a
little worried since I not only had to wait longer for the interview,
but because I still didn't have any physical tickets in my hand.
I came back at 6:30pm and waited patiently... again. I saw
Butterfly from the Planets and heard him talking about some Ohio
Players sample that no one else had used in some particular way. I
tried to put all negativity I had heard about aside and figured maybe
they weren't such dicks after all.
A few minutes later I heard Butterfly talking with his manager
about an interview they had to do. I figured they were speaking about
the interview with me for the paper, so I stepped up and introduced
myself. Butterfly looked at me condescendingly while his manager
(some old guy who didn't seem to give a fuck about any public
relations that wouldn't make him money) asked, "Well do you have a
time set up?" in a tone that made it seemed like he couldn't believe
that some college student would have the nerve to talk to him. I
began to answer and he said, "No. This is another interview. You
have to set up a time!" I looked at them both and said, "Well, we
tried, but I guess it just didn't work out..." and walked away
ignoring anything else they had to say.
At about 7:15 the student entertainment head introduced me to
Spearhead's manager, a man with dreads down to his knees. According
to the manager, who was a much more pleasant person to deal with, he
had told the group that they'd have no more interviews since they had
ten the day before. Then Michael Franti came out and the manager
said, "I know I told you there would be no more interviews, but this
man is with the school paper and would like to speak with you."
Michael Franti, all 6'6" of him (a foot taller than me), stepped to me --
face-to-chest -- and looked down at me saying, "What the FUCK you
want?" I had nothing else to say except, "Damn... you're tall." He
was playing and I told him that I had been following him since The
Disposable Heroes. "Damn, I knew somebody was following me," he
responded, looking behind himself...
This interview is what followed.
LAZE: What happened between you and Rono Tse (also of The Disposable
MICHAEL FRANTI: We still chat from time to time, but I'm mostly out on
the road. I'm busy with Spearhead, he's got a group called Black China.
LAZE: I noticed a big change in mood between HIPOCRISY IS THE GREATEST
LUXURY and HOME. What inspired the change?
MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, pretty much we're trying to deal with new ways of
communication. When I was out with Disposable Heroes, there would be
times when we were touring... one time in Australia we were doing an
outdoor festival and there are people out there half-naked throwing
water at each other and we're up on stage shouting "Television, the
drug of the nation" and smashing TV sets. It just didn't go together.
We just wanted to do something with the groove to get people's
attention and then hit them with the message.
LAZE: I read in THE BEAT, the reggae magazine, that you listed Macka B
as one of your influences. Could you expand on him and who your other
influences are musically and lyrically?
MICHAEL FRANTI: Pretty much, I've always been inspired by artists who
have written good music first, but then they also they put in the music
things that are taking place in the world. I've always loved Sly and the
Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Matabaruka, Linton
Kwesi Johnson, and Jimi Hendrix.
LAZE: What is your opinion on issues in hip-hop today, like Tupac's final
interview or the recent announcement about Eazy-E having AIDS?
MICHAEL FRANTI: I haven't read Tupac's interview as yet... (quietly) and
I don't think it's his final interview. But, in regard to Eazy-E, first
of all, I think it's a terrible tragedy, of course, that anytime anybody
has AIDS. I think it's important that if you feel you're at risk, you
need to be tested. And if you don't feel that you're at risk, you still
need to practice safe sex. You see that one of us has been infected, but
then also, there may be people outside of hip-hop that disagree with a
lot of things that Eazy-E has said or have disagreed with gangster rap.
It tests your compassion, 'cause that's really what this is about --
compassion for people with the disease.
LAZE: What do you feel is the direction of hip-hop compared with the
direction of your own music in the future?
MICHAEL FRANTI: The direction of hip-hop is ever expanding. It's in a
long line of black music, and every now and then along that journey one
thing will shoot off to a side and sprout it's own wings and things shoot
off of that. It's all part of the family tree.
LAZE: How do you feel about freestyling and it's seemingly increasing
importance in becoming an MC?
MICHAEL FRANTI: Freestyling has always been important in every style of
music whether it's hip-hop, jazz, or rock up there playing guitar, whatever
it is. It's always been a part of rap, and I don't think it's any more
important today than it was years ago, it's just that people are more
aware of it, maybe.
LAZE: How's it been touring with the Digable Planets? [I asked this
question more out of personal curiosity than anything else after my
MICHAEL FRANTI: Well... it's cool, you know. They have a big band,
and they take a long time to do sound checks. Our sound checks have
been kind of late, if any, at times. But the people in the band,
they're cool. It's all good. Almost all of the shows have sold out.
LAZE: As I was sitting here, I began to think of "Socio-Genetic Experiment"
where you mentioned your nationality. Could you expand on that?
MICHAEL FRANTI: That's my ethnic roots. You are part of what your ethnic
roots are, you are part of how you grow up, and you are your own
individual decisions that you make each day. Although I'm considered
myself to be a black man, I don't just deal with things on whether it's
a black thing or a white thing, I try to deal with things under the
God that put me in the situation that I'm in today. And that's whose
side I'm on.
Despite the short time I had with Michael Franti, it was an
interesting experience. He didn't seem to let showbiz get to his head
in the least. He was polite, and even hung around out with the fans
during the Digable Planets set, at which time I thanked him once more
for his interview and congratulated him on a good show. Even though I
had numerous tape problems (note to self: use new batteries during an
important interview), things came together nicely.
Both Spearhead and the Digable Planets had good sets, but
Spearhead seemed to tear the set up just a little bit better. I guess
it's easier to enjoy a band when you can relate to them rather than
looking up at them as a group that can't get their heads out of the
ROOTS 'n' RAP
Diggin' in the Crates, part I: The Stax-Volt Sound
[This is the first in a series in this column which will look into the
trax that hip-hop DJ's have carried in their crates from back in the
day to the 95. Future columns will delve into King Records/James
Brown, Philadelphia International Records, Douglas Records, Ohio funk,
Spoken Word, and the Jazz Roots of hip-hop. Each column will also
track a few samples down to the source -- RAP]
What do Big Daddy Kane's "The Beef Is On," Cypress Hill's "How
I Could Just Kill a Man," Heavy D's "Don't Curse," Das EFX's "Dum
Dums," and Salt 'n' Pepa's "Tramp" all have in common? They all rely
on samples and loops from the catalog of Memphis's legendary Stax/Volt
records. Sometimes overlooked in the shadow of Motown, Stax was a
cultural crossroads in the pivotal years of the 1960's, and even
though Stax (unlike Motown) was not originally Black-owned, it
acquired over the years a reputation for a Blacker, more streetwise,
less pop-crossover sound.
It's no coincidence, then, that musicians such as Isaac Hayes
paid their dues writing or recording for Stax, and that when DJ's
reached into the crates, it was Stax more often than Motown that
provided the beats (Stax house drummer Al Jackson Jr. should be up
there with Clyde Stubblefield and Ziggy Modeliste in the funky-drummer
hall of fame). It's strange to think, then, that it all started way
back in 1960 in a disused Memphis movie theatre located at 926 East
McLemore, when a white banker (and former country fiddle player)
teamed up with his sister to borrow enough money to buy an Ampex reel-
to-reel tape machine.
That theatre, which later was dressed up with the legendary
neon marquee showing the Stax of Wax, eventually housed more talent to
the square inch than any recording studio in the country. Some of
it was due to fortuitous urban and cultural geography; keyboardist
Booker T. Jones was a gangly sixteen-year-old who lived just
around the corner; songwriter David Porter worked at the Big Star
grocery store across the street; Rufus Thomas hosted a popular
show on Memphis's WDIA.
But the neighborhood feel belied the nationwide audience of
these artists: at 50,000 watts, WDIA was one of the most powerful
Black radio stations in the country, with over 1.2 million Black
Americans in its listening area -- over 10% of the Black population of
the U.S. at the time. Stax's deal with Atlantic in 1961 connected it
with their nationwide distribution and promotion, and guaranteed Stax
artists a better royalty rate. Motown's Berry Gordy worked his
artists hard, but paid as little as a fifth of the standard royalties,
while at Stax hard work meant hard cash.
It wasn't just the money, though -- it was Stax's commitment
to Black artists, songwriters, and promotion via Black radio that gave
it the edge. While Motown was aiming itself directly at the pop
charts -- and white consumers -- Stax always went for the R&B charts
first, even when, in yet another racist twist, Billboard magazine
stopped listing R&B charts altogether in 1963-5. As Mable John -- one
of Gordy's first signees, said when defecting to Stax in 1965, "Motown
is not basically a soul company -- it's more pop and I'm not a pop
singer. Gordy had no soul writers or producers, so I asked for a
Memphis was also part of a larger cultural crossroads between
country music, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll; if it was Sun
records that first vanillified jump blues and called it 'rock'n'roll,'
it was Stax that took it b(l)ack. Their artist roster during their
glory days was a hall of fame all in itself: Otis Redding, Sam and
Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, the Bar-
Kays, Booker T. and the MG's, Eddie Floyd... the list goes on and on.
Stax's in-house band and jam-session atmosphere was a rich
collaborative atmosphere for all its artists. On the promotion side,
Al Bell took care of business, keeping Stax's links with Black DJ's
and record-shop owners strong.
It all seemed to good to last, and in some ways it was; with
Otis Redding's death in 1967, the label lost its brightest star, and
the following year saw all kinds of upheaval at Stax. Major labels
wanted a bigger slice of the R&B pie, but lacked the organization and
links with Black communities to get it. When Atlantic itself was
bought out in 1968, Stax used a clause in its contract to end their
distribution deal, and make its own.
Stax inked its own arrangement with Gulf+Western in '68, and
for a while it seemed things would go on just as they had. But having
a large corporate parent inevitably changes things, and in any case,
Stax's artists themselves were changing and evolving. As the '70's
dawned, Booker T. Jones left for California (and A&M records), and
writer/guitarist/A&R chief Steve Cropper was replaced by Detroit's Don
Davis. Stax branched out with more subsidiary labels, and something
of that neighborhood feel was lost.
There were gains, though -- for one, Stax broke into comedy
records, signing the then-unknown Richard Pryor, whose 1973 debut
"That Nigger's Crazy" no major label would touch, let alone even guess
how to promote it. For another, Jim Stewart sold his interest in Stax
to Al Bell, making Stax a Black-controlled label. Bell was a
committed political activist with a long civil rights record, and he
initiated a period of wide-ranging activism at Stax. He supported the
Rev. Jesse Jackson in the early days of operation P.U.S.H., releasing
Jackson's speech "I Am Somebody" on Stax's Respect label. 1972 saw
what Nelson George rightly recognizes as a high-water mark of R&B
music and Black community activism, the Wattstax project:
'On August 20, 1972, Bell and Jackson stood side by side in
the middle of the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum, chanted "I Am
Somebody," and then raised their fists in the Black Power salute
before a hundred thousand music fans. With that gesture began a
long day of live music by every Stax artist to raise money for the
Watts Summer Festival. It was a symbol of black self-sufficiency.
Wattstax became a film -- shot by a predominantly black crew -- and
a six-sided album.'
