April 24, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Tha Alkaholiks - "Read My Lips"

Artist: Tha Alkaholiks
Title: "Read My Lips"
Producer: E-Swift
Album: Coast II Coast (1995)

"Read My Lips" is the second track on Cali-based merrymakers Tha Alkaholiks' sophomore album, Coast II Coast, but it plays as the introduction, or rather, the re-introduction to the booze-filled antics of rappers Tash and J-Ro, along with primary producer and sometimes-rapper E-Swift.  Some of that is because the actual first song on Coast II Coast, "WLIX", is a showcase for other Likwit Crew affiliates and, as such,is dominated by producer Madlib's team, Lootpack, so even though Tash and J-Ro make appearances, it's tantamount to them making cameos on their own shit.  

But most of that is because "Read My Lips" hits you in the chest from the first note.

Longtime readers will recall that I frequently name Tash as one of the most underrated rappers in the game, even with his spotty solo career, so it should surprise absolutely nobody to learn that he's the dude that kicks the track off.  The rhymes throughout are all boasts 'n bullshit: hell, Tash's very first bar contains a dick joke.  But they're delivered in such a brash, cocky style that heads that slept through their debut, 21 & Over, are forced to at least acknowledge the guy has fucking skills behind the microphone.  

J-Ro, in turn, is forced to match his partner's performance, and does so well, with rhymes that come across in writing as more rudimentary than his peers, but sound damn pleasing to the ears.  Each man gets a verse-and-a-half to get their shared point across: Tha Alkaholiks, jokey name aside, aren't playing around.  Producer E-Swift gives his boys a hard instrumental that is playful and melodic, and yet semi-threatening all at once.  He even contributes a hook, one that is unobtrusive and actually keeps things moving, which was nice.  

Coast II Coast struck a chord with the right people, I suppose, since it gave their label, Loud Records, two hit singles and a truckload of critical acclaim.  But you're only able to get that far if you give the listeners something that demands to be heard right away.  That's why "Read My Lips" is essentially a rap album intro, albeit the best kind: the one where the artists rap their asses off to set the tone.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.



April 21, 2015

Reader Review: Blu - Good To Be Home (May 19, 2014)

(Today I'm bringing back Reader Reviews with frequent contributor/resident Blu scholar Justa's take on the seventh solo album from Johnson Barnes, Good To Be Home.  Leave your thoughts for Justa below, and if you wish to see your own writing on this blog, hit me at the e-mail address in the sidebar.)

April 17, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: 2Pac - "Pain"

Artist: 2Pac featuring Stretch
Title: "Pain"
Producer: Stretch
Album: Above The Rim soundtrack (1994) (cassette version only); also found on some versions of the twelve-inch or CD maxi-single for Warren G. and Nate Dogg's "Regulate", from the same soundtrack

This entry is only really going to surprise you two if you truly believe, based on all of my previous posts, that I outright can't stand 2Pac.  Loyal readers will know that isn't the case: I wear my East Coast bias on my sleeve, but even though I find a lot of Pac's work to be repetitive and redundant, when he clicks, he does so with a passion that nearly every other working artist today would kill to have.  Also, Tupac Shakur was born Lesane Crooks in New York, so there you go.

I trash-talk Pac's need to shout-out "Thug Life" and name-drop Alize on pretty much every fucking song during his Death Row tenure, but that, of course, was built out of necessity: he was absolutely trying to get the fuck off of the label as quickly as possible, recording tons of songs per week just to meet his quota, quality control be damned.  Alas, he never got the chance to relax in the booth and get back to giving a shit about his writing, because if he had, it's likely the man could have come up with something at least half as good as "Pain", a track a lot of hip hop heads refer to as one of his finest, even though its actual release was sabotaged inadvertently by the label.

