May 22, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Funkmaster Flex - "Loud Hangover"

Artist: Funkmaster Flex featuring Akinyele and Sadat X
Title: "Loud Hangover"
Producer: Funkmaster Flex
Album: Funkmaster Flex Presents: The Mix Tape Volume 1(1995)

Today's song is something that grabbed my attention back in 1995 and has yet to relinquish control.  From the catchy, simple instrumental to the passionate, aggressive lyricism (from one of the participants especially), "Loud Hangover" is yet another one of those songs that has been stuck in my head for apparently twenty years.  To celebrate, today's post will present four different versions of the same song.  It's Memorial Day weekend: I'm sure a lot of you two aren't pressed for time.

"Loud Hangover", named after the label (probably) and whose chorus was inspired by "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross but is most certainly not about love, was created as one of only a toddler's handful of original tracks for radio deejay / MTV veejay Funkmaster Flex's first nationally-released album, Funkmaster Flex Presents: The Mix Tape Volume 1, distributed by the then-mighty Loud Records, home of the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Xzibit, Tha Alkaholiks, Big Punisher, and, um, the Cella Dwellas.  For his first project, Flex took label head Steve Rifkind's money and chose to craft a thirty-seven track magnum opus featuring mostly previously-released material and newer freestyles from established acts, both in-house and elsewhere.  With the pocket change he had left over, Flex apparently chose to produce a song or two: "Loud Hangover" was one of them, and I have to say, even though he doesn't really "produce" many songs, the beat on here is pretty much golden in my book.

While the music bangs, though, the reason this song works is because of the vocals, coming from Brand Nubian's helium-pitched Sadat X and the highly-combustible Akinyele, who turns in one of the finest performances of his career.  Don't get me wrong, Sadat does just fine with his solo-career Wild Cowboy persona and awkward flow, but "Loud Hangover" belongs to the Ak, as do any possible lines you may quote from it.  This song fell in between his Large Professor-produced debut Vagina Diner and his 1996 EP Put It In Your Mouth, which rebranded him as an emcee that focused pretty much on fucking (because nobody saw that coming after the guy named his debut Vagina Diner?), so if the older hip hop heads amongst you two wish to hear Akinyele straight spit, get off at this exit, where he "stay[s] dropping jewels like the incarcerated version of Slick Rick".  Seriously, one listen to this song will leave you wondering where this particular Ak has been all your life.

The song itself is entertaining as all hell and deserves to be brought back into the spotlight.  Maybe Flex only had one or two good beats in him, but it's a good thing he managed to share this one with our chosen genre: it's ripe for a comeback on a mixtape today, if the newer rappers out even know who Funkmaster Flex is, aside from being a radio deejay that drops bomb noises all over everything.

The version that appears above is the album cut, which features all of the drops, scratching, cuts, and runbacks that one expects from an actual mixtape (and all of which a lot of people find more than a bit annoying).  I found the original, Flex-less version (he still produced it, allegedly, but you get the idea), and I have to say, while I appreciate getting a longer track with an unobstructed instrumental, the energy isn't quite there.  Flex's shouting and scratching gives Sadat X's performance an urgency he doesn't quite reach himself, and the track actually sounds a bit plain without the added annoyance factor.  Akinyele still sounds fantastic, though.  I'll let you two be the judge.

Loud Records dropped this shit as a single, most likely because they couldn't do that with any other track on the album without having to deal with the legal departments of the other various labels, so a video was commissioned.  The clip is based off of the clean album version, which means the drops, scratches, and runbacks are all present, but I noticed something different this time around.  While researching the song for today's post, I became fascinated at the fact that, while the clip is purportedly edited kind of like a mixtape, with the video played back and through again as needed, I realized that each take of Flex, Ak, and Sadat performing the opening lines from "Loud Hangover" was different, which means they must have lip-synced the track straight through, cuts and all, just like it were just a regular song.  Which makes sense: Flex does add his own special ingredient to the mix, and when this shit plays back in my own head, I tend to think of Sadat X's first verse with an entire section edited out due to the "mixing".

Finally, the last version is a remix that I had never actually heard until today.  A deejay named Allstar sunk his hooks into "Loud Hangover" and overhauled it entirely, getting crooner Yvette Michelle to perform the hook a la Diana Ross (but still with the emphasis on money, not love) and convincing both Sadat X and Akinyele to perform new verses.  Not quite as catchy as the original take, but it's an interesting diversion, and I didn't even realize it existed until now, so I'm willing to bet a lot of you two are in the same boat.

