(Those last two Slaughterhouse posts took a lot out of me, so instead of getting completely faded and skipping a week (as I am sorely tempted to do), I figured the honorable thing to do would be to run one of the backlogged Reader Reviews (and then get completely faded). Werner von Wallenrod, whose blog is pretty goddamn fascinating, delivers a two-for-one today, as he discusses both volumes in Tommy V's Crew Cuts series. I just realized that most of you two probably don't recognize half of the words in that last sentence, so I'll just let the man explain for himself. Leave your comments for him below.)
This is the first volume of Crew Cuts by Tommy V...or by Imprints, depending whether you believe the front cover or the spine, but we Tommy V/Imprints fans are used to that by now. You see, Imprints is the name of the crew, and Tommy V is the producer as well as one of the rappers and is, generally, the backbone of the whole crew. So all of their tapes are Tommy V albums with a lot of guest spots (Imprints and non-Imprints alike) and Imprints crew albums at the same time. Sort of. Who Woulda Thunk, for example, featured barely any input from any members of the crew besides Tommy V, and yet it's billed as an Imprints album. Discogs.com, in fact, has apparently given up entirely and just settled on listing Imprints as an alias of Tommy V.
Anyway, the concept of Crew Cuts is to gather together a bajillion MCs for massive posse cuts (or “crew cuts”, get it?). If the pun isn't obvious enough, maybe the imagery of a barbershop column and shaver on the album cover will bring it home for you. A bunch of these songs are collected from past Tommy V tapes (another familiar phenomena for us fans; most Imprints tapes feature repeating songs that appear multiple times on different tapes), and others ("...some of these songs I jacked from my friends, sorry bout that," read the liner notes). But there are also enough all-new, exclusive songs to make these exciting scores even for the collector who has everything, and they make for a seriously impressive who's who of the California underground scene.
And underground they are: these were recorded on Maxwell and Sony Type 1 (the cheap kind!) tapes with Xerox paper inserts. This is the way creative DIY artists did it before the days of YouTube and blog spamming.
Note: I'm "normalizing" the credits here below, because sometimes the names are given odd aliases (Tommy V goes by "T-Homeless" on one song, Awol One is credited as "Awolrus," a nod to his appearance on Beneath the Surface), and other times they're just flat-out misspelled.
1. THE IMPRODUCTION
We start out with an effective enough introduction by Jericho (sort of a Shape Shifters extended family producer) laying a sound bite of Mel Brooks making fun of rap music to a simple track. It works better than most rap album intros and skits, as it's more of an actual musical interlude.
2. RAINDANCE (FEAT. NONAIM)
We're starting off slow, since the next track really isn't a posse cut, a la the theme of the album, but it's a pretty nice, subtle number by Tommy and regular Imprinter Nonaim. The production and lyrics are really engrossing: it reminds me of Ghostface Killah's "The Sun", only less silly.
3. KAZOO TOONS
Seattle's DJ WD4D puts together a seemingly endless instrumental that repeats a short kazoo riff over and over on top of a simple beat. It's a little frustrating because of how long it takes to get to the eponymous crew cuts, and a lot frustrating because it's fucking annoying to listen to.
4. THE GRACE SLICKAPELLA
An uncredited poet and her subordinate friend who's relegated to backup duty read us "The Declaration of Children Absent from Zion," an obnoxious spoken word poem / manifesto. I feel like Tommy V is punishing us at this point. The irony when they get to goal number five (yes, they number them for us), "To discontinue the repetitive and monotonous tones of every other fucking coffee shop poet in Los Angeles and New York City", is literally painful.
5. WE CAME TO SEE THE WORLD (FEAT. EXISTEREO, DR. LEWD & MATRE)
Finally, our first proper "crew cut"! Tommy V gets busy with several Shape Shifters junior members, and it's as spacey and mystical as you could hope for from any Shifters track. If you've ever wanted to hear what underground West Coast hip hop would sound like if it was conscripted for the soundtrack of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film, this is it.
