It is that time of the year where I have to bring this upbut it is that time that I have to renew my web domain once more, and I am asking for your help.
Before I talk about putting up the digital “tip cup”, let me just say that I enjoy doing what I do on my website, being able to do music and video reviews, news items of interest, and music reviews. My website has never been a means for outside advertising, although had I done that, I almost think those other links would get more hits than my actual website. I don’t post links to an older woman who looks like she smokes 40 packs of cigarettes a day and ooh, look how beautiful she appears today. I don’t offer celebrity rumors to you for the fact that I don’t care for them, and you probably know more than enoughts sites or blogs to read that kind of ephemera. If you have come to my website to find out about music or some of the food-related things I post, I am thankful you continue to make this place a regular stop of your internet travels. I would like to do this for one more year and come summer of 2016, we will see. A part of me wants to try something new and no, I’m not going to try knitting or macrame, I don’t have those type of skills. Trying something new means perhaps a new method of what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years as a writer, and that may mean to try it in a new forum, to do something in a new way. I have a year to decide but I’m leaning towards wanting to try something else other than my “norm”. Thus, let me speak about the “tip cup” for my site.
What I am placing is a “tip cup” of sorts. If you enjoy the type of coverage that I feature here at ThisIsBooksMusic.com and would like for it to continue, I am looking for your donation to continue the website for another year. If you are able to “give a tip” to ThisIsBooksMusic.com, you can do so via PayPal by clicking here. Your private information is secure when you donate via PayPal, and you are also able to make a donation even if you are not a PayPal member. The deadline is September 30th.
While it would be nice for me to run advertising on my website, ThisIsBooksMusic.com is ad-free for a reason, and I’d like to keep it that way. The music I cover is the music I would like for you to listen to and discover for yourself, and pass the information along to those who you think would be interested. This website is about the music I like, support, and listen to on a regular basis, within as many genres as possible. I don’t pick and choose just to make random choices, these are my musical habits, and I share that on a regular basis. If the website is unable to be renewed, all donations will be refunded, no questions asked. If you are able to make a donation, I would be very appreciative.
Before I begin to talk about an album that celebrates its 20th anniversary today, we have to go back a year before August 1, 1995.
In July 1994, The RZA showed he was much more than just being Prince Rakeem when he presented himself as The Rzarecta as a member of the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul, Frukwan, and Too Poetic. They released their debut album called 6 Feet Deep (countries outside of the U.S. called it Niggamortis) and some thought it was interesting The RZA was able to get himself on two albums, sounding distinctively different within both groups. The album was released early in some parts of the U.S., I found my copy at Tower Records in Portland, Oregon on 82nd, apparently a week or two before the rest of the country. We didn’t quite know what was to come but then the news surfaced.
As fans were beginning to absorb Gravediggaz’s album, LOUD/RCA Records released the soundtrack to Fresh, which featured solo songs from The Genius, Raekwon, and a remix of “Can It Be All So Simple”. The idea that The Genius had his own song seemed amazing, but then to hear Raekwon & Ghostface with their own track too? What was going on? On top of that, Raekwon and Ghost doubled up with a new version of what was one of the biggest hits of 1994, which got its share of airplay and mixtape circulation. I remember thinking “if The Genius has this song, his first new song since his failed debut, is there going to be more?” Also, how about Raekwon, will be be coming out with something?
When word came out that Method Man was signed to Def Jam to release his debut album, that’s when the first plans for the group were made known. In 1995, there would be three solo albums from the group, and each of them would be signed to their own label. Wu-Tang Clan were signed to LOUD/RCA. In rock circles, when a group splintered into making their own solo albums, they generally stayed within the same label: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all stayed on Atlantic (for the time being) while Neil Young was already signed to Reprise. When Kiss dropped their solo albums on the same day in 1978, it was on Casablanca Records. Three different labels? No one in hip-hop had ever done that successfully but the Wu-Tang were make it out that every album would be a banger, every release would be a hit. X-Clan had Isis (Linque) and Professor X release albums on 4th & B’Way, while Digital Underground had Raw Fusion on HollywoodBASIC, Gold Money on Tommy Boy, and 2Pac on Interscope. Back then, 2Pac was just that guy who rapped in “Same Song” but by 1993, he already had a massive hit with “I Get Around”. 2Pac was not just that dancer from Digital Underground, he was 2Pac.
Did the Wu-Tang really know all of their solo albums would become a success? With the success of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), it proved to them that fans would be willing to buy their music separately from the group, for if they were willing to buy one, maybe they were willing to get another, if not all. We would find out in 1995.
In March 1995, Elektra Records released Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers, which came out with the incredible “Brooklyn Zoo” a month before. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” seemed to have more appeal with the single version and later in the year, “Rawhide” was released as a single. As we moved closer to the summer, word had it that Raekwon’s solo album would be out soon, and he stayed home and was signed to LOUD/RCA as a solo artist. On June 27th, the label released “Criminology”/”Glaciers Of Ice” as a single, with the latter getting a video with massive airplay on BET. The song seemed quite complex and noisy, showing a style of production from The RZA that was more active than anything he had done in the past. It wasn’t as noisy as the words of The Bomb Squad but it was full and lush, if that’s a good way to describe it.
