Knowledge Being Dropped:
ED Catto from NYC is on it - holler at him ---.
³There Are No Longer Five Boroughs²
The Funky One Liner EP
6th Boro Records 1993?
One of my favorite slumbered on MC¹s of all time, this guy (bka as
Omniscence--note the missing second ŒI¹) later signed a deal with East West
where he put out two dope singles (Amazin¹ and Touch Y¹all featuring Sadat
X) before his debut album, The Raw Factor, was shelved. But this demo EP
predates all of that, hailing from an era when the North Carolina MC was
going by the fuller moniker Omniscience and working with producer The Rhythm
Fanatic (of Bizzie Boyz fame). Both Omniscience and Fanatic were in a
short-lived crew called the Funke Leftovers which released a nice 12² in
1992 called I Like The Girls. They would continue to work together at East
West with Fanatic doing production for the doomed Raw Factor, most
noticeably on the track Touch Y¹all.
For those that don¹t know Omni¹s work, this cat serves up clever
punchline-strewn lyrics with a voice that sounds like dude ate gravel for
breakfast. Despite the rugged voice, Omni turns every funky Fanatic beat
into a party. He is capable of keeping it real and remaining playful‹a
potent combo. He possesses an undeniable charisma and an ability to flow
like he is having a conversation rather than simply spitting hot shit in
your face. In this way, he is, perhaps, a little reminiscent of Jemini the
Gifted One. And of course there are his trademark punchlines, which were
admittedly a popular form of rapping at the time. That being said, Omni¹s
cracks could still get heads open 10+ years later‹he¹s that fresh.
The first track, Wreckognize, exemplifies Fanatic¹s funky beatsmithing with
boom bap drums, blaring trumpets and tinkling piano keys. Over this melodic
landscape, Fanatic drops a pattern of vocal scratches from various NYC
masters: Q-Tip: ³Act like you know², Milk D: ³Now You Know² and KRS-One:
³Hardcore rhymes for your mind².
The second cut, I¹m On the Mic, is smoking hot with its ³Ladies and
Gentlemen, I¹m the greatest MC in the world² intro and its furiously
scratched Big Daddy Kane chorus of ³I hate to brag, but damn I¹m good² over
xylophone notes. Check two of my favorite verses:
³ŠI rock mics from Queens to the Philippines, still a fiend, flyin¹ heads
like a guillotine, step to the stage and I¹m doin¹ Œem congratulations I
heard your album went aluminumŠ²
³Šthe word is out like Jermaine Stewart, that my shit is up to par like
Payne Stewart, the Juice Crew had the shit, but even Kane blew it, this jam
is so funky I can sang to itŠ²
The EP continues with I Gotta Maintain and Freestyle After a Philly, which
may be my favorite cut of all for its inspired improvising. Omni shouts out
Sam Cooke, Kool and the Gang, Nipsey Russell, Todd Bridges and Peabo Bryson
as all being down with him and declares that his ³the year is ¹93 and I¹m
the funky one-liner, lyrics be tighter than a nun¹s vagina².
925 bw/ Planet F Ya¹ll 12"
KGB Records 1994
I have always been a big fan of the Native Tongues family and make a point
of seeking out any early to mid-nineties records that I think were inspired
by that amazing collective of talent. While these records are rarely as
great as the best offerings from groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle
Brothers or Black Sheep, there were many solid and, in some cases, downright
dope records on indy labels that received little attention outside their
regional fanbases. I hope to eventually review more records that I feel
fall into this category.
Now, I should start by saying that I don¹t know anything about this
record--other than that I like it. I had never heard of this record until I
stumbled across it about five years ago and would appreciate any information
that anyone has as to the story about this crew, where they were from and
whether they put out anything else. What I do know (from the label) is that
the single was produced by Wiz and Mone, collectively known as Urban Anthem
Productions, and these guys are the reason to cop this 12".
