The New York-based Diggin' In The Crates crew (or D.I.T.C. for short) is one of the most highly regarded in the history of our chosen genre. The various members of the crew have worked with virtually everybody in hip hop through six degrees of separation: they have managed to both champion the underground movement and stand alongside their mainstream peers without causing so much as the batting of a hip hop fan's eyelash. The name of the group was taken from the act of searching for records to pull samples from, and the various members all either searched through those crates themselves or supported those who did: the crew includes big names such as Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Buckwild, Fat Joe, O.C., the late Big L, and the subject of today's post, the duo of Showbiz and A.G., among their ranks.
Showbiz (Rodney LeMay) and A.G. (Andre Barnes) were a Bronx-bred duo who hooked up with the D.I.T.C. crew early in its inception. I say "were" because, while they still enjoy a healthy working relationship today, they no longer function as a full-time duo. But back in 1990, they were young upstarts hoping to impress as many of their peers as they possibly could, with Show's soul-tinged funk beats and Andre the Giant's rhymes. (Showbiz rhymed a bit too, but he preferred the behind-the-scenes action to being front and center.)
The duo made their first recorded appearance on Lord Finesse's Funky Technician: two years later, they managed to get their debut album, Runaway Slave, recorded and completed for Polygram Records. Before Runaway Slave hit store shelves, though, they pressed an EP, which, confusingly enough, goes by one of three titles whenever you try to look it up on the Interweb: Wikipedia calls it the Soul Clap EP, Amazon.com believes it to simply be called Showbiz & A.G., and I'm running with the title Party Groove / Soul Clap, mainly because that's what it says on the cover, even though that moniker makes this project sound like another one of those maxi-singles that I said I wouldn't really be reviewing. Actually, when you consider the fact that this project contains two versions of "Soul Clap" and the instrumental for "Party Groove", it's arguable that this is only looked at as an EP in the most lenient of ways because of the presence of two exclusive-to-this-album songs that failed to make the final cut on Runaway Slave.
Regardless of whatever it's really supposed to be called, it's clear that Show and A.G. intended for this project to be a taste of what they were planning on bringing to the party, a party that is referenced a few times on the EP itself: apparently our two hosts believed hip hop was in dire need of fun back in the early 1990s.
Not that I can blame them.
No content with merely introducing themselves, both Showbiz and A.G. Shout-out most of the other members of the Diggin' In The Crates crew. Notice that I'm not saying that this rap album intro is good or even all that necessary, though.
2. PARTY GROOVE (INSTRUMENTAL)
Although they were threatening otherwise right before this title track (of sorts) kicked in, nobody actually rhymes on the first real song from Party Groove / Soul Clap: instead, this becomes a showcase for Showbiz's production work, as he blends sound bites with a jazzy score and somehow believes that it will be appropriate for a party-type atmosphere. It sounds like the kind of music that someone would throw on at a party without alcohol...or hot chicks...or even decent finger foods, but it was still okay for what it was. It does seem that Showbiz has been heavily influenced by the overt jazz influences of both Guru (R.I.P.) and DJ Premier: in no way am I trying to imply this as a bad thing.
3. SOUL CLAP (SHORT VERSION)
Two tracks into Party Groove / Soul Clap and we finally get to hear somebody fucking rhyme. Andre the Giant flows for dolo smoothly over this Showbiz/Diamond D concoction that sounds more like a party groove than the previous song, even tossing in some Public Enemy-esque whistles whenever appropriate. A.G. is never considered as an option when hip hop heads argue over who the best rappers in the game are (my theory is that his lack of an open mind when it comes to other musical genres, a trait he proudly wears on his sleeve on here, prevents him from adapting to his surroundings in any interesting way), but to his credit, he comes across as the only emcee who could ever rock over this instrumental, so he deserves some praise for that.