(Nelson George, _The Death of Rhythm and Blues, 139-40)
It's an event that is simply unparalleled today -- even when
Priority records raised money to rebuild south central L.A., it did it
relatively quietly. We could use something like Wattstax today.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, success killed Stax
records, hurried along by white-controlled major record labels and their
lawyers. In 1972, Stax made a deal with Clive Davis at CBS, which
initially looked to be a flush one for them. Then Davis was
summarily fired, CBS failed to honor the terms of the agreement,
and Stax ended up being obligated to ship inordinately high
numbers of new titles at a lowered royalty rate within a very
short period of time. Veterans such as Carla Thomas were hurried
into the studio, then had their vocals buried under slathers of
generic strings; it was no surprise that sales were poor.
The only good thing to come out of this debacle was Isaac
Hayes's "Hot Buttered Soul," which Hayes -- for nearly a decade Stax's
in-house songwriter/arranger -- slipped through in the rush. It was a
huge success, and opened the door into "Shaft" and Hayes's most
productive and popular decade. But it was too late for Stax; after a
string of lawsuits involving CBS and the banks, Stax bled artists left
and right, and finally went under in 1976. To his credit, Al Bell
went down fighting, but there was not much he could do against CBS and
its endless supply of corporate lawyers.
There are, however, other forms of survival more important
than those recognized by corporate America. The hard-driving beats of
the Stax studio had a future that no one -- not even Bell himself --
could have foreseen. They were perfect for scratching and sampling.
The drum breaks and intros to Stax tracks were spare enough to build a
beat, but rich enough to suggest something more; check out Salt 'n'
Pepa's cut on Otis Redding & Carla Thomas's "Tramp" (from back in the
days when Spinderella actually *spun* some vinyl). The horn riffs
provide a perfect accent for the overdubbed beat, and the roughness
around the edges fits Salt 'n' Pepa's lyrics like a body suit.
The "Tramp" beat was a favorite from the start, and rivals the
"Funky Drummer" for status as an all-time DJ classic. The
instrumental skills of Booker T. & the MG's made their tracks another
favorite; even though Heavy D and guests "Don't Curse," the loop from
"Hip-Hug Her" gives the track a down and dirty undertone. Even the
Stax vocal singles have given up some samples for the hip-hop
underground; when Das EFX wanted a light but steady diet of funk for
"Dum Dums," Otis Redding provided it, and when Big Daddy Kane set out
to show that the Beef was On, the uptempo intro to Rufus Thomas's "I
Think I Made a Boo Boo" brought the sauce.
Thanks to extensive reissues, it's possible to get most of the
Stax/Volt catalog on compact disc, though you might have to buy it in
big chunks. First to be re-issued was the 9-cd set "The Complete Stax-
Volt Singles, 1959-1968"; all of the classic old-school Stax is here,
digitally remastered from the original tapes. Other boxed sets follow
the history of Stax after its split from Atlantic in 1968, and the
acquisition of its back catalog by Fantasy Records. Fantasy has put
out its own samplers of Stax classics, and Rhino/ATCO have re-issued
many of the original pre-'68 Stax albums on CD; you may have to look
around a little -- but not as much as DJ's back in the day, who might
search through a mountain of dusty vinyl to get that one Stax '45.
Even beyond the music, though, Stax is a major landmark in the
history of Black music. As Nelson George has observed, the early
history of hip-hop -- starting on black-owned labels such as Enjoy and
Sugar Hill and eventually becoming subsidiaries of major corporations --
has repeated the history of R&B in miniature. If the end of the hip-
hop is to avoid the crass commercialization that did in R&B, somebody
had better take a lesson from what one small label that stood up for
what it believed in could accomplish.
Credit/Discographical Note: Much of the 411 on the early years
of Stax is drawn from Steve Greeberg's exhaustive 64-page book
accompanying _The Complete Stax/Volt Singles, 1959-1968_, Atlantic
82218-2, 9 cds. I'm also indebted to Nelson George, Simon Frith,
Cilve Anderson, and Ian Hoare for their histories of R&B and the Stax
SHOTS FROM THE INDUSTRY
As HardCORE magazine takes it to the next level of
professionalism, so do I upon graduation. Therefore, this may be my
final contribution to the world's first native electrionic magazine.
Instead of messing with the usual news that erases itself with every
new record release, I'm going to write a bit of perspective from my
hip-hop industry experience these past three years.
(Using Lord Finesse's grandpa voice) Back in the day, I was
your average hip-hop listener, trying to catch up on the new shit by
listening to late night college radio once a week, stepping to the
record store every Tuesday morning, and reading the 25 posts-per-day
netnews.alt.rap bulletin board. And I enjoyed hip-hop for what it
was, strictly music. I listened to what I liked, and if I didn't like
it, I didn't listen to it.
Then came the offer from my college radio station to head
their hip-hop department. That involved compiling record label
information, keeping in contact with the hip-hop radio promos at each
spot, tracking records being played at the station, reviewing new 12"
singles that came in and sending out monthly playlists. Alright, that
sounded nice--free music, knowledge of what's new, and what's coming
out (don't miss No I.D.'s and Fashion's solo albums this summer).
Everything was running smoothly as I spoke to all my favorite radio
representatives on a weekly basis to make sure that WRCT 88.3
Pittsburgh was up on the next shit.
How many times did I have to sweat Erika at Elektra to get
LONS's "What's Next" 12" only to have it disappear from the station
the very next day? Damn, same thing happened to Nas' "Halftime." But
I persevered, and kept on. Between the record label contacts and
worrying about the next record disappearing, I was starting to let the
music slip from my list of priorities. We started rating the quality
of twelve inches by their proability of getting stolen. KRS's "Mortal
Thoughts/Return of the Boom Bap" got a score of 'most likely.'
I first noticed the changes in my ear when I was listening to
Tribe's "Award Tour" the first day it came in. When I put it on, it
wasn't like, "Oh shit, it's the new Tribe single, I've been waiting to
hear from Q-tip and Phife, all those cameos... Where are they at now?
'Low End Theory' was the bomb, and I know this is going to be nice."
No, it was more like this "Oh shit, it's the new Tribe single, is it
going to chart? Of course it will, but I heard Q-tip might be getting
his own record deal--for real, but what will Phife think about that?
I heard Trugoy is on this single, how did Jive arrange that with Tommy
So it was like that: the business end was creeping into the
way that I listened to and perceived each joint. It wasn't all about
the nice lyrics, or fresh beat. It was that, plus the record
contracts, the production companies, and who-thanked-who in the LP's
liner notes that really made a good record.
I lived like that for TWO YEARS. And during that time, I
listened to hip-hop every day, but with my newly-acquired business
ears that could sense a dope new single for the radio a mile away. I
could calculate the success of a 12" by only reading the label. I
could predict the entire LP by looking at the grooves on the first 12"
Clearly, the element of hip-hop that first attracted me to the
music in the first place disappeared somewhere between that first
phone call to Rose at Amherst Records (Crucial D, "Another Summer In
the City") and the interview with UMC's. But I didn't realize it
until I had to move away from the culture for a while.
While studying in Italy for a semester, I got a chance to
isolate me with my 10 favorite tapes. I put my preferred music on ten
TDK SA-90's and lived with them for three months. Three months of
pure music and no industry to interfere with the MUSIC. I finally got
back to the essence. I figured out what I like because it's just good
hip-hop, and I figured out what I don't like because it's just well-
Now I have divested myself of any responsibility at the radio
station. I still call record labels when I need that rare shit for
myself (like that UltraMag compilation on TuffCity records). I still
stop by the station to hear the new Masta Ace single, because I'm not
going to wait anymore for the radio to play anything.
So it's about having control over the music that you listen
to. How do you know that something is nice? How much does the IMAGE
of the music attract you to it? How much does the next person's
OPINIONS of the music affect your own opinion on it? Why do you like
that music? These are all basic questions that will probably be
ignored by 90% of HardCORE readers. How do I know that? Because I
would have ignored those questions myself a few years back.
Hip-hop is unique because it is so tied into image and the
media and publicity. They can be assets to the music, but they also
distract the weak-minded individuals who have just entered the hip-hop
scene. You can find these types of people anywhere: on your steet
corner, at school, at corny nightclubs, at fly nightclubs, and even in
[Publisher's note: Thanks for all the great work for HardC.O.R.E. over
the years, Mike. If you ever get back on the net, or we ever take
this to print, remember that you'll always have a place here with us.
On behalf of the entire staff, I express my gratitude for all the
great articles and reviews you've writeen. Rock the fuck on!
Section 3 -- THREE
Steve 'Flash' Juon
EAZY E, R.I.P.
"Boy you should have known by now, Eazy Duz It..."
Damn. A tear falls from my eye. A little of that 40 ounce is
poured out onto the curb. The hip-hop nation as a whole collectively
weeps for the little man who would be giant. Ice Cube may have been
"The Nigga We Love to Hate" as a nation, but no one man save Vanilla
Ice spawned such automatic and sincere reactions from the hip-hop
nation positively or negatively as did Eazy-E. Even his staunchest
critics (myself included) have to admit now that no matter what ill we
wished him, we could never have wished for this. Eazy E is now gone,
and in 1995 we all realize that we have lost a part of ourselves and
what indeed makes the hip-hop nation as a whole all that it is.
Whatever the circumstances that lead to Ruthless Records,
whether slangin' cane or managing his assets _very_ well, it was
obvious from the outset that Eric Wright didn't intend to be just
another statistic. As the founder and owner of Ruthless, Wright
parlayed each one succesful venture into another, increasing the
stature of his label and his portfolio. Of course, without an eye for
cultivating talent none of this would have mattered for shit.
Whether the label, mutual friends, or their own friendships
brought them together doesn't matter. What does matter that Ruthless
Records had at one point the greatest team of MC's put together on the
mic in N.W.A. These days, seeing Eazy-E, MC Ren, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre,
and the D.O.C. together on a song would seem like an all-star posse
collaboration and not just a group. Perhaps that's also indicative of
the egos that eventually drove the group apart...
Who was to blame? Was Wright trying too hard to capitalize on
their massive success as FBI enemy number one and hardcore ghetto
favorite? Was his hand-picked second-hand man at the label, Jerry
Heller, running the group into the ground? Allegations flew left and
right, and Cube was the first to break camp. No one doubts that Cube
made the right move, because being on his own forced him to hone his
lyrical skills to a razor point and put together a team that rivaled
Ruthless in clout and ability. Still, his work on songs like "Fuck
the Police" and "Gangsta Gangsta" could be held up lyrically and
musically to even the work he does today.
So even if E drove them apart, the fact that he put them
together and created the recognition which garnered their future
success is the key. Each member of the former group has had at
*least* marginal success after leaving, if not outright multi-platinum
sales. It was with N.W.A. that Cube got his start, it was with N.W.A.
that Dre became a producer extrordinaire and developed some MC flair
(just "Express Yourself"), etc. Even when the remnants of N.W.A.
dissolved after "efil4zaggiN", the feuds between Ruthless and it's
former artists fueled one slamming record after another.