The a-side¹s title refers to the grind of a 9 to 5 job. The chorus is built
around a Diamond D/Q-Tip vocal sample (from ATCQ¹s classic Show Business)
"my moms keeps beefin¹, boy get a job" scratched into a bit of the Beastie
Boys¹ No Sleep Till Brooklyn "at your job working 9 to 5". Beneath this we
are treated to a series of piano chords, an occasional horn and an upright
bass very jazzy (we¹ve got). The brief bridge is particularly nice with a
dope scratched-up mix. It all adds up to a great track that just about
anyone would have sounded good rapping over. The lyrics aren¹t anything
groundbreaking, but they are certainly not embarrassing and are competently
delivered. The feeling is something quite similar to Original Flavor¹s
slept on cut When I Make It:
"No 9 to 5 and I survive by a thread, would be employed but a hard not a
head, microphones got me goin¹ on a bust tip and it wouldn¹t be important if
moms didn¹t flip: Œget up off your ass and get a job this instant, put down
the pen and do away with that nonsense¹, rhymin¹ on pace and get away from
that rainbow, every other day it¹s the same ole same oleŠ"
On the flip, we get a bouncy, soulful 70¹s track with two heavy bass drops
and a cymbal crash punctuated with a truncated male vocal sample to add just
a dash of flavor to the proceedings. Best of all, is the scratched sample
from of "I come ready to crush an adversary". What is thgis from? It is
very familiar and yet I cannot place it. Regardless, another extremely
tight production with more than adequate rhymes:
"Šme and planet fuck ya¹ll, your stuck ya¹ll, even Huck Finn couldn¹t run
from the Injun Joe flow, hoes get the finger plus the cock, niggas get the
chills when I rap cuz I rockŠso when you see me in the mess hall, I¹m def
ya¹ll, ain¹t nothin¹ left ya¹ll, straight from planet f ya¹ll"
While I couldn¹t rate this record a classic, the production is truly first
rate and the MCs¹ certainly don¹t embarrass themselves. I recommend it to
anyone who loves that Native Tongues vibe and having played the shit out of
the classics, fiends for something more. This should certainly provide a
Hip hop scholar ED CATTO in the mix. sth.com has his EXCLUSIVE reviews of hard to find hip hop + pics - his contributions are stunning and educational.
What The Fuck Is The Eightball? 12"
Urban Music For The Masses 1993
Glorious, aggro rowdiness from the heart of NYC. This one-off single from
an otherwise unknown artist (at least to me) dropped on a short-lived label
from Lyvio G who heads may know from the heralded late-eighties label,
G-Fine, which belonged to P-Fine who executive produced this 12". Lyvio¹s
production is deceptively complex. Many of the beats of this era are too
simple and lack interest years later when the MC¹s styles sound more dated.
This is not the case here. Over a post-war Chicago blues electric guitar
(ala Muddy Waters), Eightball gets rugged with tales of life on the streets
of NYC for the average blackman with plenty of assistance from a crew of
hypemen on the shouted eponymous chorus and punctuated by fierce scratching.
This may all sound like more of the same old late ¹93 ¹94 East Coast ish,
but Lyvio¹s multi-layered production on both versions of the track elevates
this one to the status of bonafide underground sleeper. The original mix
uses two notes from the same sample used by Marley Marl on Big Daddy Kane¹s
"Ain¹t No Half Steppin" (Blind Alley, I believe it was), along with PE Bomb
Squadesque siren echoes and a twanging guitar sample. The Gutter Mix on the
flip uses several different guitar samples: the first, a deep bluesy guitar,
runs underneath throughout the vocal sections and two other sharper and
higher pitched Jimmy Page-like samples pop up periodically to create a much
less familiar sounding track. This version eschews the scratching over the
chorus for a static background. Two very different sounding mixes--both
"Š.school could have been a wayout of the life that I lead, but instead, I
chose to be a knucklehead and if I had to I left the motherfucker deadŠ"
So, after all of this, I know you are asking yourselves Œwhat the hell is
the Eightball anyway?¹. Well, at the end of the track Eight gives it
straight: "Šyou ask what the fuck is the Eightball? Black men who have yet
to take a fall!" Now that¹s hype.
SOP (Smoked Out Productions)
Back Up Kid (That’s What You Get) / Aw Yeah / Phases 12”
Smoked Out Productions may be familiar to a few readers for their hazy 1995 banger “Styles” (bw/ “Bok Bok”). But very few heads seem to know of the existence of this earlier single (their first?) from 1994. For those who don’t know this somewhat enigmatic crew, it consisted of, among others, some fairly big names in the NYC underground at the time: namely, former Beatnut Al Tariq, Black Attack (aka Sean Black) and Problemz. So straight off you should know to expect good things here. And just take a gander at that bleedy-eye record label rotating on your turntable. Hypnotic, right?