I think that's enough for today, right?  Now go enjoy your barbecues, readers in the United States.  Everyone else, um, have a nice normal two-day weekend?

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


May 19, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Rampage - "Wild For Da Night"

Artist: Rampage featuring Busta Rhymes
Title: "Wild For Da Night"
Producer: Backspin The Vibe Chemist
Album: Scout's Honor... By Way Of Blood (1997)

Early Sunday morning I found myself driving home from a party, having taken in a lot of alcohol but feeling no effects whatsoever.  I'm not trying to brag here: I honestly was trying to get drunk, or at least get a good buzz going, but you know how you can be having a good time and enjoying yourself, but then something weird happens, and while it doesn't ruin the night, it sobers you up very quickly and then, no matter how much you drink, you just won't feel it?  Maybe that's just me, but that's pretty much what happened.  Anyway, while I was driving home, I happened upon a French Montana song on Shade 45 that I had never heard of called "Off The Rip", which I later found out is pretty brand new.  It features a cameo from Noreaga, riffing on his own "Bloody Money", which led me to believe that, at one point, the song was probably a glorified freestyle that took place over that Capone-N-Noreaga classic, and a guest verse from Chinx Drugz.  Now, I've never followed the guy's career path: I've only heard him on, like, two other songs, one of which probably featured Frenchy (since they ran together frequently) and something with Wale that I forget at the moment.  But aside from his fucking terrible rap name, I thought he was alright; I thought maybe he could become something a little bit bigger.  When I finally woke up later that morning, exhausted and dehydrated (just because I felt no pain from the liquor doesn't mean it wasn't still fucking with me), I read Twitter and immediately find out that Chinx was killed in a drive-by shooting that same morning.  At best, this was an extremely weird coincidence, but not one anyone ever likes to see happen.  It's a fucked-up story, and I feel for the man's family.  All the guy was trying to do was make something of himself.  R.I.P.

Alas, this story isn't actually about Chinx Drugz (I try not to speak ill of the deceased, but really, that's the best nickname he could come up with?), but about what "Off The Rip" reminded me of: the beat, um, rips off the instrumental for the best Rampage The Last Boy Scout song ever created, "Wild For Da Night", the first single from his debut album, the awkwardly-named Scout's Honor... By Way Of Blood (really, that's the best album title he could come up with?).  The dramatic piano loop, coupled with the simple drums, is just one of those beats that never truly leaves my head; it'll lie dormant for a while, but then pop up at random moments, and I just never get tired of it.  It's that good.

"Wild For Da Night" is possibly the one Rampage song that features an entirely different lyrical delivery method from the host, as he speaks in an authoritative, hushed tone that forces the listener to take him seriously, even as he says goofiness such as "shittin' Ex-Lax on hot tracks", a sentence that doesn't make much sense, unless he's trying to say that the laxative just passed straight through him without ever taking effect.  Every other track of his I'm familiar with features an excitable, shout-y flow, most likely inspired by his much more popular cousin, Busta Rhymes, who performs the hook on "Wild For Da Night" with a combination of combustible and whisper-y flows to great effect.  Since I haven't really given a shit about Rampage since (and really, who has?), it's entirely possible that this is now just his normal rapping voice, kind of like how The RZA switched things up shortly after the first Gravediggaz project, but I don't care to find out more right now.

"Wild For Da Night" sounds pretty much like a Busta Rhymes song from the mid-1990s, which was by design, since Rampage was offered a deal at the same label, Elektra, and his executive producers went out of their way to make Scout's Honor... By Way Of Blood sound like a Busta Rhymes album, going so far as to use the same producers and even including radio-friendly songs for the ladies, which ultimately didn't matter, because the album sucks.  But this one song would not exist if it weren't for that album, so maybe it's not a total loss.

"Wild For Da Night" has the perfect beat for shit-talking, and Rampage doesn't waste it: as I mentioned above, this is the best song he has created, and most likely the peak of his career.  So what if the rest of his shit is (probably) terrible?  So what if you still find yourself hoping that Busta Rhymes will spit an actual verse, even though this shit was recorded eighteen years ago and it would be physically impossible for it to somehow change now?  This shit still works today, and it's enjoyable as hell.  Accept it for what it is, and you'll be fine.

