Label Politics… Large Pro
January 31, 2007, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews, Producers

I do not generally agree with posting up stuff that I do not actually physically own, as the point of the blog for me is to share things from my own personal collection with others. In doing so, it also encourages me to still go out and hunt down CDs and to avoid relying too heavily on sourcing stuff from the internet alone. Today is an exception, as Large Professor’s shelved LP never received a CD release and I imagine only exists as vinyl promos or bootlegs. I also own the ‘IJUSWANNACHILL’ 12” so feel that I can justify posting this up.

There isn’t much to say about Large Pro that you probably don’t know already. With production credits on some of the most important albums in the genre’s history as well as a load of remix work he is without doubt one of the most accomplished and prolific hip hop producers of all time. Like others in this category, he has a unique and defined quality to his work that means you know you’re listening to Large Pro even if you can’t put into words exactly what makes the track his own. Of course, he’s had his lower points as well with ‘1st Class’ being a definite disappointment, and I wasn’t really feelin’ his most recent instrumental LP although haven’t given it much of a chance. Still, these are small gripes with such a strong and bangin’ discography. By the way, did I mention that he’s pretty tight on the mic as well?

I simply cannot understand how ‘The LP’ was never released. Hip hop seems to have been plagued with these sort of mistakes, with Freddie Foxxx’s sophomore LP receiving the same treatment as well as a whole host of quality albums that never saw the light of day. How can these record companies not have realised what they had on their hands? I think this was due to drop in ’96 and easily stands up against the strongest releases of the year. There’s a guest appearance from Nas that surely would have guaranteed sales and with Large Pro’s track record it seems astonishing that this never got a proper release. They even made a relatively high budget looking video for ‘IJUSWANNACHILL’ (see below), so how could they not have taken that final step and got this out there?

Whatever the reason, Geffen made a categoric error. ‘The LP’ is an exceptional album that will be appreciated by any fan of the genre. Large Professor in his prime: it doesn’t get much better than this.

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Comin’ With Da Illy Filly Funk – Da Youngstas
January 30, 2007, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

The kiddy rap phenomenon of the early ’90s produced a surprising amount of quality acts given its gimmicky nature. Illegal, Chi-Ali and Shyheim all released solid LPs during this period in the genre’s history, but no act managed the consistent quality that Da Youngsta’s achieved. Four albums over a period of just three years also makes them one of the most prolific of all hip hop acts, kiddy or otherwise, and the fact that they were able to maintain a high standard over all four releases is relatively astonishing. After ‘I’ll Make U Famous’, their last album, they fell off the hip hop radar and this is a great shame as I consider them to be a seriously slept on group who deserved significantly more props than they got.

‘No Mercy’ was their third studio album and is arguably their best. The group’s debut ‘Something For Da Youngstas’ suffered from being perhaps a little too soft, and their sophomore release ‘The Aftermath’ is excellent in places but lacks coherence over the whole album due to a wide range of production credits (although the pedigree of beatmaker on this album is significant). Produced largely by Marley Marl and K-Def, ‘No Mercy’ features bangin’ beats that combine elements of jazz with hard, gritty drums that complement the MCs consolidated senses of style. Funnily enough, ‘Hip Hop Ride’ was the track that made the most impact commercially although it is not representative of the sound of the remainder of the album where street narratives and bragging verses prevail.

Just flicking through the tracks on ‘No Mercy’ again highlights the point to me that there really isn’t a dud track on here and there are plenty of bangers to boot. ‘Mad Props’ is an upbeat party anthem with a warm and bouncy feel (check the video below); ‘Put Me On’ sees the group delve into a ghetto romance backed by an atmospheric and head noddy beat; ‘Illy Filly Funk’ features some sweeping strings and a subtle horn loop (this nearly made the cut for the strings mix) and ‘In The City’ has a similar ‘cityscape at sunset’ vibe about it. Tajj, Tarik and Qu’ran also do the beats justice, with relaxed and accomplished flows delivered with post-pubescent voices that match the edgier content of the rhymes found on both ‘The Aftermath’ and this release.

Whether this is totally new to you or if you just haven’t got a hold of it for some reason then this comes highly recommended at From Da Bricks. The consistently high standard of the production plus the maturity of the MCs make this an excellent album that you should not fail to add to your collection. Kiddies they may have been, but there is nothing gimmicky or adolescent about ‘No Mercy’: this is quality hip hop from front to back.