So Eric Wright is called a lightweight on the mic, which to
some degree he probably is. Dr. Dre even went so far as to claim at
one point that Eric was recorded in "stop-pause" fashion, since he was
unable to string together two lines of lyrics in a coherent flow. And
when it comes to lyricism, we all remember the infamous words "Ice
Cube writes the rhymes that I say..." Admit it, though -- when Eazy E
kicked shit you were sitting there rapping along, too, whether on
their debut or on Eazy E's platinum solo release. He always had the
one thing working for him that so many MC's never find -- a
distinctive voice. Listening to Eazy rap was FUN, dammit. He just
sounded so fuckin' COOL over a Dre beat!
Even in his final days, he was rediscovering the post-Dre
formula as a solo artist that brought that sense of dopeness through
his work. Some accused him of biting off Dre's G-funk with tracks
like "Real Compton City G's", but no one could accuse the track of
being wack. Lyrically, he still wasn't an MC master, but he was *fun*
again. Phat beats and lines like "you and your Doggy Dogg can come
and suck my doggie's dick" are the kind of classic E that just makes
your grill crack a smile.
Eric Wright was never a man to shy from the spotlight. The
man had a knack for saying the right things (or wrong things,
depending on your p.o.v.) to the right people, and getting all the
cameras to turn and face him. Hip-hop heads complained vocally --
"This motherfucker is getting all the exposure while De La
Soul/Freestyle Fellowship/Kool G Rap get DICKED", but you had to
admire the craftsmanship of this master media manipulator. No matter
how dope you are on the low, very few have the skills to make
recognition a nationwide phenomena. He may not have been the dopest,
but when it came to getting known, he was the best in his field.
Republican Conventions and Los Angeles trials -- he handled them all
like a pro.
Let's take a moment now to remember Eazy E, the little giant,
hip-hop's own Napoleon Bonaparte. He was surely as controversial as
the French general, and equally as set on conquering all in his path.
He lived high, he lived fast, and he died tragically. That's not what
will endure, though. What will endure are his accomplishments and his
records. Take a minute to dust off that old "Straight Outta Compton"
or "Eazy Duz It" record and give it a spin on the 1200.
The man, the legend.
Rest in peace, Eazy E, wherever you are...
..from "Flash" and the entire hip-hop nation
Steve 'Flash' Juon
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO DEF JAM?
The house that Rick Rubin and James Todd Smith built... or
more appropriately, the record company.
As legendary as the heavy (in all senses) baseball slugger
Babe Ruth, and undoubtedly more relevant to me, these two unknowns
came up from paying dues in the "minor leagues" of New York to create
a grand slam, becoming so succesful that like Ruth before them they
paved and paid the way to an organization that would live on long
But just like the House of Ruth before them, the structure
known as Def Jam seems to have taken some hard hits and could even
face it's own self-destruction. The ones who once made it legendary
are now either gone, leaving, or past their prime. LL Cool J and
Public Enemy were reportedly sued by their OWN label for "less than
quality material (on the "Street Fighter" soundtrack) which hurts the
reputation of the artist." Mr. Smith himself has reportedly signed
with Puff Daddy's management company and Bad Boy records.
One has to ask -- what ever happened to Def Jam?
Def Jam built a reputation as THE record label of the mid 80's
to early 90's, and during that time they simply could not be touched.
It may have started when Cool J screeched "I can't live without my
radio!", but it went far beyond that. The commercial success came,
but so did many seminal hip-hop classics which every DJ worldwide
would now pay dearly to have in their crates. Songs like T-La Rock's
"It's Yours" reflected a hard New York street asthetic and a devotion
to pure hip-hop lyricism that made a Def Jam release an automatic must
have, no matter the name or artist.
As the financial future of Def Jam rose, so did the star of
it's number one man -- Russell "cash money money" Simmons. Simmons
had very solid hip-hop roots; his brother Joseph was Run of Run-D.M.C.
Simmons also had a keen understanding of what the hip-hop audience
wanted to hear, and Def Jam cultivated the best talent around to put
together an all-star lineup.
Perhaps the single largest breakthrough for Def Jam (and
perhaps the beginning of their downturn) was Public Enemy's second
album, "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back". The solid
Bomb Squad beats and hard political rhymes from Chuck D were an
instant classic, with both the street and the crossover market.
Public Enemy had a name and an image which screamed rebellion, and
that logo of a S1W soldier under the crosshairs of a gun became
blazened on the American subconcious. P.E. carved themselves a
singular place in hip-hop, and built expectations that were so high
that they would become a victim of their own success. Later records
easily stirred controversy and sold platinum stacks, but the sound was
never quite the same; neither was the respect from true headz.
Def Jam had a lineup in the early 90's which seemed
unfadeable, including such tried and true hip-hop favorites as P.E.,
Slick Rick, Nice and Smooth, and LL Cool J, and included hot up and
comers like Nikki D. and 3rd Bass. Russell Simmons had diversified
Def Jam into a whole array of sub-labels and production departments,
and the soon to come "Def Comedy Jam" would cause almost as much media
ruckus and love from the hip-hop nation as did their records.
Maybe they got too big for their britches though. It's easy
to think it's all good when you're sitting phat at the top, but it's
even easier to forget that you can't rest on your laurels. The face
of hip-hop changed greatly in the late 80's and 90's, and it began to
seem as if Def Jam was trying to catch the pack instead of playing the
leader. Then one by one, all their biggest names started dropping
records that were harshly criticized by the hip-hop nation. Def Jam
had lost the golden touch. They quickly tried to leap into the
gangsta genre, by signing MC's such as Bo$$ and buying up labels like
Domino's own Long Beach venture Outburst. They even created a Def Jam
West in an attempt to join the west coast players...
Too little, too late. Ask any hip-hop head today what labels
are hot to them. You'll get a plethora of answers -- Ruffhouse, Jive,
Wreck, Tommy Boy, Motown, Epic, etc. I bet you Def Jam is *way* down
the list in terms of name recognition and favorite artists.
In my own opinion, they've got nobody to blame for their slide
but themselves. In '95 and beyond Def Jam needs to stop trying to
catch the latest trend and to go back to what they once did so well -
listen to the streets and cultivate the sound. Def Jam is financially
well off enough to weather any popularity slide for years to come, but
if they give a damn about the hip-hop nation which fueled them to the
top, they'll come back correct.
David J. Warner
WHERE HEADS FEAR TO GO...
I was sitting at the listening table at a local Blockbuster
Music the other day, listening to some CDs. This is the only thing
that really separates this store from all the other hapless mall music
chain stores in this country, and it's the one thing customers have
needed for years. It's about time somebody emulated the ideas
European music chain like W.O.M. have had for years -- let the
customer listen, and if he likes, he'll buy.
So here I was at the listening table, headphones turned up, my
head bobbing and weaving like kids playing dodge ball. I didn't
realize quite how animated I looked until the kid sitting next to me
tapped me on shoulder.
"Hey, man," he asked, "What ya listenin' to?"
He seemed stunned when I showed him a copy of the debut album
by British group Portishead (see the review for this album later in
this issue). It looked like just another album from the rock'n'roll
section to him. "What's this, some alternative shit?", he asked.
"Sort of," I said, "but check out this beat, though."
I gave him the headphones and let him listen. The track
playing was "Strangers," which combines a good song with this hard-
nosed, bass-filled breakbeat that seeks out your nervous and forces it
to find any part of your body that can move with it. At least, it
seemed to do that with this kid, who's eyes widened and head swayed
when he got into the cut.
"Damn," he said. "This is pretty phat." He was still at the
listening table when I left, so I don't know if he bought it or not.
This encounter got me thinking -- would this kid, who obviously
liked hip-hop by the selection of CDs he brought to the table, have
known or even cared about an album by Portishead had he not bothered
to listen to it? Would he be alone in that regard?
One of the things we as hip-hop fans often forget is the fact
that our favorite music was born out of other forms of music. R&B,
disco, jazz, reggae, funk, blues and rock all had a role in creating
hip-hop as we know it today, yet much too often we seem to close our
ears to anything that isn't hip-hop or hip-hop-related music.
Something is fundamentally wrong with that. Sure, it's always
fun to immerse yourself in the culture -- throw on some fresh gear, go
to the show and jump and dance yourself silly, or maybe grab the mic
and freestyle for a while -- but musically speaking, shouldn't there
be more to a hip-hop junkie's music collection than a bunch of tapes
that you could only find in Blockbuster's rap section?
This may be one of the reasons the hip-hop music of the last
few years has found itself stuck in a rut of overused samples and half-
hearted beats. Many producers that still sample aren't bothering to
look outside of their own limited knowledge of music to find new
samples. Count how many times the "Between The Sheets," "Tramp,"
"Blind Alley," and "Sunshine" have been sampled since 1990. You would
need the fingers of a couple of friends to do that, and the number you
get probably doesn't come close to the number of times "Funky Drummer"
and "The Humpty Dance" have been sampled in and out of hip-hop music
over the years.
There's a whole world of samples out there, a bunch of them
sitting in that Blockbuster Music shop, just waiting to be found. But
who's looking? Judging from what's been hitting the rap scene lately,
though, many of hip-hop's top producers sure aren't. Sure, some of
them may be incorporating live music now, but even some of those
attempts at originality start to run together over time. Meanwhile,
rap fans themselves get so stuck in rap music alone that they might be
missing out on something they might like to listen to, like Portishead.
Yet even after hearing that album, some heads would probably say the
beats are nice, but it's not worth it because there's no Keith Murray
or O.C. rhyming on top of them. So'n'so is not hip-hop, so why bother
with it? This mentality is absurd.
The sad thing about it is that I've been more guilty of this
than anyone else, which is why it's taken me so long to realize all
this. Only in the last couple of months have I been able to listen to
other non-hip-hop artists at work without immediately saying, "This
isn't what I'm supposed to be hearing." I don't have any reason to
limit myself as a music listener, and as a breakbeat creator, I have
even less reason.
Think I'm crazy? Then check out this quote:
"Back in the days, rock would be The Grateful Dead and
Metallica, all of them being included. Now, in rock, a lighter group
like Poison is considered a rock group. But they don't fit in with
the heavy metal people. The heavy metal people don't even accept them
into their world, even though that's considered 'rock' too. See, the
heavy metal crowd would like Rush, but Rush don't play like Iron
Some old hippie yapping in a recording studio? Some VJ on
"Alternative Nation"? Hardly. DJ Premier said that in the March 1994
issue of the Source. You can look it up.
You certainly don't have to like everything you hear --
there's plenty of stuff in all genres that isn't worth the magnetic
particles on the tapes on which they are made -- but the next time you
start to dismiss something for the simple fact that it is not hip-hop,
stop yourself and think about rap music's real origins. They don't
necessarily lie in the streets or in the clubs or even in the rhymes
themselves. They lie in all of music. Once we all can develop an
appreciation for all these other different forms of music, we can
enjoy our music even more.