The a-side cut, “Back Up Kid (That’s What You Get)” is the clear leader here with three emcees (Stress (?), Problemz and Agony) spitting verses. The flavor is rowdy, more like Bok Bok than the mellow vibe of Styles. Problemz comes away the clear victor with rugged yet playful raps spat double-time over an intense, siren-strewn headnodder: “give me the props, lock, I’m rockin’ ‘round the clock, non-stop, like Timex, Big Ben or hickory-dickory-dock”.
Flip the record over for two more solid tracks. “Aw Yeah” is a Black Attack solo shot with verses over a smooth beat using a short female vocal sample reminiscent of Glaciers of Ice or any of the better 94-95 era Rza tracks. Last, but not least, is ‘Phases” with its lovely harp strings over a thundering bass. Agony and Stress trade verses back and forth, sandwiched between a grimy chorus: "disguise the faces that leave no traces, you breakout now you get trapped in the phases". And that, kid, is what you get when you act up.
Ed Catto, NY
Shakespeare and the Last Empire
My Old Jams Still Slam LP
(Squadron Supreme Records, 1989?)
With the current interest in the so-called Golden Era of Hip Hop, I thought it fitting to bring this obscure, sample-based gem of an LP to fools attention. Hailing from New Jersey (the LP was recorded in Trenton) and probably recorded around 1989, Shakespeare gets right down to brass tacks on the opening title track over a hyped Marleyesque production. After a brief but poignant chorus, Shakespeare has an amusing dialogue with crew members of the Last Empire:
“So many years went by and I’m still fly”
“So many years went by and I’m still fly”
“My old jams still slam”
“My old jams still slam”
Shakespeare: “Woke up one morning and ate my cereal”
Last Empire: “What kind of cereal?”
S: “Threw on my rhymes with their high class material”
LE: “What kind of cereal, man?”
S: “Sipped some coffee to keep me awake”
LE: “Yo man, what’s the name of that cereal?”
S: “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes!”
Throughout this LP, Shakespeare stays true to his moniker and spins intelligent rhymes with an engaging narrative reminiscent of some of the game’s most gifted storytellers. Just check “School H.I.T.”, which uses the same sample (the Blackbyrd’s Mysterious Vibes, I believe) flipped lovely years later by Kurious the Constipated Monkey for his track I’m Kurious. Not only did Shakespeare beat Kurious to the punch on the sample, he took the liberty of sprinkling a couple notes from the Spinners’ I’ll Be Around to ice the cake. Shakespeare drops lyrics about problems that lead to his transferring high schools, getting his life together and finally getting his diploma. Or check “We're Grand Imperial” where Shakespeare is joined on the mic by Tiz Money and Dance-A-Lot, presumably members of his crew the Last Empire. The beat here is reminiscent of an early Native Tongues posse cut and the favorable comparison continues throughout the verbal workout.
Flip the record over and the madness continues with one of my personal favorites. “Lady Cop” rocks a dope chorus "funky in hip hop, I'm the kid who knocked the lady cop." Shakespeare weaves a spicy narrative as engaging and funny as any of EPMD's Jane installments or Slick Rick's explicit masterpieces off his first two albums. But the best may be saved for last. “My Conscience” sees Shakespeare carrying on an inner monologue, swapping verses back and forth with Kaos the Lyricis playing the part of Jiminy Cricket. The track is brutally funny as we follow Shakespeare on a series of adventures:
“This fly girl came and she put her glass in my hand and said ‘a guy who drinks really proves he’s a man’
“So I drank a lot, (why?), to look fresher, didn’t know I was a victim of peer pressure”
“I tried to impress her, drinking quicker and quicker, guzzling 40’s and some other type of liquor”
This is the sort of random rap LP that makes digging so rewarding. Like the eponymous Bard, NJ’s Shakespeare has aged quite gracefully. In his own words:
“Please don’t leave until this rhymes completely over, back in the days when my pops used to drive a Nova, things were the same, I always wanted fame, my name is Shakespeare… I live up to the name.”
And he does.
Ed Catto, NYC