Sunday, May 31, 2009

America'z most complete artist

If you're a regular reader and you've noticed some slack around here lately, it's for good reason. I've spent much of the past few months cooking up a tribute to the most underrated major artist in rap music, DJ Quik.

1. America'z Most Complete Artist
2. Sweet Black Pussy
3. Loked Out Hood
4. Get At Me
5. Down, Down, Down feat. Suga Free
6. Tonite
7. Pitch In On A Party
8. I Don't Wanna Party wit U
9. We Still Party
10. Let's Get Down (Tony Toni Toné)
11. Let Me Know (Hi-C)
12. Up 'N Da Club (2nd II None)
13. Hand In Hand
14. Black Mercedes feat. Nate Dogg
15. Do I Love Her? feat. Suga Free
16. Don't Walk Away feat. Suga Free
17. Safe + Sound
18. You'z A Ganxta
19. Dollaz + Sense
20. U Ain't Fresh! feat. Erick Sermon
21. Til Jesus Comes
22. Tha Truth Is... (Mausberg)
23. Trouble RMX
24. Jus Lyke Compton
25. Trust No Bitch (Penthouse Players Clique)
26. Born & Raised In Compton
27. Summer Breeze
28. So Many Wayz
29. 50 Ways feat. Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men
30. Speed
31. Sex Crymee
32. Ni**az Still Trippin' feat. Hi-C
33. Smoke II Much (Fixxers)
34. So Good (Fixxers)
35. Can You Work Wit Dat (Fixxers)
36. I Got That Feelin'
37. Me Wanna Rip Your Girl
38. Chocolate Lover feat. Sexy Leroy & the Chocolate Lovelitez
39. One On 1 feat. El DeBarge

This mix is a labor of love. Although I put countless hours into it, I'm choosing to give it away so more people will hear it. You can download it for free HERE. (New link!)

I made this mix because people sleep on DJ Quik. Maybe they've forgotten or maybe they never understood, but people don't get the breadth or depth of his talent.

Quik's commercial peak was his platinum 1991 debut, Quik Is the Name. Although he released three more gold albums, it's been years since he's had a label push and, aside from a fluke Fixxers single in 2007, since he's had a hit on the radio.

Here's the thing, though-- Quik never fell off.

Where most veteran artists either make the same record over and over until everyone stops paying attention or lose their identity scrambling to co-opt whatever other people think is hot, Quik's career has been about devotion to his craft, steady growth and experimentation. Much of Quik's best work has been done outside of the spotlight.

When people talk about Quik they usually talk about his production. Aside from Dr. Dre, no one has been more influential in shaping the sound of L.A. rap over the last two decades.

As much as I admire his beats, I'm a bigger fan of Quik's rhyming. I think he's at his best when dissing-- he's ferocious and funny. But there's also an undercurrent of depth that's far more convincing than a lot of the post-Pac clothes-rending that passes for emotion in rap music. When the two are combined on a song like "Til Jesus Comes", the results are unique and a little scary, like, Jesus, you sure you want to go that hard at your own family in public?

If there's an overriding theme to the mix, it's beef. Quik is fearless and maybe just a little too hot-headed for his own good, so over the years he's gone at everybody-- most famously MC Eiht, but at one time or another he's also taken shots at Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, Shemar Moore, Tim Dog, Everlast, the Source magazine, the East Coast, the South, his sister, his wife and, with the exception of Mausberg (R.I.P.), just about every single rapper who has ever been a part of his crew. (Speaking of which, how many crews in rap music are there with a deeper bench? I think the 304 Posse almost ranks with the Juice Crew, Native Tongues and Dungeon Family.)

The 39 songs on the mix are from all phases of Quik's career. Most of the hits are there, but I've drawn heavily from album cuts, collaborations with others in his crew and unreleased material. Although Quik has done great production work for those in his crew, Snoop Dogg, Truth Hurts, 8ball & MJG and others, I chose to limit the selections to songs Quik appears on. I've also downplayed some of the more juvenile gangster shit. Basically I made the mix I wanted to hear. Hopefully it's what you want to hear, too.

For shits and giggles, here's a few dozen songs that I thought about including and are really worth tracking down: "What They Think", "Way 2 Fonky", "Trouble" (AMG's funniest verse ever?), Suga Free's verse on the "Trouble" remix, the original version of 2pac's "Late Night" a/k/a 2nd II None's "Let's Get Higher", Kurupt's "Can't Go Wrong", "Change the Game", "Quik's Groove II", "Bombudd", "California", "Pimpin", "Birdz & Da Beez", 8ball & MJG's "Buck Bounce", "Pacific Coast" a/k/a "Spur of the Moment", Penthouse Players Click's "P.S. Phuk U 2", "Better Neva Than Late" a/k/a "Bitch Diss", "Ev'ryday", "Does the Good Life Even Exist", "It's Like Everyday", "So Cold", "Sure Shot" (Mixmaster Spade!), Suga Free's "Inside Out", Big Syke's "Time Iz Money", "No Bullshit", the original version of "Ni**az Trippin", "No Doubt". I could go on. His catalog is that deep.

