August 23, 2009

Tony Touch - The Piece Maker (April 18, 2000)


Tony Touch, real name Joseph Anthony Hernandez, is a Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican deejay who has released tons of mixtapes over his career. He started out as a b-boy, buy quickly moved behind the turntables and then, a little bit less quickly, behind the mic: in 1998, he released The Rican-Struction EP on his own Touch Records, featuring production from DJ Muggs and a guest spot from Greg Nice. But the man still remained most known for his mixtape series 50 MC's, a multi-part saga that, literally, featured at least fifty verses from fifty separate emcees: this breakthrough in the mixtape circuit (at the time, nobody had ever thought to simply include all-new freestyles on a tape) has resulted in many awards for the man. Tony has also released a collaboration with DJ Premier, Evil Dee (of Da Beatminerz), Mister Cee, and PF Cuttin' (later of Blahzay Blahzay) titled Five Deadly Venoms Of Brooklyn, which is considered to be another master's piece. To simply say that the man has earned his spot in deejay history is an understatement.

Predictably, as mixtapes were growing in popularity, record labels began to take notice, and in an effort to eat into the profits that mixtape deejays were seeing with their product, deejays were signed on to release mixtapes under an official imprint, and Tony Toca was no exception. In 2000, he inked a deal with Tommy Boy Records and released The Piece Maker, a collaboration with many of the emcees that populated his mixtapes, including big names such as Eminem, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Xzibit, although, to his credit, Tony skewed toward lesser known rap acts such as Heltah Skeltah, D.I.T.C., and The Beatnuts. (He also co-produced a song for Tim Dog's second album, but, thankfully, did not extend an invite to that guy.) The primary difference between Tony Touch's The Piece Maker and, say, any of Funkmaster Flex's mixtapes on Loud Records, or DJ Clue's on Def Jam, was that Tony could also spit some fire behind the mic, and his passion for the genre also led to a couple of other hip hop deejays laying down verses, as opposed to simply scratching and blending, but I will discuss that later on.

The album cover and liner notes of The Piece Maker emphasize Tony Touch's Taino roots, and a short history lesson is also provided for the uninitiated. This little touch (no pun intended) provides more of a context for Tony to reside within: while he is proud of his Puerto Rican roots (and displays his pride in one key way toward the end of the disc), he also wants his fans to dig a little bit deeper and catch up on some history that you probably will never learn in grade school. SO he has that going for him, which is nice: when was the last time DJ Drama gave anybody context?

The Piece Maker allegedly sold almost four hundred thousand copies worldwide, which would be respectable numbers for any artist, but not for the cheapskates at Tommy Boy, who promptly dropped Tony from the label. At least the man had something to fall back on, though: being ranked as one of the greatest mixtape deejays of all time tends to mean that someone will be checking out your future endeavors.

1. TOCA'S INTRO (FEAT BABY TOUCH, BONZ MALONE, & PEDRO ALBIZU CAMPOS)
This rap album intro starts off overly precious, but eventually Tony Touch starts rhyming, showcasing a much better flow than one would expect from a deejay. The dude's actually pretty good, and he can spit in both English and Spanish, which is pretty impressive: how many of your favorite rappers are bilingual without repeating well-known phrases oft used by tourists and/or those trying to purchase quality time with a native prostitute?

2. THE PIECE MAKER (FEAT GANG STARR)
Tony Toca doesn't appear over this DJ Premier-laced gem, but Guru fills in with his homage to his host, which could have made an effective introductory track had Tony not performed one himself. Even though the scratched-in vocal samples on the hook reach a bit too much (as most of them have nothing to do with Tony), Primo still manages to make it work.

3. SET IT ON FIRE (FEAT FLIPMODE SQUAD)
Why the fuck would Rampage brag about watching CBS? Unless he's a fan of How I Met Your Mother (which is hilarious), there is nothing to watch on that network, unless you absolutely love police procedurals. This Flipmode Squad track is passable, even though Rah Digga contributes a horrible hook and the crew itself seems to have slimmed down to only five members (I miss Lord Have Mercy).

4. U KNOW THE RULES (MI VIDA LOCA) (FEAT CYPRESS HILL)
This sounds like a Cypress Hill song from the Black Sunday era (minus the rhymes from Tony Touch, obviously). The hook is terrible: Sen Dog would have been put to better use if he had picked up some lunch for the crew. But other than that, this song was enjoyable.