Section 4 -- FOUR
THE OFFICIAL HARDC.O.R.E. REVIEW SECTION
The pH scale
6/pHat -- EE-YOW!! A hip-hop classic!
5/pHunky -- Definitely worth the price of admission.
4/pHine -- Pretty good, give it a listen.
3/pHair -- Some potential here, but it's not fully realized.
2/pHlat -- Falls far short of a quality product.
1/pHlat -- Get that Vanilla Lice shit outta here!
Ryan "Laze" MacMichael
B-VERSATILE, "3 Song Demo"
I had the pleasure of working with B-Versatile, the MC out of
Honolulu, on the last Lyrical Prophets album, DIG THIS on a track
called "So Damn Tough." He was surprised me with his nice lyrics,
ease of delivery, and low tone. After a while, he's finally completed
a 3-song demo on which he handled production as well as lyrics.
The first cut is "Do Ya Understand," an upbeat, horn and bass
tinged track featuring his very laid back flow. The break makes good
use of a Lord Finesse sample. As with the following two tracks, some
of the lyrics are recognizable from "So Damn Tough."
The other two cuts are different versions of "Put It In Ya Ear"
('94 and '95). The '95 version is far superior. The '94 version has
an overused drum pattern, an overly plain piano loop, and though the
break samples (from Wu-Tang and Audio Two) are appropriate, they slip
off beat a couple of times. The horns are nice, though.
The '95 version makes several changes. My personal favorite is
the change in the last line of the verse where he gives "Shouts to the
Lazy", but he also switched the samples up and added a beautiful
bassline. This is the top track on the tape.
It's hard to rank a short demo such as this one, but I'll give
it a shot anyway. B-Versatile has got talent and a great ear for
music and just needs to work on a few small things here and there. I
look forward to hearing more from him and perhaps collaborating with
him again soon.
pH Level - 4/pHine
Steve 'Flash' Juon
BEDROOM RECORDS, "Taught By Jah/No Concept"
[Note: These reviews are a compilation of various materials received
via mail, including a demo tape with both artists and several vinyl
The more HardC.O.R.E. moves into national status as a hip-hop
magazine, the more I recognize the lengths record labels will go to
impress you. When I learned of the artists featured in these reviews
via a UseNet news posting, I requested a copy of their material to
review online. Thereafter, I received not only a demo tape, but vinyl
12" records and autographed photos of the MC's at the label.
Now this isn't a diss mind you, no starving student ever
turned down promotional material, but if it was an attempt to impress
me, it was actually unnecessary. Based on the demo tape, I had
already made most of my decisions about the artists herein, and in
fact was pleasantly surprised by most of it.
Let's start with T.J. Swan, "The Hip-Hop Genius". I know I've
heard of this guy from somewhere before... perhaps he got a shout in
one of the rap rags I read regularly. T.J. refers to his crew and
himself as "Taught by Jah," and in turn he is referred to by his
fellow labelmates group No Concept (of which he seems to be a part) as
either T.J. or the GR8T.J. (the moniker which appears on his vinyl 12"
single). No Concept was originally signed to a different management
company, and is now having difficulty breaking free; so T.J. is the
member left to represent through his independent labels Bedroom
Records and w.f.g.p (westcoast freestyle gets props).
T.J.'s voice is something of a cross between KRS-One and Moc-
Fu of the Fu-Schnickens. Come to think of it, if Moc-Fu *had* skills
this is what he'd sound like (hey Fu, I'm kidding!). Anyway, T.J.'s
material varies from militant devil bashing to metaphoric story
weaving, with a great dose of one-liners and punchlines. Some of them
are just plain dope cause I don't *get* it, which means I've never
heard it before! This guy comes off -- check these lyrics from "Genre
"I wish you would hit me, like Sidney Poiter, and Bill Cosby
Let's do it again, and I'll treat you like Jews within
Germany I'm burnin the grass on your green lawn
If you were Martin Tucker you still shouldn't Dream On
You Lean on Me, like my style was named Bill Withers..."
Wow! Combined with a nice track that has some subtle piano
chords and horn spikes, it really comes off. He keeps switching up
his voice for emphasis, sometimes touching sing-song, sometimes
speeding up to 100 miles per hour, sometimes dragging out a syllable,
doing what it takes to get you open. Where has this guy been hiding?
He's got MAD talent!
The second cut has a sample that sounds like Organized
Konfusion. At any rate, he certainly seems to derive inspiration from
them. In fact that perhaps is the only valid criticism I have at this
point -- OK does exactly what T.J. does, except twice as well. Then
again, anybody suffers in comparison to OK. On his own TJ packs
skills aplenty. One of my favorite one-liners comes in this second
song on the demo tape:
"If I was gay, every rapper would be homophobic"
Which brings me to one of the few criticisms I have to offer
at this point. Bedroom Records needs to coordinate their promotions,
distrubution, and dissemination of information a little better. I
love the tape, but it has no liner notes at all, so I have to guess
from one song to the next what the title of it _really_ is. It also
would have been nice to receive all the material at once, with a flyer
explaining the artists and their first singles. I am assuming though
that this is a relatively new label getting on it's feet, and such
being the case I am willing to cut them some slack.
The third song may be called "Land of the Carcass", but I'm
not really sure. This one has a very head-nodding beat, and it weaves
a web of horror as T.J. walks around in a nightmare world of evil
devils (mirroring reality) and meets a giant who controls the fate of
the asiatic through crack and AIDS. He steels the cures and awakes
from the dream... or was it? Our hero still has the bottles and cures
in his posession when he steps off the plane in the song. All in all,
this cut represents the very best of T.J.'s qualities as a true MC.
Most of the rest of the songs on this demo represent quality
T.J. work. On some, the production suffers a little, and occasionally
(like Nine) his voice can get on your nerves. Overall though this kid
represents lovely. I hope Bedroom Records has the capital to put him
out correctly. I'd say to be checkin' for his first single, "Listen
to This". It has a nice old school beat (sampled from "It's Nasty",
by Grandmaster Flash) and some great metaphoric rhymes.
pH Level - 5/pHunky
The three man crew No Concept presents a mixed bag of hip-hop.
The fact they have good production and one great MC works in their
favor. The fact they can't consistantly put it together doesn't.
You are bound to get props for using a sample of "The
Message". Cube did for "Check Yo Self", Coolio did for "County Line",
and I'll give it up to these kids too for "Rats in the Front Room,
Roaches in the Back." Unfortunately, I can't give it up for the song
"Rats and Roaches" itself.
The MC's in this group are talented, but the lead MC needs
some work on his enthusiasm. This first brotha in the song sounds
like he's been smoking NyQuil blunts. The second, T.J. from Taught by
Jah, would be better off on his own. He only shows how glaringly
unenthused that first cat really is.
The second cut is named as a "Freestyle", in which neither MC
really impresses or comes off wack. It's all kind of average -- loop
seems OK though.
I'm guessing number three (again, no liners or anything
helpful) is called "I'll Be Her Nigga". It uses a loop from
Pharcyde's "Passin Me By" to establish the chorus (you can guess
which). This mellow melodic groove with chorus vocals sampled in
comes off nice, and the lyrics are refreshing in an age of hip-hop
posteruing. T.J. again is the second MC, and he kicks lines like:
"I saw this afro-queen, she was built so fly
She had an ear that made me cry, physique of Jasmine Guy
Only darker, I wanted to teach her like Kris Parker
But niggaz are on her tit, riding her clit..."
So what can I say about No Concept? Guys, find one. I like
T.J.'s work here, but the other heads need development. Really, the
tracks here don't have much focus lyrically or musically, except for
"I'll Be Her Nigga." The overall quality though is still above your
average demo tape.
pH Level -- 4/pHine
BIG L, "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous"
The first time I remember Big L representing was back in 1992
with Showbiz & AG. It's been a long time since then up until today
when we finally have a full LP from the "L". There's not a lotta
gimmicks, there's not a lotta BS. What's there is some straight up
hip hop. Phat street raps, that's what "Lifestylez..." is.
First of all, I must point on the production on this LP.
There are four producers that do work on the CD's tweleve songs: Lord
Finesse (5), Buck-Wild (4), Showbiz (2), and Craig Boogie (1). Don't
be fooled. Although it looks like the beats may differ a lot from
song to song, they really don't. The music basically stays on the
same tip. It's nothing profound, just real to reel beats. Overall, I
give the nod to the Buck-Wild produced tracks with the rest clumped up
in a close race for second.
What makes the LP what it is, though, are the fresh & ill
rhymes by Big L. Back on Showbiz & AG's "Represent", he had some shit
"L is the rebel type, I'm rough as a metal pipe
fuck a Benz cause I can pull skins on a pedal bike"
Throughout the CD you're going to find mad metaphors and some
nice flows. "L" doesn't sit back and simply recite his lyrics; the
kid rips 'em onto the track. The only sad thing about lyrics on
"Lifestylez..." is the chorus in every song. They get my vote for one
of the most simplistic collaborations of choruses on a CD. But, check
out the next verse that gets dispersed and it'll probably make your
ass say, "Damn!"
Track number one is the well-known "Put It On" that has a kind
of playful feel to it with fresh rhymes (and Kid Capri doing the
chorus honors that anyone could do -- "Put it on, Big L, put it on..
put it on, and on, and on, and on!"). A beautiful start.
Sometimes Big L gets a little on the startling side and can
say some ill shit. Check out these lines from "Danger Zone":
"I keep the gear fresh, I keep the braids rugged
I never wear rubbers, bitch, if I get AIDS - phukkit"
"8 Iz Enuff" and "Da Graveyard" are nice Buck-Wild produced
posse cuts that come off nicely. On "I Don't Understand It", Big L
reflects on how some MCs aren't really down for rap and are producing
crap and somehow people are buying it up:
"I got more soul than Nike Airs, given MCs nightmares
raps be rough, hard & rhymes, they don't write theirs"
A final song to look at is "Fed Up Wit The Bullshit". Many of
the tracks have phresh lyrics and overall sound, but really don't deal
with any issues. For those of us who like a little politics, I
suppose we can look at this song which looks at dirty cops and
cabdrivers. Still, its got the ill lyrics:
"Cause I wasn't white the cab took flight
but I caught him at the light
& put a bullet hole right through his wind pipe"
The CD clocks in at just under 50 minutes and flows through
nicely. You can toss this one in, kick back and stay on the same vibe
for the whole thing. Big L has got mad phat rhymes, a good delivery,
and a good supporting cast of producers. It's nothing groundbreaking,
of course, just straight up hip hop. If you like catchy songs that
you can dance to, then you probably aren't going to enjoy this. This
is some real shit.
pH Level - 4/pHine
Steve 'Flash' Juon
CATALYST ENTERTAINMENT, 12" singles
It's that time of month again to give props due to Mark
Kirschner at Catalyst and to check the latest records on file. He's
been hooking me up with a lot of vinyl lately, and I give nuff love on
that tip, keeping the roots of hip-hop alive. Unfortunately it was as
true then as it is now -- not every artist who cuts a track on vinyl
is going to be dope.
That said, let's start by talking about the Semetary Slaves.