You see, "Pain" is prominently featured in the film Above The Rim, which Pac also stars in; the man was already diversifying his portfolio in 1994, leading back to my theory that, had he not been murdered on the Las Vegas Strip in 1996 (or if he weren't too busy soaking up the sun in Cuba right now), he not only would no longer really be rapping (maybe a cameo here and there), he would be acting full-time and would most likely have one or two major acting awards on his mantle.  The guy had charisma: that shit is hard to fake.  
Anyway, "Pain" appears on the soundtrack to Above The Rim, but only on the cassette tape version: due to time constraints, Death Row Records, the label responsible for releasing the soundtrack (and, coincidentally, the last label Pac would work for during his lifetime, but we weren't quite there yet), trimmed "Pain" from both the CD and vinyl releases.  This during a time when cassette tapes were on the way out, and also during a time when downloading mp3s wasn't yet the reality, so I'm willing to bet that a lot of the hip hop heads who fucking love this song either discovered this shit long after its original release, or, like me, you have the actual tape somewhere in a box in the closet.  (Death Row tried to make up for the botched release by attaching it as a b-side to some versions of the single for Warren G.'s breakthrough single "Regulate", but I don't even know if any of those versions ever made it to the United States.)

Anyway, "Pain" is the shit, and is easily my favorite 2Pac song ever recorded.  Once the sound bite (taken from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, for fuck's sake) ends, producer and guest star Stretch's Earl Klugh "Living Inside Your Love"-sampling instrumental kicks in, and even with its seemingly-unmastered quality (possibly a result of this version being a remix created quickly for inclusion in the film), the raw drums and melody grab your neck and refuse to let go.  Shakur's verses bookend the piece, rationalizing his mindstate and observing the futility, while the late Stretch contributes the middle stanza, sticking with the theme while utilizing his gruff voice that, no bullshit, I mistook for Shakur's the first few times I ever heard this track.  "Pain" may be among the most existential tracks in 2Pac's storied career, but even after noting the pointlessness of it all, he's still quick to "load my clip and slip my motherfucking gloves on" because he's "ballin', loc".

There are some variations to this track online, mostly with where the drums kick in after the Star Trek sample plays through, but I'll always prefer this one, the first one I had ever heard.  I still don't understand how they decided to leave "Pain" off of the official soundtrack, and yet still found room for that B-Rezell "Blowed Away" song that got on my goddamn nerves when I was younger.  (For the record, I also have a soft spot for another bonus track on the tape, Lord G's "Mi Monie Rite", although it's been years since I've actually listened to that song.)

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


April 14, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Jeru the Damaja - "Me, Not The Paper"

Artist: Jeru the Damaja
Title: "Me, Not The Paper"
Producer: DJ Premier
Album: "Me Or The Papes" (single, vinyl and CD) (1997)

Longtime readers will recognize this track, as I've written about it a number of times over the past eight years, so bear with me as I attempt to find a new way to discuss it today.

"Me Or The Papes", the lead single from Brooklyn-bred emcee Jeru the Damaja's sophomore effort, Wrath Of The Math, found the man trying to clear up some misconceptions regarding a song entitled "Da Bichez" off of his debut, The Sun Rises In The East, which was supposed to be about materialistic women (gold diggers, specifically), but came across to some audiences as misogynistic as shit.  Instead of just letting it be, though, Jeru had to have the last word, and that last word consisted of him trying to clarify his position by writing another song about materialistic women.  This time around, though, his riffing was presented on a radio-friendly concoction and was even accompanied with a nonsensical video clip that had fuck-all to do with the premise of the song, but was popular enough to earn some spins on MTV.  Yeah, that's showing them, Jeru.

Anyway, while "Me Or The Papes" was alright, the real money (or "papes") was found as a b-side for the single.  DJ Premier, who also produced the original take (along with the rest of Wrath Of The Math, the last time he would produce anything for Jeru, to the horror of hip hop heads everywhere, possibly because of some sneaky shit involving a family member of Jeru's, if he is to be believed), "masterfully deconstructs" (a phrase I apparently use all the time when talking about this song) the original's instrumental, using the same general elements (piano keys, programmed drum loop) to craft a darker, starker, completely original take on the proceedings, while our host elects to use the studio time eschewing all of the talk about "bitches" in favor of discussing hip hop for hip hop's sake; as I've written before, Jeru provides a "monologue about how rhyming for money is for chumps, while rhyming for the sake of rhyming, without saying anything of substance, isn't much better". 

