April 19, 2009

Reader Review: Fresh Kid Ice - The Chinaman (1992)



(As the cutoff date for submitting reviews was yesterday, I present to you two the first post of Round Three. Werner von Wallenrod, whose site made it a bit farther than my own in the 2008 Blog World Cup, sent me something on an album that I’m almost positive that most of you have never heard of: Fresh Kid Ice's The Chinaman. And I’m on your side: I hadn’t heard of this one, either, so I’m going to let the man speak for himself without any italicized interruptions. And when you’re done, be sure to check out his blog for some more interesting reading.)



This tape has always been one of my guiltiest pleasures. But maybe I can scrape a little guilt off of the pleasure now thanks to the recent rediscovery of Fat Daddy (due largely to the inclusion his “Master Plan” record on DJ Format’s recent mixtape, which has set the collectors off). He co-produced this entire venture and even takes the mic on three of the tracks.

This album spawned when 2 Live Crew finally broke up after years of frustration, spurred by not being paid properly by Luther Campbell. Mr. Mixx went off to produce a series of albums, both solo work and for some new-jack artists he was managing. Brother Marquis formed 2 Nazty with DJ Toomp, another Luke Records escapee. And Chris Wong Won, better known as Fresh Kid Ice, stayed home. He was given this solo album as part of his agreement to stick around and be a member of Luke’s replacement group, The New 2 Live Crew. To emphasize his allegiance, Wong’s even wearing his Luke Records jacket on the album cover. However, The Chinaman came out on Effect, a subsidiary of Luke Records where they released all the dope gangsta releases like Bust Down and Poison Clan – a good sign.

What makes this album so successful is not the rapping abilities of the Fresh Kid. Let’s face it, the members of 2 Live Crew were never any kind of wordsmiths on the mic. But it’s the exemplary production by the ICP, Fresh Kid Ice’s production team, which he formed with Fat Daddy (and, to a lesser degree, a couple other guys from their camp). (ICP stood for Ice Cold Productions, not the WWE horrorcore clowns.) That, plus the fact that this album employed not one but two top-notch DJs – DJ Madman and DJ Domain – for their talents on the turntables, made The Chinaman what it is. It’s also the closest thing we’ll ever get to a follow-up album from Fat Daddy, so there’s that.

Now, Fresh Kid Ice did come back in the new millennium with a couple more solo releases, but they’re terrible. The only interesting thing about them is that one of the artists Ice was working with was Anquette, who was making her own comeback. Apart from that tiny bit of trivia, however, those efforts should be immediately and completely forgotten. Fresh Kid Ice’s solo career flashed quickly and brightly in this single pan. So let’s jump in.

1. DICK 'EM DOWN
Not a great choice to open with: it makes you think you’re in for a generic Luke album, and our Kid Ice sounds clumsy over the track. There is some scratching and an alright beat, but the song only really comes to life when the DJ is allowed to totally go nuts over the breakdown. They set the bar low with this one, which makes it all the more surprising that they wound up releasing this as the second single.

2. PUSSY AIN'T SHIT
Another one of the weaker efforts, but I suppose they’re catering to the portion of the 2 Live Crew fanbase that expected poorly-written, anti-woman sex rhymes. The production is on point, at least, with a catchy blend of samples, and it makes fun use of an infamous Slick Rick punchline for the hook. There’s more funky DJ work on the breakdown, too.

3. DANCE TO THE RHYTHM
A hype fast beat, groovy disco samples, and more expert scratching. This joint holds faithful to the mandate that all Miami bass albums must sample The SoulSonic Force or Planet Patrol with a little “Planet Rock.” The lyrics sink to such rudimentary levels as “oh me, oh my; this beat is fly. If you can’t dance, you’d better try;” but it’s all about a passable flow over a delightful instrumental. And there’s another DJ-spotlighting breakdown.

4. FROM THE BOTTOM TO DA TOP (FEAT K PONCE & FAT DADDY)
Take Eric B & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” beat, add some extra fresh horn samples, and if you’ve done it just right, like these guys have, you’ve improved on a masterpiece. Now, granted, lyrically, none of the MCs here are The R. But the fact that they turn this into a fun “pass the mic back and forth” freestyle rhyme joint just… works. Fat Daddy’s flow is especially slick. Note: for some reason, 1980’s Miami bass rapper K Ponce isn’t credited here, but I will stake my life on the fact that it’s him kicking the second verse. Hell, he spells his name out on the track.

5. LONG DICK CHINESE
I really don’t need to be picturing Mr. Won’s penis, thank you. But the atmospheric keys, banging drums, and especially the tight scratching manage to carry Ice’s mediocre rhymes over the course of a very short running time.

6. MIAMI DA BOTTOM
Conceptually, Fresh Kid Ice gets a little credit for stretching himself here, kicking a serious song about the state of Miami, but he just can’t pull it off: “State of insanity, lack of humanity, livin’ in the street ‘cause of a lack of a family.” Honestly, he still sounds like he did on Macola Records in ’85, and that’s not a compliment. In the end, the only thing I took away from this song is a nice slowed down hook taken from Balli and Fat Daddy’s album.

