I can't believe Reebok did a deal with some nice dudes.
This Friday at 4, Shoe Biz SF is having a release event for a line of Quannum Projects-themed Reeboks. In addition to appearances from Lyrics Born, Lateef, Gift of Gab & Chief Xcel, they're giving out tickets to a Mighty Underdogs show the next night and, I think, a promotional mix that Quannum had me do a while ago but which for one reason or another never got released.
Elysian Spring was a Massachusetts quintet, although this track features only four of them: two guitars, vibes and bass. The tune reminds me of "The Look of Love" and the performance has a beautiful intimacy.
Between 1966 and 1970, James Brown released three Christmas-themed albums, Christmas Songs, A Soulful Christmas and Hey America.
The records are a mix of Christmas standards ("The Christmas Song", Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby"), Christmas-themed throwaways ("Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto", "Go Power at Christmas Time"), obvious filler ("hey, let's do a blues vamp, throw snatches of vibraphone that quote "Rudoloph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and title it something seasonal like, uh, I don't know, maybe "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non-Believers Shall Suffer)") and stuff that has no obvious reason for being on a Christmas album ("Say It Loud (I'm Black & I'm Proud)").
In some ways, they represent James's songwriting at its worst-- the lyrics usually sound like they were entirely ad-libbed-- but his gifts as a singer, a star and a bandleader are such that the records are pretty enjoyable. I was planning to post a bunch of rips, but I discovered that all of the tracks I wanted to post except one are currently available, including a gang that had been left off Rhino's classic James Brown Xmas reissue. So instead, I'll post the one omission and run down some other faves:
This is one of my favorite James Brown songs; when I listen to it, I feel transported. I can't explain why I find it so affecting, but for a few minutes I feel flush with benevolence and optimism like, hey, maybe we all can get along. Really.
James's tendency towards maudlin sentimentality on these Christmas records can get really silly, especially when a song also includes lines like "I do the monkey, the mashed potato/Whenever I'm blue", but he infuses the "I'm your friend/I'm your friend" refrain with so much soul that it really moves me.
This song probably contains more WTF? moments than any other James Brown song, and that is saying something. James begins with a shout to those who've come to see him in concert in the past year, riffing about having seen "a million peace signs", before briefly slipping into some Christian fare ("God gave his son, let us celebrate") and then launching a hail of multi-cultural catchphrases, shouting "as salaam aleikum" and "danke schön" (which he pronounces "donkey Sean") and then singing snatches of ethnic-themed supper-club fare ("Hava Nagila" and "Volare").
One day I hope there'll be a definitive overview of the music on Miami's T.K. and related labels.
Best known as the home of K.C. & the Sunshine Band, T.K. sat at the center of a web of Henry Stone-owned labels that included Alston, Blue Candle, Bold, Cat, Clouds, Dade, Dash, Dig, Drive, Glades, Gospel Roots, International Brothers, Juana, Kayvette, Kingston, Konduko, Marlin, Scott & Sunshine Sound. The labels' sprawling discography includes everything from deep soul to electro, from pop smashes to collector's grails that seem to have only been distributed locally, if at all. For every minor hit by Betty Wright, George McCrae or Clarence Reid, it seems like there are a half-dozen great but freakishly rare releases.
Stone seems more interested in low-budget, smash & grab (but still kind of worth buying) sets like this and this than, say, putting a few dollars towards decent design, liner notes or remastering. It's a pity, because there is so much great music that's buried in the T.K. catalog.
One of the stranger offshoots of T.K. was King Sporty's Konduko label. Sporty a/k/a Noel Williams was a Jamaican DJ/musician who worked with Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and co-wrote "Buffalo Soldier" before relocating to the U.S. where he recorded and produced a wide variety of sounds: soul, funk, reggae, disco and electro. Somewhere along the way he also married the princess of the T.K. posse, Betty Wright.
Looking around, you may have noticed it's a little shabby. The design is blogger.com off-the-rack and there are no homey touches like nifty album art montages or clever photoshopped jpegs that fit a theme.
The content is seamier, too. There's a lot more rap music, much of it new, some of it unapologetically wrong, plus the occasional bad word. I'm aging less gracefully and more fitfully than Oliver.
Finally, there generally isn't much context, biographical, personal or otherwise. I post songs or mixes because I like them, trusting that if you like them you'll follow through by supporting artists, looking for more information on them, etc. I'll point your way but I won't hold your hand.
Now I'm not generally one to pander but I'm enjoying the attention and figure, hey, why not throw new readers a bone?
As a casual soul-sides reader, I'm attuned to O-Dub's three obsessions: cover versions, boogaloo & songstresses. I've been casting about for a song that would hit a trifecta, but couldn't think of anything beyond La Lupe's "Fever", which is great but a little too commercially available (regular AND remixed for those who need everything to be 130 bpm!).