These guys have _serious_ problems. One MC is obviously a New Yawk
Rudebwoy who thinks he can turn his ragga chat into a twisted version
of Onyx on the horrorcore tip. Homebody needs to stay off the crack.
His partner in crime is an average MC with a decent flow, who really
can't save the wack production and overbearing growl of his homeboy on
most of this 12".
In particular, "Redd Rumm" really gets on my nerves. The
chorus "Sittin in the graveyard, sippin on red rum, murder murder,
murder murder" is by turns either hilariously stupid or seriously
fucked up. Then the track tries to come off like some Prince
Paul/Gravediggaz type shit, and it's not done even half as well.
Now before I totally unload like gangbusters on these guys,
let me say that I did see a flicker of hope on the b-side. There was
actually a legitimately *dope* track on the flip called "Life or
Death". The track is dark and ominous without that played out
griminess, and the sampling of Method Man chanting "murder" from the
Supercat remix is icing on the cake. It becomes obvious when you
listen that they didn't waste the one good track they had. They kick
a nice concept rhyme, and the "give me life or give me death" chorus
is actually catchy.
All in all, with some development these guys could be legit
hip-hop heads, but they need to get off the horrorcore tip (which was
played even when it started) and come correct with some more of the b-
side type shit.
pH Level - 2/pHlat
Onward to Call O Da Wild, a crew that Mark informs me will
have a bonus cut on the CD soundtrack to "Bad Boys". If so, that
undoubtedly makes the soundtrack all the better, and worth buying on
These kids have a lot of things working in their favor. First
of all, they come from a label I've never heard of (Eastside Records),
which when you get thousands of records from the same five labels is
bound to spark your interest. Second, they've got the heavyweight
production of DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill, who didn't simply dump them
with leftover filler. His work on this 12" is top-notch, classic
Muggs beats. Third, they are promoted through Catalyst Entertainment
(is Eastside in fact an Immortal label run by Muggs? One wonders...)
which could definitely blow them up.
The A-Side, "Sometimes the Neighborhood", rocks some ill piano
samples hard and features clever rhyming by both members of the group.
The lead MC sounds like Be Real, if he flowed faster and wasn't
constantly stoned. Any faster and he'd be Daffy Duck or a Chipmunk,
but here it's JUST RIGHT. Peep these gems that he drops:
"See the niggaz that I know, don't always represent the positive,
but that ain't negative
In the street life from the ghetto get hit
The ave don't give a shit, the hood don't give a shit"
The chorus has the MC's chant "Sometimes the neighborhood,
makes a nigga" to a sampled response of Sticky Fingaz from Onyx saying
"disgusting and de-spicable". Nice touch!
Of course, this wouldn't be a DJ Muggs group if they didn't
have an ode to weed, and "Clouds of Smoke" represents for the heads
puffin lye. I can't really say they're on
the ganja bandwagon, because any Muggs group is likely to be rhyming
about sess. The whole crew seems to be in on the mary jane. They
definitely sound like part of the pham, and being that was the case I
honestly think they could've been put out a lot sooner, perhaps back
when FunkDoobiest first dropped.
Anyway, I'm certainly looking forward to their next single and
album, and I recommend it to you if you happen to see it in a store in
pH Level -- 5/pHunky
Steve 'Flash' Juon
"From city to city, coast to coast
Friday night is the night they like to party the most"
Yeah, it's time to party. Grab the bottle of tanqueray, throw
this bomb in your cassette deck or discman, and shout BUCK BUCK BUCK
BUCK BOOYAKA SHAT! Once in a while those soundtracks come along which
avoid the tired-ass "two rap, one R&B, and some other bullshit,
repeat" formula. Friday is one of those. You get a nice mix of some
phat hip-hop, and a few choice funk rhythms. This soundtrack is
guaranteed to get you open.
For starters, you can't HELP but sweat the lineup of hip-hop
all stars releasing brand new cuts solely for this project: Ice Cube,
Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill (damn!), Threat (about time he did something
new), Scarface, Funkdoobiest, and Tha Alkaholiks. Even lesser knowns
like Mack 10 or E-A-Ski (where'd CMT go?) sound good alongside this
Cube coulda come off a little better on "Friday", but you'll
still chant 'oh yeah/throw your neighborhood in the air' anyway. What
the fuck? It's Cube. This man makes a totally wack track about as
often as KRS-One (for the clueless, that means NOT VERY DAMN OFTEN).
Still, the music is not that clean, and the lyrics do not represent
Cube like we know he's capable of rocking the mic.
Now Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Headz Ringin" is the bomb, straight
up. I'm sure that the reason this CD is flying out of the stores is
because it's the first single and video (if you get MTV, you can't
miss it). I hope people don't sleep on the rest of the lineup, but
it'll be hard. You'll want to listen to this again and again.
Besides flipping some fat phunk with nice piano licks and a good BDP
sample, Dre drops lyrics to split you apart "grab the mic and flip my
tongue like a dyke". Daaaaaam!
Scarface has some new en-eye-double-gee-ay on his song "Friday
Night" who I'm not really checkin for (what was his name) but anyway
the song flows well. Scarface seems to have gotten stronger lately...
it's too bad he wants to retire soon.
"Oooh, it's the LA Zoo, when you funk with the flow and you're
Lettin' Niggaz Know" is the chorus of Threat's new bomb. He seems a
little more laid back than he was on "Siccinnahead," but that's
a'ight. He still got good mic control and if the beats are phat, so
is he. Good jeep creep kinda beat for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Now what do you expect when Cypress Hill grabs the mic to
represent? Be Real grabs a big fat one, making sure there's "no lump
in the center", so he can "Roll It Up, Light It Up, Smoke It Up."
It's too bad they didn't sample Meth during the Wu-Tang interview on
36 Chambers (y'all remember that shit -- "roll that shit, light that
shit, smoke it"). Still it's that ol' Cypress phatness, through and
through. I just wish they had dropped the fucking BOMB instead of a
I'm not gonna comment on the next four tracks, suffice it to
say they are all funky R&B by the masters (Isley Brothers, Bootsy
Collins, etc.). Point is, you won't be mad at it. Makes a _nice_
...the adventures of Funkdoobiest. In "Superhoes" they flip a
BDP sample (damn, why do you think I love this soundtrack) from
Criminal Minded and turn our favorite comic book superheroes into
sluts and pimps. If you ain't laughin, you're noddin your head.
Either way, you'll like it.
And of course, it goes without saying that I love "Coast II
Coast" by the Alkaholiks. I'm unabashedly one of their biggest fans,
and this song certainly doesn't dissapoint. I'm guessing it would've
been on their album, but they saved it for this project and flipped up
the chorus a little to fit the theme. The lyrics rip ("so stop biting
what your mouth can't chew, because you know even my DJ flows better
than you"), and the message in the interlude (miscommunication between
the West and the East) makes it a great all around representation for
the hip-hop nation. This song will indeed be rockin from Coast II
Coast, and I hope it's the second single.
The album is closed out with a mix. E-A-Ski comes off a-ight
on "Blast If I Have To", I could do without 2 Live Crew's "Hoochie
Mama", and Roger Troutman's new "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" is
some ol' Zapp type funk that those who know will appreciate, though
other heads may diss.
This is a fairly good mix of artists, and it's worth it for
many of the big names on the joint, but it could have been a little
funkier. Cube taking a nose-dive and Cypress coming off as good
instead of great make an otherwise fantastic soundtrack slightly less
than the bomb.
pH Level -- 4/pHine
KAM, "Made In America"
A Muslim in the Nation, Kam has some very strong political
views compared to most rappers today. This was extremely evident in
his first release, "Neva Again"; however, his new LP "Made In America"
seems to have lost a bit of the fierceness he used to communicate
I recall a couple of years back snatching up Kam's debut
knowing that Ice Cube was the executive producer. For several
reasons, Kam swithed labels and no longer works with Cube. According
to Kam, however, there is no love lost between the two.
Kam has a solid, strong voice, but his delivery is usually
lacking something. Back in the days with songs like "Watts Riot", I
was straight up impressed with him and thought he would come back with
something earth-shattering in round two of his rap career. Instead of
more hard beats with strong, highlighted political commentary in his
music, he has come back with G-Funk. And I'm disappointed.
The first full-length song, "Trust Nobody", is produced by
Battlecat. You wouldn't ever guess the first two songs are different
if it weren't for the short blank space. Although E-A-Ski/CMT
productions produces "Pull Ya Hoe Card", it sounds like a simple
rehash of the first cut.
Next we've got DJ Quik producing "That's My Nigga" with a
classic fonky beat. A little bit of knowledge is kicked:
"So it's rare to see a rap nigga stayin' down
without losin' touch & do too much playin' 'round.
But I be damned if I'ma let a TV tell me who's who,
'cause I'm a real nigga just like you"
Jess Willard produces on "Down Fa Mine" which features MC Ren
and Dresta (who sang on Eazy-E's "Real Mutha Phuckkin G's"). Check
out some of Kam's verse:
"Don't except no love, or no apology
the kids ain't fallin' for your child psychology
In '94 mindin your business was the best bet,
screamin "Watts Riot", we ain't even made a mess yet.
You shouldn't speak with a weak heart
You gotta finish everything you start"
On the topic of Ren, check out Kam's appearance on the last
and title track of his LP "Shock Of The Hour" -- this is the type of
shit I feel Kam should be coming out with.
On the later tracks, Cold 187 and Rashad of the Boogiemen make
producing appearances. On "Who Ridin'", Kam raps about rolling up on
a cop and dumping a 50 round clip. "Keep The Peace", produced by
Warren G., is actually a fairly pleasant song. Filled with lyrics
urging blacks to stop the killing of each other and start promoting
unity, this mellow track is a bright spot. Ending out the LP,
"Represent" features K-Mack, D-Dope and Solo representing. Another
Willard-produced track, it flows along nicely.
Kam still wants to convey a serious message to people, but I
don't feel he's done a great job of this compared to album number one.
I like his voice, although the flow isn't terribly astounding, but my
biggest problem is the music. I look at Paris and Kam and can draw
some parallels in that they both changed up their music to try to send
their message out to more people. In each case, it upsets me that
this has to be done.
I could go into what I think could've been done with this LP,
but what is done is done. Jumping all up into some G-funk in '95
doesn't get my vote. I still respect Kam as a rapper, though, and
feel he still has potential, but "Made In America" just doesn't do
much for me.
pH level - 3/pHair
NEW JERSEY DRIVE, Vols. 1 & 2
The months of March and April can be a frustrating time when
it comes to new music. The major labels are competing to try to set
the tone for the spring, hoping it will turn out to be the vibe of the
summer - but at the same time, they're also busy playin' chicken as to
who will release what when -- for instance, the drop date for Naughty
by Nature has already been changed half a dozen times. Into this
industry shakedown comes Tommy Boy records, and once again they
deliver the real goods; the New Jersey Drive soundtrack is both the
most anticipated tape of the season and the biggest posse of hip-hop
players since "We're All In The Same Gang." (anybody remember dat?)