6. 4 ROOMZ (FEAT. SUBTITLE, JOE DUB & LIFE REXALL)
Produced by Transducer, this is a weird, half-concept song based loosely around the concept of... rooms. Subtitle kicks a lighthearted, autobiographical verse about life in his basement apartment. Then Joe Dub raps from the first person perspective of a sleazy bedroom. Then Tommy raps (autobiographically?) about being a creepy roommate and Life Rexall rounds it out as a voyeuristic security guard, all over a dark, atmospheric track. It's pretty bugged, but in a good, creative way.
7. OLIVE MANOR (FEAT. RAJ ADMINISTER, NEBULA, MALEKO, JUNDAX & NEILA)
The beat, guest produced by Da Golden Ray, is really simple (a drum line, bassline and sample that just loop consistently for the entire song), but catchy enough, and thanks to the changing roster of MCs with a broad variety of voices and flow, it manages not to wear thin.
8. NO SUNSHINE (FEAT. DEESKEE)
A bunch of rap songs have sampled Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," but it's flipped to a totally different, lighter instrumental on this duet by Tommy and Deeskee. It's a nice song about relationships failed, but the production really stands out here. Lo-fi, but addictive.
9. BARSTOOL BUDDIES (FEAT. CHUMP CHANGE CHARLIE)
This is probably more about padding out what could be one solid album into two. In the liner notes, Tommy explains he was "trying to get back down South”. So, okay, this album's clearly a cash-in. But he could have at least filled the tape with proper songs. Instead, we get super-long skits such as this one, where Tommy and his fellow Imprinter sing cheesy drinking songs in comic voices. For several minutes.
10. CHUMPS BRO JOE WITH COLE LACKEY ON THE CONGAS
The filler continues to side two, marked as “The Side That Won't Play”, with another trite spoken word poem, this time about workers uprising and filled with as many clichés as possible.
11. STILL AIN'T COME UP? (FEAT. JOE DUB, SUBTITLE & LIFE REXALL)
The beat by Golden Ray is pretty thin, but lyrically this is another tight posse cut. Rappers rapping about how hard it is to be rappers isn't usually the most attractive subject matter, but the lyrics are earnest and unique enough from these struggling 4-trackers ("Some feel it's necessary to buy equipment to buy their way in / And the funny thing is they ain't get played, they doin' the playin'") to feel more substantive.
12. THE CARNIVAL (FEAT. WHY?, DOSE ONE & NICK STARR)
Anticon and Imprints come together to make something even weirder than they usually would manage on their own. Kazoos, circus whistles, carnival imagery and fast cuts. The whole song is so cheery and upbeat ("Zebra with a clarinet - toot!"), you'll definitely be interested enough to care and try to figure out what the heck they're talking about, which is more than you can say for most hip hop songs this esoteric.
13. THE TRAIN SONG (FEAT. MEGABUSIVE & JOE DUB)
According to the liner notes, this was "recorded live on Amtrak”, but it doesn't sound noisy and lo-fi. The sound quality is fine (by 4-track standards), and it's kind of a catchy but simple song.
14. REAL SHADEZ (FEAT. TERRY, BANKZ, ADJ & NONAIM)
I don't know who most of these guys are, but it's another cool posse cut over another funky track that only those underground West Coast cats could make.
15. HOW MANY MC'S? (FEAT. JOE DUB, SUBTITLE, GNU, DR. LEWD, MALEKO, METFLY, EXISTEREO, AKUMA, LIFE REXALL & AWOL ONE)
I think Deeskee was trying to break a record with the number of rappers he enlisted for his 2000 track. The hook, predictably, is a cut up vocal sample of KRS-One's "My Philosophy”, but nothing else about the various, innovative flows and ethereal beat is predictable here.