4. CATCHIN' WRECK
The grammar nerd in me hates the fact that Showbiz believes that “biz” is an abbreviated form of the word “busy” (instead of “business”): possibly due to the fact that his verse sounded weak anyway, that statement ruined his contribution for me. This comes across as the worst kind of underground hip hop: the artists talk a lot of shit, but that have absolutely nothing to back up their many claims, and the underlying music is so fucking dull that anybody in their right mind would have moved on about three minutes prior anyway. Skip.
5. PARTY GROOVE (BASS MIX)
Well, the title is accurate, at least: this version of “Party Groove” is definitely more bass-heavy than what I assume was its original incarnation. Thankfully, these guys don't throw yet another instrumental into the EP's short tracklisting: both Show and A.G. Use a verse to communicate to the audience this time around. While they both technically do alright for themselves (there's a valid reason why Showbiz doesn't really rhyme anymore, but he still didn't sound awful on here), and the beat certainly benefits from the renovations, I'm still not picturing myself at a baller-ass party listening to this shit while letting the Jameson's mind-altering tricks catch me off guard.
6. DIGGIN' IN THE CRATES (FEAT. DIAMOND D & LORD FINESSE)
Appropriately enough, one of the earliest D.I.T.C. posse cuts is named after the crew itself (even though nobody gets a credit for their guest appearances on here, oddly). Over a simple Showbiz beat, Andre the Giant faces off with three other guys who are better known for their work behind the boards than they are for their microphone prowess, and, almost comically so, he outclasses all of them. Diamond D doesn't do much to support his self-proclaimed “best producer on the mic” designation, and Show sounds pretty terrible, but Lord Finesse has enough cocky swagger in his voice to pull off his bars, so at least the back half of this track isn't a complete loss. Still, though, A.G. completely obliterates everyone else on here. So that was nice.
7. SOUL CLAP (OFF BEAT MIX)
Essentially the same song as the “short version” that appeared earlier in the program, although the instrumental is less moody (it's credited to Showbiz alone this time around, although A.G.'s lines are recycled, so Diamond D still gets a verbal nod for his “contribution”). I prefer this beat to the previous incarnation, as this shit is much more playful than whatever the fuck these guys were aiming for originally, and I say that even though I liked the other song. It's interesting how Andre the Giant somehow comes across as more engaged this go-round, especially since that should be virtually impossible, as his performance is exactly the same as the one on the prior track. Ah, studio trickery, you've fooled me again!
8. GIANT IN THE MENTAL
The EP ends with an A.G. solo that beats you across the forehead with a bag of hammers-worth of earnestness, as he tries his damnedest to win over fans with his lyrical style. While he doesn't sound all that great, he at least isn't the weakest element of the song: Show's lame-ass instrumental grates at the eardrums, and I found myself counting the seconds before this shit was finally over, just so I could say that I accomplished my goal of listening to this project in full. This entire EP couldn't end quickly enough for me. It should be noted that the one and only DJ Premier provided scratches on this track, and he still couldn't make me care enough about it today. Weird.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Showbiz and A.G.'s Party Groove / Soul Clap EP was intended to be a teaser for their eventual follow-up debut full-length, but the music presented on here simply doesn't hold up all that well. The rhymes (at least the ones coming out of Andre the Giant's mouth) are decent enough, but this project falls apart with the mostly boring instrumentals, which is strange, since those beats allegedly helped prove that Showbiz was a formidable presence in the Diggin' In The Crates crew. The project sounds dated as hell, as though its expiration date arrived approximately one week after the project actually hit store shelves: there isn't anything on here that counts as essential listening. I will admit that it's a shame we will never get the opportunity to hear this EP alongside its peers, as it will never be 1992 again, but if the music was any good, it wouldn't matter what time period the listener resided in. This is far from timeless.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this if you absolutely must. Fans of the Diggin' In The Crates crew may be interested in their earlier work, but there isn't anything on here that will win over any new followers. It's short, but it commits the worst offense a hip hop album can be possible of: it's boring as shit.
BEST TRACKS: “Soul Clap (Short Version)”; “Soul Clap (Off Beat Mix)”