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Orchestral Flava – FDB Strings Mix
January 29, 2007, 5:02 pm
Filed under: FDB Mixes

Back up in it. Man, nothing worse than non-compliant technology. Anyway, I’m back from a nice weekend and fingers crossed blogger seems to be back on side: thanks for your patience. Planned to hit you with this compilation on Saturday but here it is to lift you out of your Monday blues: the ‘From Da Bricks Strings Mix’. I have been happy with all of the entries in my compilation series so far, but I think this might be the best. A string section can add untold flava to a hip hop joint, and is perhaps the most versatile of sample choices. Depending on its usage, it can either provide a dark and moody vibe or contribute to a straight up banger; I hope that this provides a cross-section of both. Here’s the tracklist:

1. Nas – Nas Is Like
2. Nine – Whutcha Want?
3. Society – Yes ‘n’ Deed
3. Royce Da 5′ 9” – Boom
5. Gangstarr – Code Of The Streets
6. Pete Rock – Tha Game
7. Real Live – The Gimmicks
8. KRS One – A Friend
9. Mobb Deep – Animal Instinct
10. Heltah Skeltah – Letha Brainz Blow
11. Black Moon – Shit Iz Real
12. Jay Z – Bring It On
13. Supreme NTM – Tout N’est Pas Si Facile
14. Pharoah Monch – The Truth
15. AZ – Mo Money, Mo Murder ‘Homicide’

The majority of these cuts are string-heavy in that they feature very prominent samples, although some are more subtle, particularly ‘Shit Iz Real’ with its creeping strings at the end of every bar during the verse sections and ‘Tout N’est Pas Si Facile’ which features sweeping strings in support of the horn loop and vocal refrain during the chorus section of the track. All of the big producers feature here: Showbiz, Diamond D, K-Def, Premier and Pete Rock, although Primo deserves a special mention providing the beats for no less than four of the selections made. This happened as a total accident: I had a few tracks in mind, but then just listened to a few albums over the weekend and made my selections. Perhaps this demonstrates Premier’s dominance in the field of string samples, or perhaps it is simply a coincidence. Any nominations for the ‘King of Strings’ gratefully received. I also want to mention that at the end of the AZ cut there is a non-strings track: I can’t do anything about this as it is added onto the end of ‘Mo Money…’ on ‘Doe Or Die’. However, the strength of this track warrants the brief deviation from the theme. Hope you enjoy it.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

As with the previous two mixes, I’m taking the opportuniy to throw up something a little different to complement my compilation. I know next to nothing about classical music, although my Dad has a relatively extensive knowledge of the genre (although this is of course an exceptionally broad musical spectrum). One of the pieces that has always left an impression on me has been ‘The Lark Ascending’, an incredibly beautiful piece of music that is led by a violin, hence its inclusion in today’s post. Composed in 1914, it is one of Vaughan Williams’ pastoral works, and there seems to be something quintessentially English about this piece. Anyway, I’m not going to pretend I know much about this at all, and it may not be something that you are interested in listening to. However, if you feel like something drastically different from your regular hip hop fix and want to appreciate the emotional power of strings in an orchestral context then give it a go. Who knows, you may never look back…

My Daily Blog Run

I thought I would also briefly give props to a selection of the blogs that I check out every day. Given that I spend a fair amount of time writing my own, I have had to streamline my time spent on other blogs. Of course, there are a load of quality blogs out there, but these are the blogs that I check out daily without fail. The key distinction for me here is that these blogs feature extensive, intelligent and unpretentious writing; a real pulling factor for me.

Wake Your Daughter Up –
This was one of the blogs that really got me into the idea of starting my own, and it remains one of the best in the world of cyberspace. Although there are other contributors this is mainly run by Travis who has an extensive knowledge of hip hop and he loves sharing it. It is also one of the longest standing blogs out there. If you haven’t been there already, wake your sleepy arse up and peep it.

Poisonous Paragraphs –
Dart Adams has only recently come onto the scene, but it is a fantastic addition to the blogging community. Dart drops science on loads of classic ish as well as the wider world of hip hop, with articles covering film, music videos and the culture in general. His knowledge is extensive and he writes well. If you are into reading some decent hip hop literature then check it out.

Cold Rock Da Spot –
Jaz has only recently started up his blog, but it is dope, with some phat compilations and written material to boot. Again, there is a lack of pretence about this blog that appeals to me: this is somebody sharing their knowledge and passion for the genre with no front whatsoever. Check it out and show some love.

Biff Hop –
Another veteran of the scene, Biff’s hip hop spot is also one of the best blogs out there. Of late it seems to be run mainly by Alley Al who regularly comments here at From Da Bricks. Alley has been dropping some big posts recently linked by a theme, and like all of my favourite blogs, he drops knowledge whilst doing so. This is yet another example of the quality available to those of you surfing the hip hop blog scene: get there!

sām’pəld –
I also want to briefly shine some light on a brand new blog that should turn out to be excellent. Depleted, Moyinka and The Gosub Routine have just started up sām’pəld that will feature original breaks and some comment on their usage. If the quality of basslinesanglesrhymes (Depleted’s original blog) can be replicated then this is sure to join my daily rounds. Good luck boys!