If you appreciate this mix, go support Quik. His new collaboration with Kurupt, BlaQKout, drops next Tuesday, June 9th. He and Kurupt are also on tour with a full band. (Bay dudes: he plays SF's Ruby Skye on June 11th with the homeboy Trackademicks as an opener; tickets are available here.)

One final shout: The artwork for the mix is by Aye Jay!, the man behind the Gangsta Rap Coloring Book and a couple other books I wish I had thought of and had the talent to execute. His latest, The Punk Rock Fun Time Activity Book, was released in April.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let them keep on talking

Lee Fields's new album comes out Tuesday. I'm not crazy about retro soul as a genre but Truth & Soul really nail the production and also choose excellent songs. My favorite track is a remake of this:

The Top Shelf: "Let Them Keep on Talking" (Spectrum, 197?)

I don't know anything about Top Shelf, but I believe the "P. Adams" in the credits is Patrick Adams, whose work with Black Ivory is for me the pinnacle of sweet soul. This ranks with the best of that stuff.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

So happy now

Willie Wright: "I'm So Happy Now" (Hotel, 1977)

Celebration time. I just finished a mix that's taken up much of the last few months and I'm about to get away/celebrate a major anniversary with my lady.

Willie Wright is an obscure singer and guitarist best known for his Keb Darge-compiled cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Right On For the Darkness" ($2700 on eBay, sheesh!). This is from his much less sought-after LP. It inhabits the same sort of mellow, lightly folky vein as Bill Withers, Terry Callier, Jon Lucien, Milt Matthews, Odyssey, Larry T & the Family, etc.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Put on your X

He would have been 84 on Tuesday.

Earl Sixteen: "Malcolm X"

Knowledge: "Put On Your X" (Raw Cut, 1992)

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hey everybody take a look at me/I've got street credibility

Earlier this week Mike Baker posted this video of Trackademicks talking about seeing his single in a record store for the first time. I found it really moving partly because, like Trackademicks, I have a long history with the store, Amoeba Music in Berkeley (I've bought thousands of records from there and even worked there for a time in the mid-90s). Also I know how much it's taken for Trackademicks to get to this milestone. Congrats, homie!

Here's a long-ass interview I did with Trackademicks and DJ Tap.10 on my radio show last month:

Trackademicks interview

In it, Trackademicks talks a lot about his influences, his crew, the Honor Roll, and his place in the Bay Area music scene. He also does like 2 bars of "Wham Rap".

The "Enjoy What You Do"/"Topsidin'" 12" is now at Amoeba, Turntable Lab and elsewhere.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last man standing b/w What the hell happened to Rich Harrison?

Busta Rhymes's Back On My B.S. comes out today. I've never really seen him as an album artist but I find him intriguing because (1) I can't think of any other rapper who has been releasing records since 1991* who is still scoring national radio or club hits and (2) technically he remains a beast of a rapper.

It's been about three years since his last album, a year-and-a-half since they started pushing this one back and a year since he was tossed off of Interscope. In that time, plenty of songs were released or leaked but didn't make the album, some of them pretty surprising ("Don't Touch Me", "I Got Bass"). This was my favorite of them:

Busta Rhymes: "Light Up a Fire" (Unreleased, 2008)

This song leaked last fall and I spent months looking for a version without annoying drops. Ultimately I had to make my own. The beat is by the Aphilliates' Don Cannon but to me sounds uncannily like the style Rich Harrison was working a few years ago on tracks like this:

Amerie: "Love's Off the Chain" (Unreleased, 2005)

Hearing this again got me wondering, what the hell happened to Rich Harrison anyway? He was never terribly prolific but between 2003 and 2005 his pop hits were both ubiquitous and great: Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love", Destiny's Child's "Soldier", J-Lo's "Get It Right" and Amerie's "One Thing".**

Since then, what has he released? Looking at his production discography, not much. I knew he had some songs on B-Day, had forgotten he did Mos Def's pretty tolerable "Undeniable" and had no idea he produced Usher's (unreleased) "Dat Girl Right There", but aside from those, he's released virtually nothing. He didn't fall off so much as just disappear. Such a waste-- I really hope to hear more from him.

