(Today's Reader Review comes from frequent contributor Taylor K., who switches things up a bit by discussing one of the many hip hop rarities there are out there. Funkghost's Ultra-Boogie Highlife gets the write-up treatment today: leave your thoughts for Taylor K. below.)
Whenever you encounter a rare record of any delicacy, the most natural thing you can do is sit down and enjoy it like a fine wine. And when I say “rare”, I mean it: not a difficult-to-find CD, but something that is also nearly impossible to download, as well. Today's artist fits that label, even though he has released about three recent singles which even had music videos and promotion behind them. Still, though, you've probably never heard of him before.
Funkghost (also known by his given name Alvin Augustus Harris) is a rapper/producer from an unexpected place, the mainly-suburban Tampa, Florida. Yes, I'm surprised too: Tampa apparently has a decent-sized hip hop scene and Funkghost was one of its forefathers. He was an apprentice of keyboard player Edwin Birdsong, who is mostly known for having one of his songs sampled on a Daft Punk record. (“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. You know you were wondering.)
Obviously he didn't build this community all by himself: he had deejays and other bands helping him out, none of which can be named because the Wikipedia article didn't list any more information. I'm sorry for my inability to research stuff properly.
Funkghost's efforts culminated in his debut album, Ultra-Boogie Highlife, a self-produced endeavor consisting of twelve songs, two skits, and an interlude. He used everything he learned from Birdsong and threw it all into crafting a record that sounded like it came from the Tampa Bay. Ultra-Boogie Highlife has everything you've ever wanted in a hip hop album: samples that you've never heard of before, instruments that may or may not be live, and drums that hit hard.
Of course, Ultra-Boogie Highlife was both critically praised and low-selling, but then again, aren't all rare, hard-to-find albums just like that, especially when only two hundred thousand copies were pressed in the first place? Here's a true fact: owning a copy of Ultra-Boogie Highlife is something of a status symbol for hip hop heads. There's no easy way to get it: you can't purchase it, you can't download it, and only a few of its songs exist on YouTube. Not even a Google search can give you any shortcuts. (In fact, perusing Interweb pages only results in you learning that the woman featured on the album cover later became famous for appearing on The Real World: New Orleans, which doesn't really do Funkghost any favors.)
But I'm going to talk about the album anyway. I know, I know! I'm a bastard!
Of course, rap intros never matter to me since I just one-star them and never listen to them again, but this is a pleasant enough track with funky sounds, funky bass and funky instruments that sets the mood of the album. Of course, like with every other rap album intro, why would you ever need to listen to it again?
2. ULTRA-BOOGIE HIGHLIFE
Blazes out the gate with electric flutes and acoustic drums that create a medieval-but-funky vibe. The beat switches up slightly throughout, adding elements as it goes along so it doesn't get repetitive. Of course Funkghost doesn't slack on his own creation: his rhymes may be old school, but his monotone-yet-slick delivery sells the album effortlessly, even though, per rapper tradition, the rhymes don't exactly match the concept.
3. THE FABULOUS
This track kicks off with some guitar work but morphs into some kind of reverse funk/Asian combination that is fucking awesome. Funkghost raps about how fabulous he is and how high his lifestyle is, which is a natural continuation of the previous track, which I guess means this album has more of a consistent theme than most, so how awesome is that? Highly recommended!
4. U CAN GET DOWN (FEAT. ? AND ?)
Funkghost switches it up with some more guitar (this is a running theme, by the way) that combines military timing with more funk. His beats seem to have a way of getting rappers excited: the other participants (remember, unable to locate more info) may not have much to talk about (which is natural, since they're coming from Tampa Bay), but man, do they ever kill the beat with their flows. I totally want to live the Ultra-Boogie Highlife they're representing right now.
5. MELODIC NECTAR (FEAT. ?)
Aw yeah! Something for the underground crowd. Starts off with an ominous string before going into a lush synth combined with bass drums that hit hard. Both Funkghost and his mystery guest go the introspective route and ponder the deeper meaning of life, thus providing a break from the materialistic lifestyle promoted elsewhere on here. Not that it would ever get all that tiring coming from Funkghost, but getting a break is always a good thing.
6. SOUL EMPORIUM SUITE
Interlude. It may be talking about how fresh Funkghost is, but the instrumental still bangs hard and fits perfectly. Makes me mad that this was wasted for an interlude.