I want to reiterate that this is by no means an exclusive list of the blogs that I frequent and want to send a shout to everybody who spends time and effort in a quest to keeping real hip hop alive in 2007. I have gained a substantial amount of knowledge and pleasure from the blogging community over the last four or five months and am happy to be a part of it. Keep doing your thing people!

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Maintain The Party – Y’All So Stupid
January 24, 2007, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

I have no idea how Yall So Stupid didn’t make more impact in ’92 than they actually did. I slept on this for a long time and was really happy to cop it a year or two back with the feeling that I had unearthed a little known gem. ‘Van Full Of Pakistans’ is fun, upbeat and light-hearted hip hop that is reminscent of early Pharcyde and similar artists of the era. I would also draw an analogy with the Native Tongues collective in that the album features intelligent lyricism and funky production to boot: a comparison that should demonstrate the high quality of this release to anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of real hip hop.

I actually know very little about the group as information on the internet is somewhat limited. Interestingly, the crew are from Atlanta: not exactly the most high profile city in the universe of hip hop (cue multiple comments to the contrary…) but the sound is east coast, early mid-school through and through. The beats are upbeat and funky, with crispy snares and jazzy loops, and the majority are produced by Spearhead X with Da King & I also making a couple of contributions. I’ve fallen into the pattern recently of picking out and commenting upon individual tunes but I’m going to resist the temptation to do so here as this really is an album best enjoyed in its entirety. The majority of the tracks are upbeat party tunes, but there are also a couple of slower cuts that feature more reflective and thoughtful lyricism (see ‘Family Tree’). In general the rapping is also excellent, with all four MCs possessing nice flows with original spins on the ‘boast and brag’ content that was dominant in the early ’90s.

I’m not sure how many of these cuts made it as 12”s, but Discogs seems to suggest that single releases from this album were limited. The only video available on YouTube is of the song that shares its name with the album itself, and it gives a feel for the crew that should leave you wanting more.

I believe that Yall So Stupid eventually mutated into Mass Influence (check the archives) but beyond that, I really don’t have a lot more knowledge of what became of the crew’s various members. As I said before, the fact that this is not more widely known is slightly bewildering, as it is highly entertaining and accessible for serious heads and more casual listeners alike. Still, as with so many albums found online in the blogging community, this has essentially been forgotten and is no longer in print. Do yourself a favour and cop it.

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Boston Got A Lot Of Jealousy – Ed O.G.
January 23, 2007, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

There are only a small selection of artists in the hip hop game that have managed to build a truly reputable and long-standing career. The genre is characterised by the regular comings and goings of performers who despite strong debuts, almost always struggle to stay relevant and credible as time goes by. In the majority of cases one of three things happen: you either opt for the big bucks and go pop; fall off and subsequently fade away; or, in the most extreme of cases, disappear without a trace. Ed O.G. is one of only a handful of artists that have managed the mean feat of staying in the game for more than five minutes whilst retaining their credibility, and although his output over fifteen years may not be sensational from front to back, there is no doubting the value of his contribution to hip hop.

Today’s focus falls on his sophomore effort ‘Roxbury 02119’, a slightly uneven release that I feel should still be considered a vital addition to your collection. The positive social messages of ‘Be A Father To Your Child’ have taken on a more hardcore edge here, but Ed O.G. manages the transition well without coming across as too try-hard. The insleeve lets you know in no uncertain terms that his intention here was to secure a more street level audience, with himself and crew raising a finger (and in one case a knife) to a camera raised above them. This is clearly reflected in the sound of the record, that follows through this grittier image.

Diamond D contributes on the boards and despite ‘Busted’, which I have never really liked, his other work here is excellent. ‘Streets Of The Ghetto’ features a tight drum track and horns at the chorus that provide the necessarily moody backdrop for Ed O.G.’s musings on street life. ‘Love Comes And Goes’, the standout track on the album, hits you with a great guitar sample and vocal chorus loop that complements Ed O.G.’s reflections on a friend’s passing to create a summery and pensive vibe. Finally, ‘Dat Ain’t Right’ sees Ed O.G. offering his view of the wrongs committed by those around him in an attempt to advise them against their played out behaviour with D Squared coming correct once again on the production side of things. Ed himself gets on the production tip as well demonstrating his multi-faceted musical ability: ‘Skinny Dip’ is also a highlight of the album.

The only bad track here is ‘Try Me’ which is totally out of sync with the rest of the ‘Roxbury 02119’ and is truly awful. I am always struck when listening to albums of this era that there seem to be one or two tracks that were aimed towards a more commercial market, my assumption being that there was pressure from the label who demanded something that would potentially appeal to the masses. This seems like a total fallacy to me, as these songs never brought in a wider audience and simply serve to eat away at the overall cohesion of the album. They grate against all the true heads, and if someone were to buy ‘Roxbury 02119’ off the back of ‘Try Me’ they would in all likelihood be incredibly disappointed by the remainder of the material featured on the release. I would be interested to know if I am right here about label pressures: let me know if you possess a little insider’s knowledge.