Because this was a single, an official video was released for the radio edit, although someone swapped it out with the album version for the clip I found.  My favorite aspect of the video is the presence of Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) as a part of Rampage's minor entourage, specifically the part where it appears that he and Busta engage in the Kid 'N Play dance in the background while Rampage is lip-syncing his words.

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


Rampage - Scout's Honor... By Way Of Blood (review) (which I just realized is a Drink Coaster, that shit is old)

May 15, 2015

My Gut Reaction / Something (Sort Of) Different: Snoop Dogg - Bush (May 12, 2015)

At the age of forty-three, Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus, who will most likely outlive hip hop in general, if not us all, has gotten to the point in his career where he simply doesn't give a fuck and will release whatever the hell he wants, work with whoever the hell he wants, and hell whatever the hell he hells.  He's always kind of been this way: even way back when he was an up-and-coming superstar on Death Row Records in the early 1990s, he wasn't exactly a fan of inertia.  He's always traveled his own path, daring his fans to follow, and for the most part, they've always been pleasantly surprised.  

Right now, he appears to be bored with rap music, which is fine: I'm right there with him.  But while he'll gladly give a guest verse or a hook to other artists, when it comes to his own shit, he's clearly only trying to amuse himself, and he's open to experimentation: his last two projects were a collaboration with Stones Throw Records' master of funk, Dam-Funk, and a reggae album recorded under the alias Snoop Lion, after all.  Snoop hasn't really done a full-on rap album in four years, and with Bush, his thirteenth solo record, he still hasn't.

May 12, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Clipse - "Keys Open Doors"

Artist: Clipse
Title: "Keys Open Doors"
Producer: The Neptunes
Album: Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
There are hip hop fans now who have no idea that Pusha T was once a part of a duo called the Clipse.  Let that sink in for a moment.  The Virginia-based duo, made up of brothers Malice and Pusha T (formerly Malicious and Terrar, respectively), formed way back in 1992 and disbanded in 2009, after the release of their third album (well, fourth, if you count their aborted debut).  Shortly thereafter, Pusha signed a deal with Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music outfit, and has since taken his seat amongst the hip hop hierarchy in place today, while Malice changed his name to No Malice after finding God and has since shifted his focus from moving weight to positivity.  But I'm willing to bet there is at least one of you who had no idea that Pusha even had a brother in the industry.  Today's post should be akin to a slap across the face, then.

Hell Hath No Fury, the Clipse's second actually-released album (following 1999's Exclusive Audio Footage, which sits in a vault somewhere, wink wink (Google is your friend), and 2002's Lord Willin', their official debut), is generally seen by critics and fans alike as the duo's finest hour (or forty-eight minutes, I suppose).  Over the course of its twelve tracks, Pusha T and Malice dive into some of the most graceful boasts 'n bullshit of recent memory, mixing their coke raps with the kind of braggadocio typically reserved for the Jay-Zs of the world, all taking place over instrumentals credited to The Neptunes, their Virginia friends from way back.  (The liner notes only show Pharrell Williams as contributing to the tracks, but he's credited as The Neptunes, so that's what I'm going with today.  Chad Hugo, you are missed.)  It isn't a perfect album, because nothing is perfect in this life, but it comes fairly close, and even with all the other songs distracting you, "Keys Open Doors" remains the album's highlight for me.

Over a jaunty drumbeat and some synths, "Keys Open Doors", a song about how selling drugs has created new opportunities for our hosts, grabs your attention from the very first instance of the track's title hitting your ear, right before a button is pressed and it repeats itself, and then again.  Yeah, that description of the hook makes the song sound terrible already.  Trust me, it works in context.  Afterward, Pusha tackles the first verse, proving himself to be the Jay Leno of hip hop, at least when it comes to what he does with his money ("I ain't spend one rap dollar in three years, holla") and not how he steps away from the corner and then passive-aggressivley takes his spot back, sending Conan to basic cable.  The materialistic sheen over his vocals leaves an unrealistic expectation with the listener, and yet Pusha-Ton makes selling coke the most glamorous thing one can do.  Look past the outdated MySpace reference and take it all in.

However, the real winner on this track is his brother, Malice.  The artist currently known as No Malice (so where's that second album, man?) looks at his riches with a curious, questioning eye, acknowledging that his life is fantastic but cluing the listener in on the inherent emptiness of his status ("Bitch tells me she love me but I know she's a whore / Shit could get ugly should she talk to the law / And that's just what I get, it's the roses of war").  Most rappers wouldn't dare dive this deep into the psyche of a drug dealer who knows his lifestyle is temporary at best; Malice sums it up in a handful of bars.  "Keys Open Doors" also features one of my favorite line deliveries in our chosen genre, when Malice refers to himself as "a socialite" with all of the swagger that word doesn't deserve, and while he's still cocky enough to say shit like "I walk with a glow, it's like the Lord's shown favor", one can tell that he doesn't truly believe in his own statement.  That could just be hindsight talking, I don't know, but I think Malice was trying to tell his brother (and, by proxy, us) something back in 2006.