5. THE ABDUCTION (FEAT WU-TANG CLAN)
Over some moody True Master production, the Wu (represented here by Gza/Genius, Masta Killa, Funny People's The Rza (with a really long verse), Inspectah Deck, and Ghostface Killah) both shout out their homey Tony Touch and further their own bizarre agenda, which means that I love this fucking song, as will other Wu stans, but those unfamiliar with the Clan's work will walk away nonplussed.

6. LIKWIT RHYMING (FEAT DEFARI, TASH, & XZIBIT)
While J-Ro is missed, his Alkaholiks bandmate Tash, along with Defari and Gridiron Gang's Xzibit, completely rip shit over the simple and effective DJ Scratch instrumental, which sneaks up on you with its dopeness.

7. ROYCE THE 5'9” (INTERLUDE) (FEAT ROYCE DA 5'9”)
Ryan has spit freestyles on Tony's mixtapes for years, so it makes sense that the man had a slot reserved for him on The Piece Maker. It's just too bad that his appearance lasts for less than a minute, but the current Slaughterhouse point guard kills it, as per usual. And for those of you confused by why I listed the man's name two different ways in the title, Ryan happens to use “da” these days, but back then, he was more grammatically aware.

8. RETURN OF THE DIAZ BROS. (FEAT DOO WOP & PAIN IN DA ASS)
Two mixtape deejays take to the mic? The hell? This was actually a single, if I remember properly (I suppose it was easier for the label to corral Tony and Doo Wop for the video than it would have been to get any of the guests to appear in the same place for any period of time), and strangely, this is much more entertaining than I recall. I don't agree with Doo Wop's assessment that he and Tony constitute a “Puerto Rican Rae and Ghost”, but they're both still fairly strong in the booth.

9. NO, NO, NO (FEAT HELTAH SKELTAH & STARANG WONDAH)
Tony Toca has enjoyed a good working relationship with the Boot Camp Clik (see: the Cocoa Brovaz collaboration “Spanish Harlem”, also featuring Hurricane G), so of course they would appear on The Piece Maker somewhere. On here, Starang Wondah and both halves of Heltah Skeltah spit alongside Tony about women, arguably the number two topic in hip hop today (the first being “keeping it real”, which has many different interpretations).

10. I WONDER WHY (HE'S THE GREATEST DJ) (FEAT KEISHA & PAM OF TOTAL)
This jacking of Sister Sledge's “He's The Greatest Dancer” is just goofy, but it is radio friendly enough to be a single (which I believe it was, at one point). The vocals of Keisha and Pam are lacking, but I've always liked the source material, so I'll write this off as entertaining piffle and move on.

11. BASICS (FEAT PRODIGY)
Prodigy and The Alchemist provide a track that could have been subtitled “Keep It Thoro II” based on the slow-building intensity alone. Cellblock P used to be a skilled rapper, and this song is proof that there is still some talent residue remaining.

12. PIT FIGHT (FEAT GREG NICE & PSYCHO LES)
With a title like that, I can't help but recall that goofy Pit Fighter arcade game that Atari and Tengen put out in 1990, the one that used actors to portray the characters a few years prior to Mortal Kombat. Greg Nice and Psycho Les kick standard Beatnuts rhymes alongside Tony, but the results are only okay. Kind of disappointing, really.

13. WHAT'S THAT? (¿QUE ESO?) (FEAT MOS DEF & DE LA SOUL)
Mos Def's boast about having taken Spanish I four years in a row is pretty funny, but he launches into a credible bilingual verse that sounds fairly convincing (of course, this being hip hop, he throws in a “Y'all n----s wack in one language, I'm nice in two”). De La Soul doesn't continue with the Spanish trend, though, so while their verses are all decent (and having the chorus performed in Spanish and then in English was a nice touch), the song ultimately falls kind of flat.

14. THE CLUB (FEAT D.I.T.C., KID CAPRI, & PARTY ARTY)
This D.I.T.C. posse cut was interesting, even though AG's fourth verse almost crashes this truck into a school bus full of nuns. Having deejay Kid Capri spit a verse was pretty fucking inspired, as was Lord Finesse's line “bought your album, that's how I broke the 'eject' button”. Party Arty (R.I.P.), credited on here as Party Artie, has a verse that will throw off most listeners, as he sounds as gruff as Twin Gambino, but the song still sounds nice.