So instead, let me salve the obsessions individually:
Los Johnny Jets were from Mexico. There are exactly two versions of "Tighten Up" with funnier ad-libs, Homer Simpson's and the sound-alike version by the Classmates, both of which repeat the "Hi everybody we're Archie Bell & the Drells" part verbatim.
Vivian Reed was a Broadway singer and her first LP is mostly showtunes, but this track has a soul pedigree. It was co-written by Barbara Acklin & the Chi-Lites' Eugene Record; Philly sweet soul kings Thom Bell & Bobby Martin arranged it.
This is one of the most perfect pairings of a lyric and an arrangement that I know of.
The Chantels were a five-girl NYC group who began recording in the late 1950s. They're best known for their 1958 hit, "Maybe", which pretty much established the template for girl group records. They had a few minor hits subsequently, but their recording tapered off throughout the 1960s.
Arranger/co-composer Horace Ott was a ubiquitous presence as an arranger on groove-oriented organ funk records (Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, etc.) but could also put a mean song together.
People blame auto-tune for a lot of terrible music, but it has achieved at least one remarkable thing-- causing me to voluntarily listen to !ProHoeZak?.
This is remarkable because:
(1) he possesses the single worst name in all rap music (honorable mention: any rapper other than Devin the Dude whose name is formatted "__________ the __________", "___________ tha _________ or ____________ da ___________"),
(3) I am just so damn good at it-- I have a nearly 20-year record of successfully ignoring !ProHoeZak?.
Let me explain....
Before ProHoeZak became ProHoeZak (I'm dispensing with the punctuation, it's just too awful) he was C-Funk and, before that, Cap'n Crunch. He started making records in the 1980s as a member of East Palo Alto's Rated X, who released a pretty decent 1990 LP on Tandem, And Then Came Rated X, and the less good but better-titled Will Rap 4 Sex. Then he went solo as C-Funk, releasing some records on Paris's Scarface label that I never bothered to listen to (the title of his hit, "Lime in Yo Coconut", was enough to put me off) and doing some production for the Conscious Daughters, quickly-falling-off era Public Enemy and others.
So, uh, to fast-forward to now-- in the last few weeks there was a song I'd caught several times on KMEL, either late night or in mix shows. It featured SF rapper San Quinn and a heavily auto-tuned singer who sounds kinda like what Kanye would sound like if he were capable of hitting notes. It's also totally infectious so I started hunting for it but my searches for "San Quinn" + "superman" didn't turn up much until today, when I stumbled across two youtube clips.
Pick your flavor, there's either:
(1) stare at a picture of ProHoeZak:
(2) watch advertisement for the Tequila he plugs throughout the song complete with stop-motion marching tequila bottles and busted models:
Me personally, I prefer the latter.
Or you could just listen to and buy the single here.
Oh, and, this is kinda great:
The rap adlibs kinda sound like almost every Lil Wayne cameo of the last few months-- i.e., "I'ma mumble some boring, simplistic mess and then punctuate it with some grunts and chuckles and you'll like it".
I'm back on the air at KALX 90.7 FM Berkeley, doing a weekly show on Wednesday afternoons, 3 to 6 p.m. (Live streaming, but no caching is available here; playlists are here.)
For this week's show I recorded a mix of a bunch of house stuff, both new-ish and classics. It was a one-take mix and I let most of these songs run kinda long (8-and-a-half songs in 38 minutes? jeez!) but that's cuz I like them.
This was the instrumental version of a 1989 soul 12", "Wishing On a Star". To enjoy that, it's pretty much essential that you be a fan of both flat singing and English rapping. To enjoy this version only requires that you appreciate hearing Faze-O's "Ridin' High" transformed over "Funky Drummer". C'mon, you can do it!
The track was produced by Smith & Mighty, who I managed to tune out for all of the 1990s I think because I had them confused with Stock, Aitken & Waterman.
Originally the song was released in 1990 as a b-side on a reissue of a great but relatively obscure 1980 disco/rap tune, Convertion's "Let's Do It". Two of the remix versions draw heavily from the Convertion song and add a corny ragga-fied chorus, but the third one ditches Convertion altogether for a great Headhunters "God Made Me Funky"/Wilson Pickett "Bumble Bee" pairing. Although the hip hop remix is credited solely to NY reggae don dada Bobby Konders, I suspect Salaam Remi was probably responsible ("additional beat programming by Salamm" (sic)).
The hip hop mix wasn't really a chart or mainstream radio hit but it was popular in clubs for so long that four years later, Columbia signed Jamal-Ski and re-released it as "Jump, Spread Out."