Soon after, a video for “Criminology” was released, showing Raekwon, Ghostface, The RZA, and U-God up by a waterfall and in kung fu gear, showing them incognito in a way they had never been seen before. For me, “Criminology” was the preferred song, incredibly funky and full of those string samples that were becoming very RZA at the time (a sound that Mobb Deep were also using with the orchestral samples). Around this time, LOUD/RCA released promotional commercials for Raekwon’s album showing segments of his videos and a man who did a voice-over that said “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. The world would have to prepare for what was to come, whether they liked it or not.
The actual title for the album is Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz but it was shortened to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, with the “…” to let people know something else was supposed to follow. At the time, I found myself wanting more CD’s than cassettes but for this album, I first heard it on cassette, the purple tape. What made this album distinctive was while Ghostface was already making himself (and his face) known in music videos, he was still hidden on the cover of this record, and he was “guest starring” so in many ways, it was a Raekwon and Ghostface album. However, upon first listens, it seemed like with various members heard throughout, it came off more like a group album than just a solo album and it was. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was originally planned as the follow-up to Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) but during the recording sessions, when it was realized it would be more feasible to exploit the solo route, it became Raekwon’s debut.
One thing about the album should be known from the start. While it remains one of the best hip-hop albums of 1995, if not the entire decade of the 1990’s, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is not a concept album, far from it. There are loose streams of continuity here and there but it holds up primarily because it is a solid collection of incredible songs, and even those that are “weak links” still hold up. If there’s continuity throughout, one of the solid links is the production style and samples. You listen to Ol’ Dirty’s Return To The 36 Chambers and it sounds like a basement album. You listen to Method Man’s album and it sounds like a different type of basement album, one that allows itself to open the bedroom window for a breath of fresh air. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… sounds like an album of not only fresh air, but an imagination into another world, if not a dream state of what one could obtain and achieve. The idea of someone boiling up drugs on the oven to become a neighborhood chef could be considered but for me, that string of continuity came from the dialogue between songs and not the songs themselves.
If there’s a moment in the album where I felt things were about to pick up and stay there (or go higher), it would be when “Criminology” comes on. Or if that’s the point where the album moved into second gear, then I heard it, they were ready to go faster.
“Incarcerated Scarfaces” was a great song too, and it was released as a double A-sided single along with “Ice Cream” so if “Ice Cream” seemd too much (or perhaps too vulgar in tone) to some, they could tone down with the vibe of this one.
I was blown away by the vibe of “Rainy Dayz” and I am sure that a big part of it had to do with the vocals of Blue Raspberry. With her singing on Method Man’s debut, it seemed fitting that she would bless the tracks on Raekwon’s albums as well. Could she have been on Ol’ Dirty’s album? Sure, but I think ODB would’ve preferred his mom on the album. (He originally said he hoped to produce a single for his mom but that never materialized.) The funky, slightly sloppy drum samples, the strings in the background, and Ghostface talking about the cheese line while one of his lines seems removed from the song.
The album moves up with “Guillotine (Swordz)”, which sounded like something straight off of Method Man’s debut album due to the use of the same string sample. What I loved about this song is the movie sample, taken from Shaolin Vs. Lama, and the fact that the team of Raekwon, Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, and The Genius was perfect. Throughout the album, there would be certain groups of Wu members where I wish they would’ve made their own albums. That was fairly common throughout 1993-1997 so if we heard “Meth Vs. Chef”, we all wanted a full album of Meth and Raekwon battles. I wanted “Guillotine (Swordz)” forever.
The remix of “Can It Be All So Simple” originally released on the Fresh soundtrack found its way onto the album, but what made the album go to the next level was “Shark Niggas (Biters)”, which felt like the Sunz Of Man appearance that didn’t happen, or a song that could’ve found its way onto a Sunz Of Man album in between “Soldies Of Darkness” and “No Love Without Hate”. “Ice Water” was moving but while “Glaciers of Ice” was not as good to me as “Criminology” was as a single, it definitely fits in perfectly within the album.
Same for “Verbal Intercourse”. While a lot of fans often talk about Nas’ spot on the album was the best part of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, I was never huge on Nas’ royalty status but I always liked what he did, for he was the only outsider on the album.
Also, the best part of the song was not Nas’ verse but The Emotions’ sample of “If You Think It (You May As Well Do It)”. It seems like an awkward sample at first, because the vocal in the song is heard during the verses but that interruption in the song would become one of Ghostface’s production trademarks, where he would just rap over something else because he knew you were there to listen to him, not the damn sample. The RZA would often explore the Stax/Volt catalog throughout his career and what I liked too was that while the pop world would generally know The Emotions as a one hit wonder (“Best Of My Love”), he and others knew the group as having two solid albums before they made it bigger. It is those two albums that have become the source of a number of samples in hip-hop over the years. This song was just part of the contination of Emotions appreciation.