16. INTRUDER ALERT! (FEAT. RAJ ADMINISTER & NEBULA)
This song is crazy, and the fact that the "producer wishes to remain unknown" (as the liner notes read) somehow adds to the myth of the whole thing. It's a narrative song, told from multiple first person perspectives, that starts out with a thief who breaks into a home and starts looting the place until the man of the house comes home. But instead of switching to his perspective, we switch to the... robot security guard who's been stalking the thief this whole time? Then we switch to the guy, who enters his "secret security capsule" and all three of them have a crazy, dramatic conversation: "Well, hello there, intruder and welcome to a situation you find seldom / And I'd like to congratulate you on a job very well done." Little does the thief suspect the homeowner has hydrochloric acid sprinkler systems and... no, really, what the fuck is this song?
FINAL THOUGHTS: Actually, looking at it track by track, very few songs on Crew Cuts Vol. 1 appeared anywhere before this one. A good chunk of them later found themselves on Tommy V's more widely released Quarter Life Crisis (and in clearer quality). "Olive Manor" turned up on Impraktical, "No Sunshine" on 4-Track Folklore. "How Many MC's?" had been released the year before on 7", but that's pretty much it. So, despite its flaws, this is a pretty terrific collection.
BUY OR BURN? This tape is a pretty wild ride. The content ranges from quite impressive to terrible, and hitting just about every point in between. There's more than enough talent and creativity to recommend it, although the fact that it's a cassette-only release means that you'll not only have to jump through hoops to find a proper copy, but you won't be able to skip those god-awful skits.
BEST TRACKS: "Raindance”; "We Came To See the World”; "The Carnival”; "How Many MC's?"
Crew Cuts Vol. 2 was released at the same time as the first one, and, thankfully, this entry spares us most of the B.S. we experienced on the first installment. The second chapter hits us with posse cut after posse cut, some of which grow to be overwhelmingly large. Pretty much all of the usual suspects are on hand, but a couple of unexpected, new voices are added to the mix.
According to the liner notes, Tommy was "only making 30 or 40 of these," but I had no problems scoring copies of both volumes at the time. He also says, "all these songs will appear on the fully mastered CD coming soon," which only wound up being true for less than half of the tracks, and that's only if you include some of the guest rappers later including one or two of the songs on their own projects. But rarity isn't the same as quality, so let's see what we've got here, 'ey?
1. SWEET SIXTEEN (FEAT. RASHINEL, JOE DOB, MEGABUSIVE, MATRE, EXISTEREO, METFLY, DR. LEWD, LIFE REXALL, SYNDROME 228, AWOL ONE, REGRET3, GEL ONE, VIRUS, OHMECCA, BEOND & GASIA)
There's no intro or skits making us wait this time around: instead, we jump into one of the biggest, monster posse cuts of all time. The beat, by WD4D, is just okay, but he provides some really nice scratching to make up for it. It's surprising to hear The Hobo Junction's Rashinel start things off, but it's a welcome contribution. The rest of the lineup, including the guys from Acid Reign, Ex2 and the other usual suspects, come just as tight.
2. THE FOREST SONG (FEAT. NONAIM & BANKS)
A wonderful piano sample manages to make the Audio Two "Top Billin'" drums sound brand new. The lyrics are full of colorful imagery, and the MCs deliveries meld with the instrumental to form a pure head-nodder.
3. PEACE OF TYME (FEAT. EVS, RAJ ADMINISTER & MALEKO)
It's hard to focus on the lyrics, because the flows and instrumental, guest produced by EVS, are so fluid. That's definitely not a complaint, though.
4. WE ARE ONLY (FEAT. LIFE REXALL, 2MEX & EVS)
Everybody brings their A-game here. By the time the cuts and an ethereal vocal sample kick in for the hook, it's game over. And Tommy's voice sounds so good here. Damn.
5. BIG BONED (FEAT. CIRCUS & LIFE REXALL)
The greatest rap song about being overweight since The Fat Boys' "All You Can Eat". This song is crazy and brilliant in the way only a Circus song can be, and despite having the sounds of burps and Circus singing the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory for a chorus, it manages to be more than just a joke song. The hook does wear a little thin; they should have cut it shorter to make room for another verse. But overall, it was surprisingly effective.