EDIT: Light sleeper Sake One pointed out to me that Rich Harrison actually did release something in the last few months, this song, which sounds like Danity Kane trying to cross "Like a Pimp" with "Soldier" and inviting Bun B along for the ride.

* Aside from maybe Jay-Z, and that's only if you count High Potent or hypeman duties for Jaz. None of which is to take away from Too $hort, De La Soul, Scarface, E-40, Q-Tip, DJ Quik or Bun B, all of whom still make interesting music but are at least a couple years removed from any real mainstream presence.

** Speaking of "One Thing", my man Joe Quixx got there first:

All City Productions: "Wake Up Show Theme Intro" (All City Productions, 1994)

Joe drops the Meters' "Oh, Calcutta" for Sway's verse (at about the 2:10 mark). The other rappers on the track are Wake Up Show regulars Mysterme, the B.U.M.S., Motion Man and perhaps one other I don't recognize (Cool Caz?).

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

You know what I'm about

After reading this NYT story about a Bronx school teacher getting his apartment torn up by various people looking for a drug dealer's $900,000 stash I was thinking "hey, that would make a pretty good movie!" and then I remembered that it had sorta already been made into a shitty movie, the 1992 Ice Cube/Ice T vehicle Trespass.

The soundtrack had its moments, peaking with this, which remains one of my favorite songs in the D.I.T.C. catalog:

Lord Finesse: "You Know What I'm About" (Sire, 1992)

This version is actually ripped from the LP; on the 12" version, Finesse flows radio-friendly and his rhymes lose a lot of their bite.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Action Packed Gangsters

Last year The Meaning of Dope posted a mind-blowing clip featuring Too $hort in his 1990 heyday-- walking around Lake Merritt, talking on a brick phone and coming off as being as smart and sensible as he is.

I recognized the clip as coming from Rap City Rhapsody, a 1990 PBS documentary by Akili Buchanan. Buchanan was a Bay Area-based guy and Rap City Rhapsody featured a ton of footage of local performers. The film has never been released on video or DVD and I don't think it's been aired or screened anywhere in years.

I saw it when it aired on KQED back in the day and I dimly remembered that it featured footage of one of my favorite local groups of that era, Oakland's A.P.G. Crew. I put a request in the comments and, lo and behold, yesterday that dude House posted this at The Meaning of Dope:

The A.P.G. Crew doesn't come off as good as they were in this clip. Mello Mar's rhymes seem a little clunky, I think because they were trying to present some conscious material they hadn't really worked out. J-Cutt kinda plays himself when he refers to Wilson Pickett's "Engine No. 9" as being by Kenny Gamble, the name that appears on the UBB pressing of the song. Still, it's awesome to see footage of them in the studio and performing at the I-Beam.

For a taste of APG at their finest, here's the lead-off track from their first album, On the Rise:

A.P.G. Crew: "Action Packed Gangsters" (Metro, 1989)

The mp3 is from a cassette rip posted a couple of years ago on Bust the Facts. I have the LP somewhere but damn if I can find it.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

You just can't win

Mickey Murray: "Ace of Spades" (Federal, 1970)

Mickey Murray released two pretty solid LPs, 1967's Shout Bamalama and 1970's People Are Together, which this is drawn from. The former has been reissued twice; the latter has not but oughtta be.

"Ace of Spades" is one of hundreds of songs credited to but not written by Deadric Malone a/k/a Don Robey, who was sort of the J. Prince of his day. Through Duke, Peacock, Backbeat and other labels Robey released mountains of great black music by the likes of Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, O.V. Wright, the Dixie Humminbirds and so on.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Putting the best face on things

Slick: "Tramp" (Fantasy, 1980)

I can't place who sampled this and it's really irking me.

The more I listen to it the more I'm perplexed by the lyric-- the chorus is jaunty but the details just seem so grim ("I got no friends/and I don't want none/can't depend on nobody but me").


Friday, May 1, 2009

The loser

Derrick Harriott: "The Loser" (Trojan, 196?)

I've been obsessed with this song since first hearing it on the Trojan Rocksteady Box a few years ago.

Partly it's because it's a great, great song but also I couldn't quite put my finger on where he'd cribbed it from-- I recognized bits of Billy Stewart's "I Do Love You" (or is it "Sitting in the Park"? they're too similar) but it took me about two years to figure out that the intro was from the Alan Brandt/Bob Haymes tune "That's All", which is one of the prettiest standards I know.

These are two of my favorite versions of that:

Thee Midniters: "That's All" (Whittier, 196?)

Shirley Scott: "That's All" (Prestige, 1961)

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