This is a great and mostly slept-on single by a singer who was a member of James Brown's Famous Flames throughout most of the 60s, along with Bobby Byrd & Baby Lloyd Stallworth. Both this song and the b-side, the searing ballad "Days Go By", were recorded in remarkably similar versions by Wilson Pickett on his 1970 In Philadelphia album; if only Bennett had released a version of "Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9", too. "Days Go By" appears on the recent Conquer the World compilation and is worth seeking out.
I was psyched to come across this at Amoeba last week:
Payroll Records was a short-lived (1988-90) North Carolina/NYC label that had a tiny but consistently great output-- 6 12"s and a cassette sampler full of wordy braggadocio and artful James Brown loops. Payroll's best-known release was probably the Bizzie Boyz' "Droppin It", which was featured years ago on the excellent Ego Trip's The Big Playback compilation, but literally everything the label released was good.
Payroll Records: The Master Catalogue is basically a random rap nerd's dream, collecting the label's entire output, including instrumentals and acapellas. The sound quality is good and, looking at the meager credits, I think it was legitimately licensed. (I kinda doubt the same is true of the other two Madison Square Garage releases I know of, N.Y.C. Live Throw Down! and a bugged cut-and-paste box set.) Unfortunately there are no liner notes, which led me to poke around for more info about the Payroll groups.
Although I knew that a couple of Payroll artists released music after they left the label (e.g., Supreme Nyborn's Style LP on Next Plateau and the Bizzie Boyz LP on Yo! not to mention former Bizzie Boyz member Ski's extensive production discography with Jay-Z, Camp Lo, etc. and membership in Original Flavor), I didn't realize how many other Payroll vets did so.
A few of them changed their names (e.g., the Bizzie Boyz' producer, Rhythm Fanatic, became Fanatic, DJ Def of B.A.D. Rep changed his name to Mark Spark and MC Spice was later N-Tyce) and released music I knew of (Fanatic produced Lil Kim's "Crush on You", Mark Spark produced Salt-N- Pepa's "Shoop" and N-Tyce signed to Wild Pitch). Other stuff is so obscure it's only now being unearthed, like the random rap grail that is Def Rhythm Productions' Back to the Lab.
According to a write-up over at Diggers With Gratitude, after leaving Payroll, DJ Def teamed up with Rhythm Fanatic to form Def Rhythm Productions. For the Back to the Lab LP, the two recruited a roster of North Carolina rappers and cut 11 songs. I tracked down a link to the LP and it's pretty good.
Def Rhythm Productions: "Lost in Music" feat. Omniscence (Over-Due, 1990)
Omniscence (sic), who is featured on this track, was 16 at the time. Five years later, he released two Fanatic-produced singles on EastWest, one of which featured a remix with Sadat X that Beni B and I used to play. (Wow, never noticed the Supreme Nyborn diss on "Touch Y'All" until just now... weird!)
Money Boss Players was a Bronx rap trio that released an absurdly rare 1994 EP and a couple of strong singles, then signed a deal with Qwest and seemed poised to do something before Lord Tariq became a one-hit footnote courtesy the surprise hit, "Deja Vu". Another member, Minnesota, went on to produce some minor rap classics (Pun's "I'm Not a Player", Tash's "Pimpin' Ain't Easy"), but they've had a mostly quiet decade.
Terminator X: "The Blues" feat. Andreas 13 (P.R.O. Division, 1991)
The intro to this was stuck in my head and once I remembered what it was I had to rip it. This song is from Terminator X's first solo LP, Terminator X & the Valley of the Jeep Beets, which came out not too long after Fear of a Black Planet, when Public Enemy was still crazily far ahead of everyone else making rap music.
At the time this came out, I was obsessed with Public Enemy but didn't really have a handle on who made their music or how it was actually made. Looking at the credits, the "Bomb Squad" was pretty mysterious and, like a lot of people, I assumed that because Terminator X was the DJ he must have been responsible for most of the music. Time has cleared up a lot and recent stories about the Bomb Squad (like the Big Daddy article on Johnny Juice, the feature in Wax Poetics and Hank Shocklee's Red Bull interview, which the Wax Poetics article draws heavily from) suggest that Terminator X was pretty marginal-- he might not even have performed many of the scratches on PE's records.
Terminator X & the Valley of the Jeep Beets was kind of a hodge-podge, but a surprisingly good one. With the exception of one great Chuck D song, all of the vocals were by artists who were never heard from before or after the record came out. Like this one, a bunch of the songs are built around scratches that are distinctively and refreshingly technique-free, like the sloppy drags here and on "Juvenile Delinquentz" or the crazy Sonar effect on "Buck Whylin'". Whoever conceived or performed the scratches probably wasn't much of a scratch DJ in the traditional sense but had a great ear for getting cool sounds out of simple effects. In the liner notes, Terminator X was credited with all of the production, but the credits on the singles suggest that Chuck D (under his alias, Carl Ryder) helped out a lot.