15. CORMEGA (INTERLUDE) (FEAT CORMEGA)
Mega Montana gets twice the airtime as Royce to kick his freestyle. It was alright, but it wasn't my cup of tea, and chances are pretty good that you two will feel the same way.

16. THE FOUNDATION (FEAT BIG PUNISHER, REIF-HUSTLE, & SUNKISS)
The beat is nothing to brag about, but the weirdest aspect of this track is that both of the no-names (okay, Sunkiss has worked before, but still, do you really claim to know the guy?) outshine the late Big Punisher. Can't say I saw that shit coming.

17. GET BACK (FEAT D-12 & EMINEM)
Back when I was an Eminem stan, I loved this Alchemist-produced song, but now I'm ambivalent. Both Em and Bizarre spit verses for mere shock value's sake, which means that they aren't saying anything of substance. Also, Em's “chorus” (which never deviates from him saying “Get back”: even The Beatles, who had a similarly-named track, were able to wrangle some other words together to accompany that phrase) is fucking terrible. Al's instrumental would have been the saving grace had the song featured any lyrics worth mentioning, but as it is, I'm going to pass on this shit.

18. ADOLF '8-OFF' AGALLAR (INTERLUDE) (FEAT 8-OFF)
I only remember this guy because I read about him a long time ago in an issue of The Source, and he also has a song that pops up randomly on the radio while you're driving around San Andreas. He's been in the hip hop game for a while, but hasn't done anything lately (to my knowledge). His freestyle on here is pretty entertaining, though most of his contributions to The Piece Maker are of the production variety.

19. CLASS OF '87 (FEAT BIG DADDY KANE, KOOL G RAP, & KRS-ONE)
This song is actually hilarious, but not intentionally. This union of two Juice Crew members and KRS-One starts off strong, with Kane and G Rap spitting their shit to an 8-Off beat that should have maintained the high dramatic level throughout that it displays early on, but whatever. But prior to KRS taking to the mic, he deems it necessary to tell listeners how Tony Touch asked him to contribute to the song, and the fact that they left that shit in the final cut is fucking ridiculous. The song still kind of works, though.

20. P.R. ALL STARS (FEAT DON CHEZNIA, LA QUEEN, MEXICANO 777, REY PIRIN, & WINCHESTER YANKEE)
Tony Touch would have probably been credited with bringing reggaeton to the hip hop masses, had anybody actually paid any attention to The Piece Maker upon its initial release. This song isn't bad, but I'm not the target audience. For those of you who are interested, Winchester Yankee would later switch monikers to Daddy Yankee, a name you may or may not be more familiar with.

21. BORIQUEN OUTRO (MAYOWAKAN DRUMS) (FEAT NIXIWEI & WARIBONEX)
Mostly instrumental, but I found this shit relaxing as hell. It was a nice way to end the festivities.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Piece Maker is actually one of the best deejay compilations in hip hop history: it's consistently entertaining, and Tony Touch sounds pretty sure of himself on the mic. The only downside is that Tony didn't produce every song on here (there are several tracks that he seemingly had nothing to do with), so this sounds more like a compilation than an album-length project. The second half also pales in comparison to the first, but all in all, The Piece Maker features some really fucking good music. So there.

BUY OR BURN? I urge you two to buy this shit. The outright great songs on here overshadow the weaker tracks, and as a fan of the genre, you will be glad that you got this one.

BEST TRACKS: “The Abduction”; “The Piece Maker”; “Royce The 5'9” (Interlude)”; “Class Of '87”; “Basics”; “No, No, No”; “Likwit Rhyming”; “U Know The Rules (Mi Vida Loca)”; “Return Of The Diaz Bros.”; “The Club”

-Max

2 comments:

  1. One of the definitive mixtape-albums in the genre. There are some filler tracks but one of the things I liked about Tony Touch is he knew how it was done, pairing real Hip-Hop artists with some of the more commercial artists at the time (who coincedentally, were skilled rappers). 'Basics' is amazing, and I was dying laughing at Sunkiss's verse on 'The Foundation'.

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  2. My local record shop had this and Liquid Swords for 3 bucks each, so I'm ecstatic right now (even though I already own Liquid Swords, I couldn't pass up that deal.) Good review, I'm surprised more people didn't comment on this one.

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