Although this is not classic in the way that ‘Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto’ is, it is still a worthy release that forms part of the discography of one of rap’s most enduring artists. Pay your respects to Boston and cop it: Ed O.G. deserves his place in hip hop history.

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Lions, Tigers, Bears… On My! – Original Flavor
January 22, 2007, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Original Flavor were one of those crews that proved to be less than the sum of their parts. Despite the presence of Ski on the boards and competent mic skills all round, there still remains something slightly lacklustre about the group’s sophomore release ‘Beyond Flavor’. As with all albums of this ilk, it has its moments, but the overall feeling I am left with is one of vague disappointment. Coppin’ this off the back of the crew’s classic ‘Can I Get Open’, I was hoping for more of the same high grade mid-school, but it seems that they could not maintain this sort of quality over the length of an LP in its entirety.

‘Can I Get Open’ is of course excellent, with a phat beat and the verse that catapulted Jay Z into a career that has seen him become one of the figureheads of modern hip hop. Whether this is a good thing or not remains debatable, but his appearance on this track is sensational, clearly overshadowing the other MCs’ contributions. Although none of the other tracks live up to the album’s opener and group’s trademark cut, there are other good tracks on this album. ‘Beyond Flavor’ rolls along nicely with a piano loop and tight drums and ‘Blowin’ Up Da Spot’ features some early ’90s style sleighbells that swing from left to right in your headphones. ‘Hit’ is also good, although I’ve spoiled it for myself somewhat because I used to play it at about +6% on my turntables so it now sounds a little slow, and I also dig ‘All That’ despite its incredibly cheesy chorus hook and bridge vocals.

It isn’t that the other songs here are necessarily bad, but they certainly lack something, particularly in contrast to the stronger cuts on the album. The verses are perfectly well delivered and the content is as you would expect for the era, but as with the beats, nothing really stands out and demands your attention like quality hip hop should do. I can understand why the reception towards this album wasn’t great at the time, particularly with the plethora of truly great releases that dropped in ’93/’94, pushing this into the shadows. Still, it is worth a listen, and if you are a fan of Ski’s later production work then it is interesting to hear where he honed his skills back in the day.

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Can We Rock – Fu-Schnickens
January 21, 2007, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Building on the groundwork laid down by Das EFX in the early ’90s, the Fu-Schnickens had a unique and distinctive style that seems to divide a hip hop audience: you either love it or hate it. With tons of pop culture references, verses built around onomatopeia and perhaps some of the fastest delivery ever recorded, the group certainly possessed flow but lacked thought-provoking content. Although the gimmicky nature of their style can grow tiresome over the course of an album, they should not be viewed as simply a novelty rap act, and there are cuts on their sophomore release that see them demonstrate their impressive mic skills over some dope beats with real flava.

K-Cut of Main Source fame and Diamond D both contribute to production on this album which, although uneven, does have some slammin’ tracks. ‘Sum Dum Monkey’ is little more than bassline, drums and horn loop at the chorus, but it has a real sense of energy and works well with the Fu-Schinickens rapid fire delivery. ‘Watch Ya Back Door’ is similarly stripped down and effective for the same reason, and the two Diamond D productions are both good, if not examples of his finest work. I also like ‘Who Stole The Pebbles’ which samples a bouncy little piano loop and heavy snare hit. ‘Nervous Breakdown’ is also the home of the group’s crossover hit ‘What’s Up Doc?’ which is a guilty pleasure for me; it’s pretty corny, but I still can’t help but nod my head to it.

Chip-Fu is without a doubt the most charismatic of the crew, taking the group’s unique style of delivery to its extreme. I remember playing this to a friend recently and she refused to believe that his verse was even physically possible, claiming that there must have been editing work done to piece the rhymes together. At times it does feel like this with Chip-Fu laughing, snorting, impersonating Bugs Bunny and chanting the Batman theme tune all within the space of a bar or two, and although it does feel a little repetitive for a whole album, you have got to admire his original and highly accomplished flow. The other two MCs also hold their own, but are ultimately overshadowed by Chip-Fu’s dexterity and ingenuity.

This is by no means a great album, but it is entertaining and enjoyable if you dip in and out of it occasionally. Given their upbeat and head-noddy vibe, these are the sort of songs that work well in a club environment and have an infectious quality that means you won’t be able to help your head boppin’ along to the beat. The Fu-Schnickens vague silliness is what should be enjoyed about them: they are an antidote to serious, hardcore hip hop that was dominant within the genre around ’94. Once you’ve heard Chip-Fu rip through 32 bars, make sure that you pick your jaw up from the floor and enjoy indulging yourself in some fun and original hip hop that has now been essentially forgotten.

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