It coulda been a phat 2-CD set, but for reasons known best to
themselves Tommy Boy chose to release this set as a full-length CD
followed by an EP. And, like a cab chasing a crowded bus, volume two
has a leaner and meaner profile -- but let's slow down and take this
thing one track at a time, starting with Volume 1:
Ill Al Scratch begs us not to "Shut Down on a Player," but I
think I been there -- this is just the warmup lap. Then Redman cuts
loose with "Where Am I?" which to my ears is even phatter than
anything we heard on "Dere iz a Darkside"; bass doesn't get much
lower, and lyrics don't get much deeper. Taking his cue from KRS-
One's "Sound of Da Police," Redman moves it on down Jersey way:
Watch out, we run New Jers, that's my word
This typa shit'll leave ya vision blurred
The supercalifragilist, especially I'm the dopest
Give a gram to any nigga who gets closest
I repra-sent, extra swift, gotcha!
Bakin' bitches like Anita in tha Rapture ...
Feel my fatality, my reality's real
Let me cleanse you like Golden Seal with my ghetto premier
No fa blow in focus, hocus-pocus ya open
Gimme a satellite, I have niggas locin' in Oakland
Fuck HBO, my flow's like H2O
I rip MC's by decibel ratio ...
Nobody's gonna disagree with that, especially after Redman
drops his "boooo-ra" groove and puffs that breath. This groove is
deep, and those who don't watch their step will be fallin'. Once you
crawl outta that track, it's time for a bit a de dancehall sound, in
the form of Blak Panta's upbeat growl, urging everybody to "Do What U
Want." It's a smooth mix of conscious message and good-time rhymes;
Panta recalls I-Roy's classic "Black Mon Time" but updates it for the
nineties by giving it all a hip-hop-dancehall-R&B spin.
This track is followed by the first of several R&B interludes,
Sabelle's "Old Thing." Hmm, it's not bad, though on my deck it gets
the old fast-forward. Ditto for Young Lay & Ray Luv's "All About my
Fetti," which wastes two of its six minutes and 24 seconds with street
chatter, only to deliver a tired old catalog of gangsta cliches.
Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of the Notorious B.I.G.,
with a little help from the "Payback" loop and Total's R&B flava.
Biggie's in top form, but for some reason he disappears from the track
after the first two minutes, by the time the track fades out at 4:52,
it's cooked down to more R&B mush.
Then, just when you're about to fall asleep at the wheel, the
Lords of the Underground roll up to take you:
... off on a ride
Jackin' cars, jackin' jeeps
Even jack the police
With my clique from the bricks
Doin' car-theft tricks
Smokin blunts, drinkin' 40's
Cos we like that shit ...
It's "Just Anotha Day in the Heart of NJ" for the Lords, and
just another lyrical drive-by on the Gangsta house of cliches. So if
you've had enough of 40's and blunts, step into that jet-black
Cadillac as the Poets of Darkness go off on a mellow tip, with a
funky, laid-back beat and a seventies kind of feel; don't forget your
bottle of Hennessy and your mink coat. The mood is extended by
Undacova's "Love Slave," another more-or-less standard track. It's
all good, but it's nothing to write home about.
By this point, I was starting to think that this compilation
was gonna be just anotha pile of R&B recyclables. Then OutKast drove
up with a "Benz or a Beamer" and threw those Boyz-II-Men wannabes out
the house. With a percussive, funk-edged beat and an eerie, TV-news-
themesong-type xylophone loop, OutKast gives the weekend update for
their East Point hood:
Tomorrow's another day, but
Today they just might shoot ya
For ya ride, fuck ya pride, hide
Better be out yo seat
Quickest nappy with the happy
Face before you bleed
Ax me if that material shit is worth ya life
I dunno about yours, but if so, ya smokin' pipes, right?
It takes a group like OutKast to give some depth and self-
reflection without sacrificing their hardcore ethic; they do it so
smoothly it makes everyone else look like they're workin' too hard.
It's also a perfect lead-in to Heavy D's "Check It Out" -- sometimes
it takes a veteran to show a few youngstas what time it is. Heav's in
top form, and Easy Mo Bee (who seems to be on a roll after workin'
with Rakim and Tupac) gives it a classic hip-hop sound:
I get strung on the drum
The microphone calls, so I come
And I wonder where they get me from, huh!
It's a bad habit, I grab it, I got to have it
Pulls like a magnet
I'm attached like a kid to a Cabbage Patch doll
Awwww! Yes, y'all, yes y'all
That's Heav, even when you think he's painted himself into a
rhyme corner, he finds a way out, and you know it just had to be. And
who should be next up on the mic but Queen Latifah, a true Jersey
homegirl from back in the day. With the self-produced "Jersey," she
takes time to send shouts back to her fam and her peeps, and tell her
own career story. Musically, it's nothing new, but the Queen speaks,
And then it's Keith Murray time. Hmmm. Murray has a style
all his own, and in the lyrical insanity department he has few peers.
"East Left" is a typical KM drive; over P-funk loops he jumps through
I come from less than zero
With more compelling drama than Robert deNiro
I create all state plates, get it straight
Tailgate, and I'll bleed ya like some brakes
Whoo! bee bee, got them everies and ovaries
And definitely funkology,
it's mission impossible to see me ...
"You could get a psychiatric diagnosis for tryin' to come
close to this," he boasts later -- and you better believe it. Floating
somewhere out in the ozone between Lee "Scratch" Perry and Flavor-
Flav, Murray's oddball rhymes are a language all to themselves.
MC Eiht comes next with "Ain't Nuttin' But Killin'" -- again,
maybe it's just me, but this gangsta tale been told before, and
better. Then it's Coolio's time to flip things around with "Thru the
Window." Coolio's backup of dusty funk is there (courtesy of Wino),
and this time out he flexes his vocal cords with a little bit of
singing (!), but no matter, he still has the delivery to make the trip
Finally, Maze's "Before I Let Go" takes you back to the smoke-
filled seventies of Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield, and Smooth's "One
and Only" merges radio-friendly funk with half-sung, half-rapped
lyrics. They're fine as period pieces, but the lyrics are weak (you
and your crew, it can't be true, you want to play me like a fool ... ) --
this kind of stuff is best left at low volume for mood music.
So much for Volume 1; while it has a fair amount of medium-
grade R&B filler, with 17 tracks and over 70 minutes, it still
delivers enough solid hip-hop to make it worth your hard-earned cash.
pH Level -- 5/pHunky
Volume 2 is more or less an EP (and beware, some chains don't
seem to realize this and have it on "sale" for $10.99). Exactly why
Tommy Boy drew the line where it did is a mystery, but one thing is
clear: there's no room for filler here.
Right at the start, the E Bruthas loop a little "Funky Piano,"
but it turns out just to be the overture for Black Moon & Smif 'n'
Wessun's "Headz Ain't Ready":
Bruthas ain't ready for the 'fros and the dreds
Grab the glock and hit ya from ya toes to ya head
There's an x-amount of Yard, we owe, that's the card
We pass it over here, so I can get irie, wiry
Smoke so much, bruthas keep askin
Why the original gun clappers keep on clappin'
Heads ain't ready for what my clique got in store
What we got in store keeps us prepared for the war ...
It's a lyrical firestorm that burns up rival MC's like so many
packs of wrapping papers, and Evil Dee and Mr. Walt's production keeps
firefighters at bay.
Still, Naughty by Nature takes up the challenge with the next
track, "Connections." The production is hard and heavy, and
effectively updates Naughty for the mid-nineties. Treach is in top
form, but at 3:11 it leaves you hungry for more, like a TV movie
Then it's -- no, can't be -- but it is, it's the Biz. "Nobody
Beats the Biz" provides a perfect blast from the past, and builds a
bridge to Jeru the Damaja's sparse and sharp "Invasion." Jeru's
lyrical assault on the police is more or less routine, but it still
sends out a few sparks here and there.
For my ears, Mad Lion packs a lot more punch with "Own
Destiny," which drops conscious lyrics left and right, speaking up for
the oppressed, looking for the ballot *and* the bullet over the kind
of ricocheting gunshots that used to punctuate old-school Ska numbers
like "Wild West."
Finally, it's O.C. with Organized Konfusion, which runs both
sides of the lyrical game. On one level, it's a carjacker's
manifesto; on another, it's an ironic reflection on the society that
gives rise to the carjacker mentality:
If ya worshippin Range Rovers, ya won't go far.
Yo, rims go for dope kid, ya won't go far.
Wherever you live, whoever you are.
The system's a trap, jack, so ya won't go far.
It's a powerful conclusion to the whole NJ Drive set, and the
point-piece for the film. Oh, there is *one* more track -- did I say
there was no room for filler? -- the "Flip Squad Allstars" "Flip
Squad's in the House," whose only real impact is to remind you of how
phat Digital Underground's use of the same loop in "The Humpty Dance"
So for volume 2, I'd say it's a tighter, harder package, more
likely to appeal to true heads, and easier on the wallet as well.
Taken together, for better or worse, the _New Jersey Drive_
soundtracks are without question a hip-hop landmark. There's a solid
selection of the played-out, the playas, and the next generation --
though like a crowded intersection, it's not always easy to see just
where and when the traffic is gonna go. So watch yourself.
pH Level - 5/pHunky
NINE, "Nine Livez"
Damn, if it hasn't been a while since tracks like "6 Million
Ways to Die" and "Go Bang" weren't rocking the radio with an artist
named 9mm ripping sh*t over NY beats.
Wham! It's '95, and with a new, more concise name, Nine is in
the house with his second album (thought most people forgot the first)
that will probably put him on the map a little more permanently.
I was surprised by how much I like the album... Even though
"Whutcha Want" had some flavor to it, I found the beat a bit too easy
to come by and Nine's metaphors seemed a bit sloppy at times.
But then I discovered the secret: if you take Nine for the
type of rhymer he is, he can drop lyrics that are kinda fat in their
own way. He's not about to wax or tax Nas in an abstract battle, and
I can think of many a rapper with better metaphorical skills, but Nine
is funny, rough n' rugged and he's got a flow that begs attention. I
often think of Nine and Freddie Foxx as being similar, at least in the
past, but Freddie Foxx's star has shined very rarely whereas Nine's
whole album has got some nice sh*t bumping on it.
Beat-wise, I don't know who Rob Lewis, but I betta ask
somebody, 'cause he hooks up some tight sh*t here. Ok, ok, sampling
Otis Redding doesn't take too much brilliance, but Rob's got a good
ear for what sounds fat, regardless of how obvious the sample may be.
Best case in point: Both Rob Lewis and Rapping 4-Tay have used "I Get
Around" by the Spinners for a song but if you compare Nine's "Any
Emcee" with 4-Tay's "I Get Around" there's no comparison which track
is fatter despite how close their loops are.