So, while Pusha T turns in another stellar performance that only furthers his lyrical legacy (even he refers to this as his favorite song), his brother Malice steals the show over Skateboard P's dope-ass beat.  I imagine most of you two already know what "Keys Open Doors" sounds like, but if you happen to have missed it, it's worth tracking down, as is most of Hell Hath No Fury.  If you're one of my readers who didn't realize the Clipse were a thing, though, I don't know what to tell you.  Start reading through the back reviews, maybe?

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



May 8, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Kendrick Lamar - "Cartoon & Cereal"

Artist: Kendrick Lamar featuring Gunplay and Anna Wise
Title: "Cartoon & Cereal"
Producer: J. LBS & T.H.C.
Album: N/A; released as a loose track (2012)

"Cartoon & Cereal" is a song that, to my knowledge, was never released in a proper fashion: Kendrick Lamar Duckworth simply threw it online and watched as hip hop bloggers went apeshit.  That happened in February of 2012, eight months before the release of his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and on the day that he kicked off his supporting act on his first big tour, acting as an opener for Drake during his Club Paradise sessions.  But while I can tell you what K-Dot was doing that day, I can't say shit about my own whereabouts at the time.  I was probably not doing anything blog-related, let's be real, and as such, I did not hear this song when it first dropped.

My first time sitting down with "Cartoon & Cereal", Kendrick's ode to childhood regression that is forced upon him, either through his own doing or by outside influences (the song is pretty fucking dark, guys), wasn't me literally sitting down, that would be weird, I wouldn't know what to offer the song, my house isn't cleaned up the way I would like, I'd wonder what to do with my hands, etc.  No, you can all thank the homey Ivan over at Hip Hop Is Read, who included the track on his Best of 2012 list; I had that baby running while I was getting ready (read: pre-gaming) to celebrate New Year's Eve (as one does when they like to drink), and when I heard the disquieting, unsettling instrumental (provided by T.H.C. and J. LBS, according to the Interweb), and also a sound bite of Wile E. Coyote used to creepy effect, it completely killed my buzz (this is probably for the best: don't drink and drive, kids) and forced me to pay attention.

"Creepy" is really the best way to describe "Cartoon & Cereal", at least if you conveniently forget that guest rapper Gunplay is a featured player, as his performance is anything but.  This lone track is probably what made bloggers take notice of Gunplay, though, and I can see why: while he merely provided the hook and a short verse toward the end, he packs his bars with enough emotion, passion, and urgency to feed a small village, if one could subside off of intangible objects.  He sounds really fucking good: tell me something doesn't go off in your brain when he says, "Nobody can mute me / But I never said nobody couldn't shoot me" (italics mine) that makes you wonder just why this particular guy is a part of Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group.  It just seems like wasted potential, right?  (See also: Stalley.)

But the star of the show is K-Dot, who, yeah, rhymes about cartoons and cereal, but the song is actually about, among other things (because Kendrick is dense like that), growing up in a household where his father was living that violent life to provide, and the rest of the family was frightened to see how that could impact young K-Dot, asking him to switch from the news to "cartoons".  Hence, the forced regression.  Obviously, Kendrick is too smart for that, but "Cartoon & Cereal" makes a good argument against willful ignorance.  A lot of you two may also believe that cartoons and cereal are ingested by children, and K-Dot had to grow up very quickly in his household, but I don't think that tells the whole story, since I still watch cartoons and eat cereal.  Maybe not at the same time now, but it still happens: hey, Adventure Time and Gravity Falls are some excellent television.

Anyway, "Cartoon & Cereal" was originally intended to appear on good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but ultimately disappeared from the tracklisting.  It's a really long, disturbing track, so I can definitely see why it should have been an album cut, but at the same time, K-Dot altered the storyline of his Aftermath debut to such a degree that this song wouldn't have really fit.  (It's thematic sequel, "County Building Blues", also failed to make the cut, appearing instead as a bonus track on the deluxe edition sold at Target.)  But it most certainly serves as a bridge between Section.80 and good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and is also a great fucking song.  It brings the energy down on the playlist just a little bit, but it's still a worthwhile listen.