7. GRAND INCREDIBLE SOUND
The only sound that you will hear is a plucked synth in a chamber, which is to say this beat is simplistic, but it's awesome at the same time. Funkghost goes hard with this track, busting dope quotable lines such as, “I take your lent genetics my definition of this / We bump the super technician execution on this”, and that's just the first line. Just imagine how many gems there are. I'll give you a hint: all of the gems.
8. MIC FLAM'S MIDNIGHT MOODINESS
A skit featuring a person talking about hip hop and its “realness”. It has a mellow instrumental, which helps the medicine go down, so it's excused. Don't worry, though, it's all smooth sailing from here.
9 . INSTRUCTIONS (S.F.D.P. ANTHEM)
True fact, I submitted this song once in a showdown and it bested all challengers: it both bangs and relaxes at the same time. With its vibratos and horns, it transports you to Funkghost's Tampa Bay world and never lets you go. I can just imagine myself wearing alligator shoes and wearing a white fur coat. And let's not forget about the lyrics: “The treat that gets you sweet like out of your seat / Now each words our microcosms mac ni 5 / With intellectual, perceptual to put your mind in motion / Phonographic centipede energy compulsion”. Apologies if the lyrics aren't exactly correct, but that's a dope line right there, and it's also the first one in the song. Notice a pattern yet?
10. FLAVOR SPLASH (FEAT. ? & ?)
Funkghost gets a little more upbeat to provide you with this splash of water and fun times, mixing together a guitar sample and what appears to be a representation of water. In a continuing theme, the anonymous guests are just as good as Funkghost: who wouldn't want to listen to the anonymous female when she has lines such as, “Time for den, I'm going to begin / With the pad that'd spin your mind on the tailspin / This is the test, F the best stress / All we want to hear from the crowd is 'Yes'”. If only someone had a physical copy of the album. Please? I'll pay you good money for it.
11. 3AM DELUXE
The funk guitars return with full force with this party rap that doesn't sound traditional, but that's the wonder of the album. Funkghost rocks hard over the instrumental, as usual, detailing arriving at the part he's going to rock until daylight. Come on, pump the cut: you'll never have this much fun.
12. TAMPA INTERNATIONAL (FEAT. ? & ?)
I swear Funkghost composed this song while in the Tampa International terminal. I still can't tell who the rappers are because I don't have the liner notes, but it doesn't matter because this posse cut rocks. With a guitar similar to Raekwon's “Ice Cream” and drums that are much faster, it;s a perfect beat for lyrics such as, “Crew relax, have your facts, have your dome like tax” and, “If I kiss my block, I got shot, last week in heat” and, “It's like they, might leviathan, while we try them” will make you listen by force. Come on, you know you can't resist.
13. LIVE AND DIRECT FROM THE CASBAH (FEAT. ?)
I don't know what a “casbah” is (it means 'fortress' if we're going to simplify things), but I do know one thing: this song rocks. Beach guitars combined with moody synths make for some awesome relaxing shit. It just reinforces how consistent this album is. “Tuberculous rock, the lava hot killer spot / You can rock shot, eyes clocked, stop killer rocks”. That lyric should be more than enough to draw you in. I really love Funkghost's wordy wordplay: I don't even know what half of these words mean.
14. STARSHINE (FEAT. ?)
The last song of the evening goes into a jazzy bit (complete with some mellow piano keys), as if to celebrate the fact that you're a true hip hopper because you've made it this far. Tampa Bay can definitely represent: anybody who thinks this album is wack can “Take that ass back to the lab and fast while it's time to do your math”. That's all I got.
FINAL THOUGHTS: You know, Max once said that no album would ever contain back-to-back banging beats, not even Illmatic. I'm here to say that he's wrong: if you're willing to look off the beaten path, not only will you discover back-to-back banging beats, you'll also find some great rhymes, as well. The music on Ultra-Boogie Highlife is funky, melodic, and atmospheric, and while the rhymes may focus on materialistic things, Funkghost more than makes up for it with his wordplay. I don't know why he doesn't just re-release the album: I'd definitely contribute to a Kickstarter to have more copies pressed up. Until then, here is your mission: find Ultra-Boogie Highlife, study it, and love it. It's a hip hop delicacy. And have I mentioned it's perfect for those with short attention spans?
BUY OR BURN: You can't do either since the album is nowhere to be found, but I'll gladly offer you a copy of it if you ask me nicely in the comments. Besides, this album is fucking worth it. (Editor's note: the link Taylor provided is no longer active, so as of now, this offer has ended.)
BEST TRACKS: The entire album, interludes and skits notwithstanding.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)