Overall, the LP is very NY influenced, though not on the
Premier-minimalistic tip. Lewis and Tony Stoute (who did 4 tracks on
the LP) like sampling a lot evidently, but they mix it up nicely with
bits and pieces of tracks all over the place. Their sound is diverse,
sampling some strings in one song, flipping to just a bouncy bassline
in the other. Honestly, I really enjoyed the diversity of tracks,
especially with recent albums (Smif N Wesson, Nonce) that had me
getting bored of hearing the same soundscape being redone ad
Lyrically, I've already commented a bit on Nine's flow. Like
I said, taken for who he is and how he sounds on wax, Nine did a good
job on the album, and he'll have mad heads laughing their asses off on
some of his sh*t. One criticism though -- Nine over uses certain
phrases too much, the best example being the phrase "Number one
contender". He uses that AT LEAST three times, if not more. Now
"Hit Em Like Dis": This track is PURE comedy given that it has
Froggy Frog (from the movie "Fear of a Black Hat" rhyming on it.
Froggy Frog, true to his name, has to say "ribbit" every three f-in
words, or so it seemed. It went like this:
"Why you, ribbit, wanna f- around, ribbit,
with the fly guy, ribbit, yo
Nine, ribbit, ribbit, pass the ribbit Thai"
Hilarious! Just don't take the track seriously and you'll do
"Fo 'Eva Blunted": The horn sample is real familiar though I
can't place it, but it's a simple four note melody that acts as a
barebones backing for the song. It might be short in notes,
but it's long in flavor. Lyrically, Nine's not tackling any new
ground with yet ANOTHER song about weed, but I think he does a better
job than just rhyming about how great ganja is and this and that sh*t.
"Peel": Where did they get that vocal sample going "Peep...ya
got peel!" I think it's the accented voice, but it sounds hella funny
whenever I come on this track.
"Tha Cypha": This is on the new single, and it should be...fat
bassline, horns and strings provide a nice soundstage for Nine to rip.
"Any Emcee": Ya'll know I like this cut, or at least you
should've known. It's on the new single as well. I just like the
beat and sample of Rakim. All around cool track.
All in all, I liked this album and I'm recommending everyone
to check it out. It's not a stellar album in terms of either lyrics
or production, but it's a definitely worth listening to and enjoying.
pH Level - 5/pHunky
THE NONCE, "World Ultimate"
"I used to sell mix tapes...but now I'm an emcee.."
I first caught the Nonce's flavor back in '94 off the "Project
Blowed" sampler that featured a cut called "Them Tapes" later to be
renamed as "Mix Tapes" and released on promo months before the actual
12" dropped commercially.
I was drawn to their simple, but jazzfat beats and lyrically
tight delivery, which is bound to catch your attention when you
realize the Nonce is out of LA. Down with peeps like Aceyalone and
Mikah 9, formerly the Freestyle Fellowship, the Nonce represent the
cutting edge LA hip hop aesthetic, casting away the overproduced G-
funk and instead, diggin' through the crates for mellow vibes and
The album overall is light and breezy. The way my friend put
it, it's the type of sh*t you'll flip on when you wake up late on a
Sunday afternoon. It's got a vibe that's very distinctive a welcome
refrsher after the funk Dre's left in Cali. Someone else mentioned
that they're heavily influenced by ATCQ, which I have to disagree
with. Tribe's into symphonic orchestrations that layer sound upon
sound (and sounds BUTTER) but the Nonce is more minimalistic, relaying
on some basic foundations instead of stacking loops. They also use
some choruses that involve singing, and it works well without sounding
cross over. It all fits within the Nonce vibe.
Lyrically, both MCs are a'ight, reminding me of the other new
school leaders in LA: Pharcyde and Madkap come to mind immediately.
The flows aren't the same, but their lyrical content covers the same
ground: namely dumping on wack MCs and waxing honies.
I'll be upfront, with perhaps one exception, I liked every cut
on this album, and there are 12 full length tracks. It's been a while
since I've heard an album where I wasn't itching toward the fast
forward button at times. However, the album has certain limitations.
For one thing, they aren't really saying anything new. They do what
they do well, but it's not phenomenal -- no "next level" type sh*t.
Also, the album suffers from the same ailment that Smif N' Wessun had:
too consistent overall. I was mixing tracks on the album and tracks
were so similar that you may not even know you moved into the next
song. The BPMs are way too clustered around ~90. The Nonce needed to
switch up the tempo more. And more importantly, between the beats and
lyrics, the overall album fails to offer more than what we already
know what the Nonce is capable of: a nice, vibed-out sound.
One last thing on this note: The MC who used to be a DJ brings
attention to this a tad too much. I counted at least three times when
he referred to his past occupation which would be okay under other
situations, except that's what "Mix Tapes" declared, quite loudly.
Like I said, I liked almost every single cut ("On the Air" was
a tad boring at times) and I could just loop the album and play it
again and again. However, I can't give it MAD props b/c it falls
short of being completely original in concept and sound. Don't get me
wrong: they don't sound like anyone else, yet they aren't newer and
better than anyone else either unlike other artists out there
constantly showing and proving (Pharcyde would be a good example).
I'd recommend the album still to anyone, especially those
looking for an escape from heavier funk sh*t out there. We all could
use a breath of fresh air once in a while...the Nonce is here to
pH Level - 4/pHine
Steve "Flash" Juon
OL' DIRTY BASTARD, "Return to the 36 Chambers"
"Introducing... yo, FUCK that nigga's name!"
Truly, the Ol' Dirty Bastard needs no introduction. Already a
legend among fans of the east coast hardcore and a key member of the
Wu-Tang Clan, Russell Jones has now carved his own share of the hip-
hop pie. He's been down with the Staten Island fam for years, despite
being from the "Brooklyn Zoo" -- in fact, he got a shout out on The
Genius' first album as "Unique Ason". True to that, Ol Dirty still
lives the name as well as his new moniker, which shows that there IS
no father to his style.
Many members of the Wu-Tang have been offered solo deals since
they blew the industry open with their group debut, but as yet the
results have been sporadic. Method Man dropped a few bombs, but a lot
of his album sank as a result of underproduction. Raekwon has put out
interesting solo work, but nobody can guarantee that makes a fat
album. In fact, given Meth's own solo, I was prepared to be
dissapointed by this joint -- when in fact, I was pleasantly
Ol' Dirty Bastard has in his solo debut put together a few key
elements that the first Wu-Tang solo album was lacking, and in my mind
Production - Most of the beats on this album truly sound 'RZA'
Family - nearly every member of the Wu-Tang represents on this
album, where we were teased with only two cameos last time out. In
fact, Method sounds better here on "Rawhide" and "Dirty Dancin'" (CD
only) than he did on many of his own cuts.
Creativity - Although Method is the better lyricist hands
down, he didn't come off with enough flair to push his album over the
top. Ol' Dirty takes what he does have and puts a spin on it -- he
huffs and puffs, croaks and groans, screams and yells. For some this
may in fact be TOO over the top, but to me it's the kind of energy and
enthusiasm that has made many an album a classic.
Length - Method Man clocked in at only 12 cuts, while on his
CD Ol' Dirty unloads with seventeen bombs of phatness.
Now to be honest, I do have a problem with Ol Dirty; the same
problem I had with Method Man. Not all of this new material is new.
In fact, the lyrics that Ol' Dirty uses in "Stamina" (with The Genius)
and "Brooklyn Zoo Part II" can *again* be traced back to Wu-Tang's
"freestyle" at KSZU. I'm saying word for word, they are *exactly* the
same. This is dissapointing, to say the least. If I hear The Genius
or Raekwon start kicking those same lyrics on their albums, I'm gonna
start pullin' cards. Ain't no way you should get by with calling that
That aside, this album is full of classics. From the funky
piano licks and the "Oooh baby I like it RAwawawwww" call of "Shimmy
Shimmy Ya", to the fierce pound of "The Stomp", to the bugged out
ethereal spaciness of "Harlem World" (again, CD only); this album is
the jam. The only really dissapointing songs are "Protect Ya Neck II"
which instead of re-uniting the original crew has Wu-Tang wannabes
over a weak beat, and "Hippa Hoppa," which has none of the trademark
Ol' Dirty style and a rather tame musical background.
I give this one an unqualified thumbs up. If you liked the
debut single "Brooklyn Zoo" in the _least_, and/or you loved his work
on "36 Chambers", then take a return trip to the stomping grounds.
pH Level - 5/pHat
It's not too often that HardC.O.R.E. feels the need to dip
into areas outside of hip-hop, even when they're hip-hop related. We
covered Ronny Jordan's last album (heads slept on "Season For Change"
featuring Guru) a while back, and I wrote a review for Portishead in
this issue, but in most cases we've taken a pass, most notably on the
usually reliable Mary J. Blige and extremely forgettable Shello.
We don't get enough demos, though, so with that in mind, I
offer you PhatKat, a new product out of Clay & Caldwell Entertainment
in Memphis, TN. According to his press release, "This hipp Katt has
Alley roots of Gospel, Country, Rock, Pop, Blues, Rap, Hip-Hop, Jazz
and Rhythm & Blues."
One listen to this five song demo, however, shows this Kat is
firmly rooted in the last thing on that list.
This is not to say he doesn't have talent, of course. Anyone
who has worked with En Vogue, Digital Underground and Hammer, as the
press release notes, has to have something. Furthermore, this thing
isn't all that bad for R&B. The first song on the tape, a ballad
called "Home," has a catchy melody and a gospel feel to it that makes
it listenable. Another ballad entitled "Wishing On A Star," not to be
confused with the old Billie Calvin song (or that ultra-phat hip-hop
version by Fresh 4, circa 1989), is equally catchy. Both of these
tunes show off PhatKat's songwriting ability more than anything else.
His voice is good, but it's nothing that will get him a contract on
Neither will any of the uptempo tunes on this tape.
"Sexcapade" reeks of sad production values and failed attempts at
late 70s/early 80s techno-funk. The other two tracks, "You Know You
Want Me" and "Want You, Need You," are a little better (what isn't?)
but they run together in more ways than one. Two samples of the
Humpty Dance in a row? If that's the extent of PhatKat's hip-hop
roots, they certainly don't go very deep at all.
While I wouldn't be one to recommend PhatKat to any labels,
I'll say this for him -- he has some talent for songwriting. If he
works at developing that, you might be hearing one of the songs he
wrote on the radio one of these days. As a solo artist, however, I'd
take a pass for now and recommend you do the same.
Oh, and for all you kids ready to put that demo in the mail,
remember, we're a hip-hop fanzine first and foremost. Make sure what
you've got is hip-hop music or has at least a real hip-hop influence
in it. If we get flooded with lots of R&B stuff, though, a lot of it
will probably go ignored. Ya been warned.
pH Level - 3/pHair
(For more information on PhatKat, contact Clay & Caldwell Entertainment
at 245 Conlee Street, Memphis, TN, 38111.)
British group Portishead is part of a movement in alternative
music known as "Trip-Hop," a new hip term for what some consider a
unique combination of hip hop and alternative music. What it amounts to
here is hip hop beats with "alternative" vocals -- lead singer Beth
Gibbons isn't trying to be R&B, so she's just something else -- and for
what it's worth, this combination works surprisingly well.