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


May 5, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: Method Man - "Intro"

Artist: Method Man
Title: "Intro"
Producer: The RZA
Album: 4:21... The Day After (2006)

Most of you probably don't know this, but whenever I write about a project that upsets me to the point where I start to question why I even bother with this shit, I retreat into music I already know I like as a way to calm myself down.  I assume a lot of you two do something similar when life gets in the goddamn way; maybe you plop yourself onto your couch and fill your eyeline with various movies and TV shows proven to provide comfort, or maybe you turn to drugs, or alcohol, or religion, or stronger drugs.  Hey, I'm not here to judge.  I'm just trying to say, in a very polite manner, that I was very fucking disappointed with that Raekwon album.

Not surprisingly, whenever a Wu-Tang Clan effort blows, I go back and listen to better, more awesome Wu-Tang Clan efforts.  Also not surprisgnly, this playlist of mine features a metric ton of Wu, and I'm actually very proud of the fact that I've only included one such song in the count thus far.  That streak ends today, but most likely not with something you expected from me.

Today's entry is a bonafide rap album intro, taken from Raekwon's fellow Wu mate Method Man's fourth full-length solo album 4:21... The Day After.  It's the kind of intro I can get behind, in that it features actual rapping, but it also accomplishes two things simultaneously: Meth sets the overall tone for the evening ahead while successfully erasing any memory of his botched third album, Tical 0: The Prequel, from the listener's mind.  And that is no small task, because you see, that particular album sucked.  I also have no doubt that Meth would actually agree with me on that point: he seems like a genial, realistic dude.

4:21... The Day After was a return to form for Method Man; it's an underrated album that contains several high (no pun intended) points fitting for the man who was the first to break out of the group aesthetic.  It also features at least two tracks that are playlist-worthy, one of which I'll probably get to in the future, and the other being "Intro".  If you take a glance at my previous review for this album, I'd bet you can figure out what the other playlist entry will be.  It's a fun way to waste time at work, anyway.

"Intro" starts things off with an extended sound bite lifted from an educational documentary about the horrors of drug use.  The "Make marijuana legal!" chant was originally intended to scare the shit out of the viewer, whose only two concerns of the day were the Cold War and those fucking hippies, apparently.  But as fans of rap music, anyone with even the slightest familiarity with Method Man will know where he falls into the argument: even if he isn't the pothead he used to be, what with having a family, kids, grown-up concerns, and the passage of time, he's still the guy who named his debut album, Tical, after slang for a laced blunt, and his BFF is Reggie "Redman" Noble, by the way, so it's not like he's completely out of the woods.  For further examples, please refer to the actual title of the album this song appears on.

As the sound bite plays out, producer RZA brings up a simple loop that both keeps things moving and has just enough melody and dusty drums to remind listeners of the Wu-Tang Clan of olde.  However, the Method Man that spits a single verse isn't the young buck that tried to convince the world to hear him out back in the early 1990s: this Method Man is confident, cocky, and doesn't give a shit if you listen to him or not, and that kind of swagger comes only with years of experience, as he grew into a grizzled hip hop veteran that both appreciates and constantly questions the direction in which our chosen genre has traveled.  Also, he sounds really good: one listen to "Intro" will make you actually want to give 4:21... The Day After a chance, which is what all rap album intros are supposed to do in the first fucking place.

Short version: Method Man and The RZA should work together more, just not necessarily with Bobby's digital orchestra or with all of the live instrumentation that plagued A Better Tomorrow.  And you should probably listen to 4:21... The Day After.

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



May 1, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Raekwon - Fly International Luxurious Art (April 28, 2015)

In his attempt to both save face and distance himself from the Wu-Tang Clan's debacle A Better Tomorrow (not to mention the "mysterious" Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, whose existence has been handled so poorly that I'm now convinced it's just a Cilvaringz album with some Wu guest spots that he couldn't get anyone to give a fuck about until this whole "million dollar" "highest bidder" horseshit was announced), Corey "Raekwon" "Raekwon the Chef" "Lex Diamonds" "Old Man Raymond" "The One That Isn't Obsessed With Iron Man" Woods released his sixth full-length solo album, the absurdly-named Fly International Luxurious Art, this past Tuesday.  I believe the album cover art really tells you everything you need to know about the project, but I'm sure you two want an "actual review", so here goes.