"Me, Not The Paper" takes a definitive stance, as opposed to the wishy-washy have-it-all-ways dynamic Jeru tried to present on "Me Or The Papes", and in doing so, it blows the rest of Wrath Of The Math out of the fucking water, which most likely resulted in our host choosing to not include it at all on Wrath Of The Math, a silly-ass decision if there ever was one.  Come on: how much better would the album had been if he had included this shit?  "Me, Not The Paper" isn't Jeru the Damaja's hardest song (the frontrunner for that would still have to be "Come Clean", from his debut), but you can hear the conviction in his voice: he means what he's saying, for better or for worse, and, at least until he finished recording this track, he had a producer in his corner who knew how to help him project that image of rap dominance and unfuckwithable swagger.  Oh well.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


April 10, 2015

Kurupt - Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey (July 17, 2001)

The very title of Ricardo "Kurupt" Brown's third solo album, Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, instantly repels consumers and hip hop heads.  I realize that misspelling words in our chosen genre is par for the course, as rappers tend to jump at every opportunity to exert their own level of control over the English language (I'm looking at you, Boot Camp Clik).  I also get that it's entirely possible that Kurupt flat-out didn't know how to spell the word "odyssey"; hell, I just typed it out and it doesn't even look correct to me.  But the fact that there apparently wasn't anyone employed by his vanity label, Antra Records, that knew how to proofread shit?  That's a piss-poor level of quality control I didn't even know existed until this album dropped, and that translates into the musical output, too.

April 7, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Freeway - "Flipside"

Artist: Freeway featuring Peedi Crakk
Title: "Flipside"
Producer: Just Blaze
Album: Philadelphia Freeway (2003)

While not the best song on the album it appears on, "Flipside" is arguably more influential, in that it helped Philly rapper Freeway establish both himself and his beard as his own man.  "What We Do", the crown jewel off of his debut, Philadelphia Freeway, is an excellent track, but it's a track that Beardy shares with his label boss Jay-Z and his contemporary Beanie Sigel; while he does a great job in his own right, the very nature of the song itself doesn't do much to single him out as someone worth watching.  "Flipside" does, though.

Over a thumping Just Blaze beat, Beardy and his guest star, Peedi Crakk (who doesn't annoy me as much as he apparently does for you two, given the comments I've received), drop enjoyable boasts 'n bullshit written with radio airplay in mind: in fact, this is actually the most mainstream-friendly song found on Philadelphia Freeway, and Beardy even has a track with Mariah Carey on that motherfucker.  Free's excitable flow meshes well with the party atmosphere the track conveys, contrasting wildly with the crime tales of "What We Do", and yet it's still mostly believable that both tracks could have come from the same person.

Since I was late to the party, my first exposure to "Flipside" came from the Def Jam: Fight For NY videogame, in which you design a character to beat the shit out of Freeway, amongst other things.  I was already familiar with "What We Do", since the video played on BET all the time at that point (most likely thanks to Hova's cameo), but I had no idea that Roc-A-Fella ever bothered to release more singles off of the project.  I remember hearing the beat kick in and realizing that Just Blaze's beats had a component of hype that really didn't fit his main collaborator of the time (Jay-Z, obviously), but there were tons of other rappers who sounded comfortable running alongside instrumentals that were animals in their own right.  Beardy happened to be one of them, so this shit works for me.  Also, it bangs.  

Since this was released as a single, I've included the official video below, which is synced up with the radio edit for obvious reasons.  It's fairly trite and hits all of the major bullet points of a generic rap video, but both Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel make cameos, and in about half of his scenes, Peedi appears to be wearing a T-shirt designed by one of those illiterate Chick-Fil-A cows, so.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.