What makes it work so well, though, isn't necessarily Beth
Gibbons, a woman who's voice falls somewhere in between Courtney Love
and Tori Amos. What makes Portishead work is the music, and the way the
music and the vocals work together. In fact, for an album that isn't
either traditional hip-hop or R&B, it's got some of the phattest beats
I've heard in a long time. Once listen to "Strangers" will have you
bobbing your head and wishing Keith Murray or Saafir could have a
track like that. Even then, though, Gibbons' voice compliments the
track quite well.
Geoff Barrow and producer Adrian Utley are responsible for the
music, and they show off quite a few production skills. They can switch
moods from the eerie "Mysterons" to the guitar-tinged and spy-theme-
influenced "Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)" to the mellowed-out ballad
groove of "It Could Be Sweet" (make no mistake -- that jam is for the
jeeps) to the in your face "Wandering Star" to the foreboding "Biscuit"
and the bluesy "Glory Box." That last track samples Isaac Hayes' "Ike's
Rap III" and turns a loop into a blues sonatina that will have you
Most people would miss this album, since it's in either the
alternative section or the rock section of your local rec shop. Don't
let that fool you. This is something for both the heads and the
alternative fans. DJs will want to pick up a couple of copies of
"Dummy" on wax just to cut the beats up behind their favorite MC.
Portishead, however, represents a new direction in hip-hop music
as we know it. This is an original concept being put on the market, not
just another MC/DJ combination with a gimmick or a nice beat. It shows
that you don't have to live by the same old overused hip-hop conventions
to drop a dope hip-hop album. Just listen to any number of tracks that
sampled "Between The Sheets" this year, then listen to Portishead.
You'll find that originality in music has its rewards.
Even if you don't, you'll still find some phat beats.
pH Level - 5/pHunky
Steve 'Flash' Juon
SOMA - Causing Mass Hysteria
For the review of the following 12", it would be meatier to
show you a little of my discussion with Soma's publicist and promoter,
who mailed me *three* copies of the 12" (Why? two would have been
Flash: Well, I'll tell you what I liked about the 12". I thought the
loop that set up the song was pHat, especially with the KRS One
sample in the chorus. I also like SOMA's flow, it's pretty smooth
despite the fact that he's rapping really fast. My only problem
though is that a lot of the lyric material, despite a few good
metaphors, does not impress. In fact, some of it is pretty wack.
"I'm knockin out motherfuckers, and the same thing with their
daughters." What the hell kind of shit is that? Overall it's
a decent 12", but could have been a lot better.
Rep: What's up? Let me start off by saying I agree with most of the stuff
your sayin' about SOMA, but there are a few things you need to know.
The lyrics to "Causin' Mass Hysteria" are two years old, and I will
agree sort of juvenile. But you have to realize they're two YEARS
old. We decided to put it out because we didn't want to just scrap
FAT lyrics. Besides the beat is hard also. You mention the speed or
pace of the song also. I'll again agree that it is kinda fast, but
doesn't compare to the next single or the album.
Flash: Well I wasn't really complaining about the speed, in fact I thought
he flowed kinda nice despite the speed. My problem is he simply
could have come with some better shit on the lyric tip, and if
he does he has the potential to be a phat MC, the age of the
lyrics isn't that important. Casual's lyrics were a year and a half
old when he dropped "Fear Itself" but the album was still phat.
It's what you say, not when you wrote it.
Rep: The album entitled "Mentally Polluted" is scheduled to drop Winter
'95. And I'll guarantee you it'll be a CLASSIC. I mean every single
song TIGHT. If not you'll be the first I will apoligize to.
Well, I doubt I'll be the first you are apoligizing to. I
just hope that SOMA matures from his _youth_ and comes up with some
more creative intelligent shit on the mic. Then perhaps the album
will be good... not a classic, but worthy of a few rotations on the
(If you need any more info on SOMA you can contact his rep, E.f HUTT, at
pH Level - 3/pHair
THE SOUTHPAW SAMPLER
My man Matt Africa at Amoeba told me this label is the project
of someone at Delicious Vinyl, though I forget who exactly. This
ordinarily might not be that big of a deal, but given the level of
talent on Southpaw, I'm more than a little curious to know who it is.
Nonetheless, the EP runs six cuts deep with Lord Digga being
the big man here with two original cuts.
The first, "Feel It" has been making noise on mix shows around
town and for good reason. The Masta Ase produced cut flows with a PHAT
jazz guitar loop and basslines and is, in a word, DOPE. Digga just
drops the lyrics...my favorite is still:
Ding dong/that's the doorbell to hell
I knew Sally Jesse Raphael when she wore Gazelle
Glasses/I bust asses...
The best track on the EP IMO.
His other track is a VERY saucy cut called "S.E.X." and guess
what it's about? The track is powered by strings, horns and a woman
moaning. Lyrically, this sh*t will have a radio edit, let's put it
that way. Frankly, I'm all cool with sex and all, but I don't have
much love for these rap-as-porno fantasies that are part braggadocio,
part misogyny. It's enough to make a brother pull out The Roots "The
Unlocking" and play it a couple times.
Another noteworthy cut is by Love N Props, which I'm a bit
confused about since female lyricst T-Love is the only person I heard
on the cut. I THINK (i.e. I'm not positive) that T-Love and Butta B
(Nonce's "The West Is...") were once partners, maybe in Love N Props.
No matter, T-Love comes OFF. Fly ass rhyming:
Nobody knows my name/oh no, not yet
If I had ends I would make you place a bet
That soon it will be my name spoken all about
Is that T-Love?/Yeah that's the one they're talking about
The track is produced by This Kid Named Miles and it mainly
has a six note bass line and some subtler vibes, plus a horn-y chorus.
For some reason, this artist named Ill Bill gets a dirty and
clean version of a track called "Dopefiend". It has a very no-
nonsense track, mainly just a bassline and no-big-deal drum loop. Ill
Bill sounds a bit too much like the Bootcamp clique though. It's
a'ight, but nothing to trip off of.
Lastly, the Widowmakers have a cool cut called "Meet Jamaica".
Again, basslines figure prominently as a walking bass is overlaid by
nice crisp drums. Lyrics are cool too...a pair of rhymers spit a cool
flow. A good underground cut.
If for nothing else, the Lord Digga cut is worth the cost,
plus toss in T-Love, you got a nice EP. Again, the label is Southpaw
Records...peep for this sh*t.
pH Level - 5/pHunky
SUDDEN DEATH, "Brain Dead"
Those of you who have been on the net for a while know about
Devo Spice and his crew Sudden Death. You could consider them the
"Weird Al" of hip-hop music. You could also consider them any number
of things from strange, demented, psycho, or perhaps just plain
Or perhaps just plain funny.
This is their third full-length demo, and like the others,
this has some very funny moments, most of them coming in their
parodies of other hip hop tunes. Most notably on this list of take-
offs is "Bran," a parody of the Onyx track "Slam!" that deals with
(you guessed it) the results of eating too much breakfast cereal.
Imagine someone like Sticky Fingas stepping to the mic like this:
I'm the new king, standing on my porcelain throne.
Hurry up and give the damn plunger before this thing overflows.
Tons of it in the potty, my body created.
Give some to the White House -- they're all constipated.
Stuff comes out my ass like it was Niagara Falls,
So much of it falls, that it splashes my balls
and I let go (phptpthpht) um excuse me I started this nasty caper
to create a toxic vapor...
Granted, this sort of thing isn't for everyone, but I for one
was laughing my ass off. Other good parodies include "Masturbate,"
featuring Tony Mason from None of the Above playing the role of Nate
Dogg, and providing just the right touch needed to make it hilarious,
as well as "Smoker," a parody of Beck's love-it-or-hate-it track
"Loser," and "Rabid Chipmunks," a case study in what happens when
Alvin, Simon and Theodore listen to too much Cypress Hill.
What makes these parodies work, though, is the fact that Spice
is capable of writing some rhymes with a coherent theme that fit
almost exactly with the intonations and flows of the original artists.
In a sense, Sudden Death is paying its respects to hip-hop and its
artists by working so meticulously to duplicate those lyrics almost
word for word with something else. You can hear that come across in
In other tracks, you can just hear the insanity. "Do You Piss
In The Shower?" (which was inspired by a misplaced post on the now-
defunct alt.rap newsgroup) is about a guy being approached by one of
those survey takers in the mall that just annoy you to death.
"Psychic Enemies Network" deals with a psychic hotline that isn't as
friendly as the one for which Dionne Warwick works. There's also
"Let's Do It," a parody of sellout MC's that will have you laughing
just by how bad it is. Then there's "Psycho Slut From Hell," probably
the best original on the tape, about a woman that makes any "bitch" in
a Too $hort rhyme seem like a prude. Where will you find this woman?
As Spice puts it:
On Will, on Jack, on Dave, on Kevin,
on Eric on Joseph, maybe even on Steve,
on Peter, on Scott, on John, on Tony,
on Todd, on Ken, and would you believe
on Mark, on Jerry, on Jim, on Mike,
on Jeff, on Larry with a dog in there with 'em,
on Jack, on Marvin, on Allan, on Dan,
on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen.
Yeah, I thought "Damn!", too.
As funny as these guys are, though, it's sad to note that this
is all they've got going for them. If you're looking for dope beats
here, you can pretty much forget it, because Sudden Death simply lacks
the production skills to make their material anything more than a
novelty. The music hasn't improved at all from their last tape, and
even the serious attempts at good beats (tracks like "Brain Dead" and
"Show 'Em How It's Done") fall absolutely flat on their face. The
only time their production was even half decent was when they used the
same Michael McDonald loop for "Masturbate" that Warren G. used for
"Regulate." Even then, though, it didn't sound quite right; the
sample was muffled and the beat was little more than filler. More
than anything, Sudden Death needs *serious* help with their production.
However, since the likes of Warren G. or the Beatnuts won't be
approaching Spice & Co. anytime soon, chances are they'll be toiling
away in hip-hop obscurity for a while. Kind of a shame, really. They
have some lyrical and comedic talent. It just goes to waste over some
really wack music. If you don't mind a little deranged comedy in your
hip-hop, get the tape. It's worth it for the laughs. If you're
looking for phat beats and grooves, though, keep looking elsewhere.
pH Level - 3/pHair
(For more information on Sudden Death and this album, contact Tom
"Spice" Rockwell at email@example.com. Soundfiles are also available
from Spice's home page at http://www.rit.edu/~tjr0868)
ATTENTION ALL WEB-SURFING HEADS!
You think you've heard all the samples in the world? Visit HardCORE
Cubed and play "Guess That Sample." You could win free wax from
HardCORE by guessing the origin of the loop used in a specially-made
hip-hop rarity. You've got to earn that wax, though -- this sample
isn't too easily found. The URL for HardCORE Cubed is listed up at
the top of the issue. Look for "Guess That Sample" sometime in the
next couple of weeks.
Oh, and daps to everyone who found the Animaniacs reference in this
issue -- yeah, I'm still watchin' cartoons on Saturday morning...
In the meantime, stay tuned for more phat stuff next month from the #1
hip-hop fanzine on the internet.