7. I'LL BE HERE (FEAT GAME)
The World Class Wrecking Crew did it first and Rappin’ Is Fundamental did it with more soul, but Fresh Kid Ice’s take on The Spinners’ classic “I’ll Be Around” works in a very light, poppy kind of way. It’s so expertly produced that, despite it being the album’s token love song, they opted to release this as the lead single. Which was probably a huge mistake. But if you’re demands aren’t any stricter than a great Spinners’ groove set to a hip-hop beat you can bop around to, this could be the album’s guiltiest pleasure. Game, one of Luke Records’ many stabled R&B groups, does a nice job on the hook, too.

8. KID ICE GROOVE
Say what you want about Fresh Kid Ice on the mic, and you’d be absolutely right. But ICP knew how to make a dope hip-hop album. They even threw in a DJ track!

9. SPLAK IT LIKE YOU LIKE IT
A catchy, up-tempo track just barely manages to cover-up the fact that this is otherwise a bad song. In fact, I’ll put it on the line right now and say that all songs with the word “splak” in the title are bad songs. But - say it with me now: there’s some nice scratching on the hook and a surprisingly funky breakdown that I wish they would’ve saved for one of the better album cuts.

10. BAD BOYS MOVE IN SILENCE (FEAT TESFA & FAT DADDY)
Tesfa kicks a really nice reggae style hook over a fat, slow track with deep horns. That and the fact that Fat Daddy is back on the mic, makes Fresh Kid’s tales of being a hardcore killer surprisingly effective. Theoretically, this song should be embarrassingly terrible; but thanks to the production team, it’s inexplicably engrossing.

11. ROLL CALL (FEAT SHAKE G & FAT DADDY)
The title tells you all you need to know. An upbeat posse cut over a perfect old-school beat: “Genius Rap;” “It’s Nasty.” They even clap their hands to the rhythm during each MC’s verse and shout out their zodiac signs on the hook. This is the kind of song hip-hop lovers love hip-hop for.

12. DEMON
Like “Pussy Ain’t Shit,” this is clearly another example of Ice catering to 2 Live expectations, but this time they’re bringing the best, most fun elements of the Crew’s hits. It’s a fun, extreme sex song featuring those 50’s sounding rock guitars that Mr. Mixx used to sample, a hook that sounds like it’s lifted off a Beatles record, and lots of vocal samples from The Exorcist: “Fuck me; fuck me!” “Lick me!” That’s probably an attempt to call back to their infamous Full Metal Jacket sample, but it honestly works just as well here as there. It’s also very reminiscent of some silly but kick-ass rap/rock songs like The D.O.C.’s “Beautiful But Deadly” or Ice-T’s “The Girl Tried To Kill Me.” in how it’s completely guitar-driven and tells the story of a woman gone mad with S&M lust. Good times.

13. FREESTYLE
They probably should’ve ended with the “Demon,” the perfect showstopper; but this song’s alright. Ice comes a little nicer than he usually does on the mic and the track is cool. And (say it with me) there’s some pro scratches on the hook and some extra nice ones on the break-down.

14. MADD-MIX
Did I say they included a DJ track on this album? My bad; they included two! This is clearly a concession to the tradition of all 2 Live Crew and Luke albums to end with a mega-mix… but you know what’s wrong with that? Nothing! The DJs are the real stars of this album, and they get to shine extra brightly here.

15. SHOT-OUTS (HOLLA' AT ME)
Not really a song; just shout-outs… except for some reason, there’s a hook. There’s a nice reworking of a classic electro sample in the backing track, but you’re not going to listen to this more than once unless you’re too lazy to get up and turn the tape off.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Chinaman is a surprisingly effective album. Even the weakest links are still well-produced enough to carry you along painlessly to the next song. A lot of people surely passed on this just on the basis of what it was, and the singles certainly didn’t help any. But I’m telling you: the open-minded hip-hop lover will be richly rewarded.

BUY OR BURN?: Buy it because you WILL continue to revisit it over the years… at least, when you’re sure nobody’s around.

BEST TRACKS: “From the Bottom To the Top”; “Roll Call”; “Demon”; “Madd Mix”

- Werner von Wallenrod

(Fuck, I may have to actually track this one down. Be sure to leave your questions, comments, or concerns below, and if you now have a better idea of what you want to write about, send me an e-mail, and I’ll see if we can accommodate you.)

8 comments:

  1. a chinese guy was seriously a founding member of 2 live crew??

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  2. hey max, how about a review for some non phixion album? "what's wrong with bill" for example.. A gut reaction to Doom's "Born like this" would also be appreciated. Peace, Mo

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  3. i'm still pretty shocked...

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  4. great review...had this tape back then. He was always my favourite member of 2LiveCrew

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  5. Looks like Prop Joe from The Wire, when he wasn't overweight.

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  6. Hey! This is Tesfa my myspace page is myspace.com/waryahpriest I still do music. I never knew this was reviewed

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  7. Max do u like Bone-Thugs N Harmony? It be good to see one review on them.

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  8. fuck Bone-Thugs N Harmony

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