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--- --- --- ---- ---- 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 ***A*** 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 martay@america.net B Regional Report: Europe helmut@cosy.sbg.ac.at C Back to the Old School r.macmichael@genie.geis.com D Homeboy from Hell Monthly isbell@ai.mit.edu 1. Last Poets - Last Poets 2. Last Poets - Holy Terror E Flash's Video Review juonstevenja@bvc.edu F The Singles File 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU G Inside Scoop (interview) r.macmichael@genie.geis.com - Michael Franti H Roots-N-Rap rapotter@colby.edu I Some Shots From the Industry mc78+@andrew.cmu.edu 003 HardC.O.R.E. Editorials A Eazy E, R.I.P. juonstevenja@bvc.edu B What happened to Def Jam? juonstevenja@bvc.edu C Where Headz Fear to Go... davidj@vnet.net 004 The Official HardC.O.R.E. Album Review Section A B Versatile martay@america.net B Bedroom Records juonstevenja@bvc.edu C Big L 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU D Catalyst Entertainment juonstevenja@bvc.edu E Friday juonstevenja@bvc.edu F KAM 3JB3BAUERJ@VMS.CSD.MU.EDU G New Jersey Drive, Vol. 1 & 2 rapotter@colby.edu H Nine ollie@uclink.berkeley.edu I Nonce ollie@uclink.berkeley.edu J Ol' Dirty Bastard juonstevenja@bvc.edu K PhatKat davidj@vnet.net L Portishead davidj@vnet.net M SOMA juonstevenja@bvc.edu N Southpaw Sampler ollie@uclink.berkeley.edu O Sudden Death davidj@vnet.net ***B*** 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 Crossover EPMD 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 Access info: FTP: ftp://ftp.etext.org/pub/Zines/HardCORE/ Gopher: gopher://gopher.etext.org:70/11/Zines/HardCORE WWW: http://library.uncc.edu/people/chris/1bumper.html E-mail: to subscribe, e-mail listserv@vnet.net with this line of text in body of your message: subscribe hardcore-l ***C*** 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 you... 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 davidj@vnet.net or Flash at juonstevenja@bvc.edu, 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 ***A*** 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 Dawg. 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 coast funk. 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... ***B*** Helmut Mayer ------------ 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. ***C*** 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. ***D*** Charles Isbell -------------- 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. Label: Metrotone Producers: East Wind Associates Profanity: Some. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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, nigger! Run, like you run when the liquor store's closing and it's Saturday Night Run nigger! '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 is featured. "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 The Subway." "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 perfectly together. "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. "Bleeding and leaving a long stream of blood from corner to corner stoop to stoop bed to bed and gash to gash So good! 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 into... gashmen 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" "An opportunity 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, I think. 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 the album. "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 niggers will party and bullsh*t and party and bullsh*t and party and bullsh*t and party and bullsh*t ...and party Some might even die before the revolution comes" Omar returns after a long break with "Just Because." Just one more great track. "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. Got it? 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 *** They're back. 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 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Distinctiveness: Still. 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 Label: Axiom Producers: Bill Laswell Profanity: Hardly. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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 percussion. 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. Got it? 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 sentence. Sorry. 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 rhymes. "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 singing. 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 Umar. "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 reason. 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 Daddy's home" 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 each other. 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 pointers.... ***E*** 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 boring. 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 about. 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 ***F*** Jesse Bauer ----------- 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 song. 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 plain throughout. ***G*** Ryan 'Laze' MacMichael ---------------------- INSIDE SCOOP 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 Heroes). 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 brief encounter.] 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 clouds. ***H*** Professa R.A.P. --------------- 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 release." 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 sound. ***I*** Mike "C" -------- 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 Boy?" 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" test print. 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- hyped hip-hop. 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 alt.rap. [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! --- Flash] Section 3 -- THREE ***A*** 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 ***B*** 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 after them. 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. ***C*** 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 Maiden." 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! ****************************************************************************** ***A*** Ryan "Laze" MacMichael ---------------------- B-VERSATILE, "3 Song Demo" (Demo Review) 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 ***B*** Steve 'Flash' Juon ------------------ BEDROOM RECORDS, "Taught By Jah/No Concept" (demo review) [Note: These reviews are a compilation of various materials received via mail, including a demo tape with both artists and several vinyl 12"s] 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 of Death:" "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 ***C*** Jesse Bauer ----------- BIG L, "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous" (Columbia) 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 too: "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 ***D*** Steve 'Flash' Juon ------------------ CATALYST ENTERTAINMENT, 12" singles (Catalyst Entertainment) 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 CD. 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 your area. pH Level -- 5/pHunky ***E*** Steve 'Flash' Juon ------------------ SOUNDTRACK, "Friday" (Priority) "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 posse. 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 grenade. 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_ interlude before... ...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 ***F*** Jesse Bauer ----------- KAM, "Made In America" (Atlantic) 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 with. 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 ***G*** Professa R.A.P. --------------- NEW JERSEY DRIVE, Vols. 1 & 2 (Tommy Boy/WEA) 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, Jersey listens. 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 lyrical hoops: 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 worthwhile. 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 teaser. 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" was. 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 ***H*** Oliver Wang ----------- NINE, "Nine Livez" (Profile) 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 infinitum. 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 c'mon. Oustanding Tracks: "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 fine. "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 ***I*** Oliver Wang ----------- THE NONCE, "World Ultimate" (american) "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 jazzy samples. 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 provide it. pH Level - 4/pHine ***J*** Steve "Flash" Juon ------------------ OL' DIRTY BASTARD, "Return to the 36 Chambers" (Elektra) "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 surprised. 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 they are: Production - Most of the beats on this album truly sound 'RZA' sharp. 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 shit "freestyle". 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 ***K*** David J. -------- PHATKAT, "Phatkat" (demo review) 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 the spot. 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.) ***L*** David J. -------- PORTISHEAD, "Dummy" (Go! Discs/London/Polygram) 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 swaying. 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 ***M*** Steve 'Flash' Juon ------------------ SOMA - Causing Mass Hysteria (Apex Records) 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 sufficient.) 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 DiscMan. (If you need any more info on SOMA you can contact his rep, E.f HUTT, at gmjrgqb@oak.grove.iup.edu) pH Level - 3/pHair ***N*** Oliver Wang ----------- THE SOUTHPAW SAMPLER (Southpaw Records) 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. Nice stuff. 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 ***O*** David J. -------- SUDDEN DEATH, "Brain Dead" (demo review) 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 insane. 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 each parody. 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 tjr0868@rit.edu. 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. PEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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