April 3, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Dr. Dre - "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang (Club Mix)"

Artist: Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
Title: "Nuthin' But A "G" Thang (Club Mix)"
Producer: Dr. Dre
Album: "Nuthin' But A "G" Thang" (single, vinyl and CD) (1992); Death Row: The Singles Collection (2007)

A strange choice, I know, but hear me out.  In no way am I saying that I prefer the remix (sorry, "club mix") of Dr. Dre's seminal lead single from his solo debut The Chronic, "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang", over the Leon Haywood-sampling original, which is a goddamn classic.  The O.G. take is simply a better, more fully-realized song.  There will be no argument.  However, the remix (sorry, "club mix") is worthy of your time as well.

One of my favorite tracks on The Chronic is the last song, "Bitches Ain't Shit", which doesn't even appear on the tracklisting for the album's first pressings, leaving many to believe it to be a hidden bonus when it really wasn't supposed to be one.  Everyone participating on the song not named Andre Young by their parents use the track to reach the obvious misogynistic conclusions, while Dre himself uses his mic time to attack Eazy-E once again.  That's nice, whatever; this is rap music, and most hip hop fanatics like myself are forced to entertain contradictory beliefs simultaneously in order to just enjoy the damn music.  But what isn't in question is the music itself, a catchy-as-shit melody paired with simple drums that elevate the song to hall-of-fame territory.  Today's producers would slit their respective grandmothers' throats just to come up with something as ill as the beat to "Bitches Ain't Shit".

The "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" remake is, lyrically, exactly the same as its predecessor, except for the quick intro from a young Snoop Doggy Dogg, but the remix (sorry, "club mix") takes place over a slightly altered "Bitches Ain't Shit" beat, or should I say, "Bitches Ain't Shit" takes place over a slightly altered version of the club mix's instrumental, since Dre and company most certainly created this track before finishing up The Chronic, given its release as a b-side in 1992.  For today's listeners, it gives you the vibe of listening to an officially-sanctioned mash-up curated by the good Doctor himself, and the variations in the music are fascinating in an alternate-universe way.  

Dre definitely made the best choice in which version to drop as the single, but don't count this b-side out.  It's awkward to hear the "wrong" vocals over the beat at first, but they fit surprisingly well, which makes sense, since Dre wouldn't let anything out of the studio that had any noticeable mistakes in the pressing.

As a bonus, I've included the following companion piece.

This "freestyle remix" to "Nuthin But A 'G' Thang" also takes place over the "Bitches Ain't Shit" beat, but this time around it appears to be the exact same instrumental, which makes what I wrote above inaccurate, since this "remix" also appeared on the single to the O.G. track back in 1992.  Dre is nowhere to be found; instead, his young charge Snoop Doggy Dogg, most likely high as fuck, drops a goofy verse and some ad-libs while inviting both halves of Tha Dogg Pound, Kurupt and Daz, to come play house.  

This isn't going to be considered an official part of the series because it commits one of the most atrocious crimes known to musical mankind: it fades out of Daz's verse halfway through his performance.  You two both know that I cannot condone that shit, artistic choice or not.  Why not just edit the song where Daz doesn't appear at all, then?  However, Kurupt stans will note that he actually sounds pretty damn great on here and not lazily misogynistic (although he hilariously misspells Suge Knight's first name during his bars), and Snoop comes across as an excitable child that just signed the Death Row contract three hours prior.  His energy is contagious: even with the abrupt ending and the brief bit of backmasking during Snoop's verse, I couldn't help but walk away from this song with a bizarre sense of purpose.

The music nerd in me also became obsessed with figuring out what this track was after listening to Warren G.'s Jah Skillz-featured "Super Soul Sis", off of his own debut, Regulate...G Funk Era.  During the hook, a sound bite featuring Snoop rapping over what was clearly the "Bitches Ain't Shit" instrumental, but with lyrics I had never heard before, played, and it broke my brain trying to figure out where Warren got that shit from.  (This was all before YouTube and Wikipedia made this much easier, obviously.)  Sometimes it's good to get these little obsessions out, I guess.

Enjoy both tracks, and happy Easter to those of you who observe.  Everyone else can just eat the candy, maybe.

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.


Dr. Dre - The Chronic (Review) (even though these tracks don't appear on it, this still counts as "related", damn it)