6. BATTLE OF THE YEAR (FEAT. HEDGEHOGS FAM)
Just when I thought we'd escape the extended skits of the first volume, we get four-and-a-half minutes of little kids (I'm guessing they're Hedgehog's kids? He is part of the Imprints crew, after all) telling terrible jokes set to a mellow hip hop beat. This would be cute if it were just thirty or forty seconds long, but as it is, it's really tough to sit through.
7. WD4D ON THE BEAT AND THE CUTS (FEAT. DJ WD4D... obviously)
I suspect they were just filling space to get to the end of Side 1, but WD4D comes pretty nice on this short instrumental.
8. DA DUH (FEAT. JOE DUB, RAJ ADMINISTER, RADIOINACTIVE, SUBTITLE & ANISA)
Now we're back on track. This is just an excuse for each MC to show off their wild, disparate voices and flow over a simple but succulent beat.
9. CALL OFF THA SEARCH (FEAT. SIXTOO, SOLE & ALIAS)
The darker, ominous samples especially suit the voices of Alias and The Sebutones' SixToo, but Tommy V actually brings it home with his final verse. This is one of the best examples of hip hop sonically painting a mental picture I've come across to date.
10. MIDNIGHT SPIRITS (FEAT. RASHINEL & ZEZ ONE)
Rashinel is back, this time with Zez One over a track produced by DJ Aspect. Although Tommy V does get on the mic himself, this still feels tonally removed from the rest of the material, as though it belongs on a totally different album. It is a good song, though, so I guess we can overlook that deficiency this once.
11. NIGHT ON WESTWOOD (FEAT. DR. LEWD, DIE, LIFE REXALL, AKUMA & EXISTEREO)
This is a high energy track that captures the feel of a mic passing freestyle, and everybody comes fresh. Die sounds especially good on here.
12. ESCAPE GOATS (FEAT. MALEKO)
Contrary to the last number, this is a really quiet song. The MCs are almost whispering, and the beat by Jisiri is haunting. I don't know if they quite live up to the vibes lyrically, but they at least come close.
13. 1 MAN MOSH PIT (FEAT. SPACE RANGER, NEBULA, MALEKO & DJ WD4D)
This is a silly song, amusing as album filler but not a great piece on its own. Maleko sounds good on it, though, and the drums are nice and crisp.
14. PEPSI ON THE RECORD 98 (FEAT. VIRUS, SYNDROME 228, AWOL ONE, DUSTOFF, CIRCUS, ZAGU, ORKO THE SYCOTIK ALIEN, SUMACH, GEL ONE, ADLIB & NONAIM)
We end with another ginormous posse cut, almost nine minutes long, and yet so many of the verses are actually memorable. Awol, especially, is both sloppy and, yet, brilliant. These guys have a way of making you unsure if they fumbled mid-verse and just couldn't be bothered to go back for a second take, or if it was a bold stylistic choice. I love it.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Again, several of these songs wound up on Quarter Life Crisis, Impractikal and one or two later releases, but only "Da Duh" (Neila's album Starting Early) and "Pepsi On the Record 98" (Manual Labor Pains) had been made available before, so it was mostly all exclusive new music at the time. I guess that's not so important if you're making a buying decision today - if you have Quarter Life Crisis, you have a bunch of these songs, regardless of which came out first historically. But there's still a mess of exclusives here to make Crew Cuts Vol. 2 stand up on its own, even if you have everything else.
BUY OR BURN? Definitely buy; this is even better than the first volume, and even the filler is less irksome. Not that I know where you'd find a copy in 2012 (watch eBay constantly, pretty much), but if you do see it, be sure not to pass it up. And if you don't, let it be a lesson to not sleep on a wonderful era of underground hip hop the next time one happens to come around.
BEST TRACKS: "The Forest Song”; "We Are Only"; "Call Off the Search"; "Pepsi On the Record 98"
-Werner von Wallenrod
(Questions? Comments? Sleepy? Hungry? Discuss in the comments below.)