If the other songs earlier on the album didn’t prove it, “Wisdom Body” definitely made it clear that Ghostface was more than ready to not only release his own album but to have his own career. Not bad for someone who covered himself up in videos for “Method Man and “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”, to be on that “now you see me, now you don’t” before evolving into something you could always recognize. The song would become an underground down tempo groove that made you want to turn up, nod your head and just go “damn”.
“Spot Rusherz” was another great song because it’s one of the few spots where the group offered a way to hear the group’s St. Ides’ radio spot/commercial. I know I was someone who wished that St. Ides track was two to three minutes longer, but what makes “Spot Rusherz” works was how everything just sounds off, from the warped piano/keyboard sample to drums that are unsure of where it needs to place itself. If anything, the group showed they could be self-promotional, not only delivering verses that also worked as resume tapes but hey, we want you to drink a malt liquor, go grab a 40 ounce if you can and have a good night.
One of the best songs on the album found itself way on the 4th quarter, the almighty “Ice Cream”. When I first heard it, I loved it immediately for I used to think that addictive and repetitive piano sample was beautiful. I couldn’t figure it out and nor did most of the people who heard the song. Not only was that sample Wu-Tang’s equivalent of “Mass Appeal” but it too became the holy grail of samples, leading many into countless dead ends. 17 after its release, someone revealed the source as being a light jazz instrumental, slowed down and I discovered that what I was hearing was not a piano but an acoustic guitar. We may have hated Earl Klugh’s music but we all know someone’s parents or uncle and auntie who had one of his records.
It easily became one of The RZA’s finest moments, especially with his use of Blue Raspberry’s vocals also being chopped. For me, I also feel her vocals were one of the saddest, most sorrowful moments in the Wu-Tang’s entire discography. While the group was celebrating the wonders of women in a flavorful manner, Blue Raspberry was showing that not everything in life is whipped cream with a cherry on top or a banana split. There’s melancholy in her vocals and it was a way of saying, in some way, “things in life aren’t always what they seem or what you want them to be.”
The album formally ends with “Wu-Gambinos”, which was not only the beginning of the next phase of the Wu-Tang, but it also helped spark a wave in hip-hop where it seemed everyone wanted to validate themselves by being a gambino, everyone wanted to have two or three pseudonyms. The song also brought in Ghostface, The RZA, Method Man, and the one and only Noodles, a/k/a Masta Killa. One thing I considered while listening to this song was something Method Man said in Ol’ Dirty’s “Rawhide”. His first line was “Coming soon to a theater near you, it be the Wu”, and I was hoping that there would be a Wu-Tang Clan movie that summer, if not the end of the year. This album sounded like it could be the theme song to an incredible film, regardless if it was a concern film or them portraying themselves in gambino form. Not only that, but The RZA’s verse was arguably the best thing he had ever done, far better than what he dropped as a Gravedigga and people would instantly hope that he too would drop his own solo album soon. That would come in time.
While I feel “Wu-Gambinos” ends the album in a nice way. the actual album has one or two more songs, depending what format you purchased. I never felt “Heaven & Hell” was a good way to end an album but for many who bought the cassette, it was the conclusion to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. On top of that, Blue Raspberry’s sung “RZA and Raekwon and Ghost” came off a bit self-promotional and corny, even though what she sings is one of the best moments on the album too. If you purchased the CD, you got to hear a song that could be considered a fitting conclusion called “North Star (Jewels)”, featuring Poppa (Popa) Wu talking to the group with a bit of wisdom, to let them know about what they (and the listeners) experienced and what to prepare for in their next adventure, as well as life.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… did sell 130,000 during its first week according to Wikipedia and was eventually certified gold (500,000). While Wikipedia states Soundscan claims the album eventually sold over a million, he did not receive a platinum award for it (Method Man’s Tical did receive a platinum award from Def Jam.) Raekwon’s album holds up solidly and remains an album that every hip-hop artist would have to refer to and use an example of how to create a solid album from start to finish. It remains not only one of the best hip-hop albums of 1995, but one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums. It remains the Wu-Tang solo album that could’ve (and arguably should’ve) been Wu-Tang Clan’s second group album. Because of that, it is one of the best hip-hop albums of the entire decade. You know what hip-hop was like before Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… but you couldn’t hide from its influence after August 1, 1995.
On July 31, 1995, I started something called the Unofficial Wu-Tang Clan Mailing List, also known as the U-WU (“ooh-wu”) What I tried to do was to make it a news source when the official source was not offering it. I wanted it to be the “University of Wu”
When I started it 20 years ago, it actually didn’t have a name. Originally, I did one edition on the ImagiNation Network (INN) but that was a bit pointless since most of the people on INN were into it to chat or play card games. Thus, I wanted to form a mailing list where one was able to get Wu-Tang Clan and Wu-Tang related news. At that point, it was a day away from the release of Raekwon’s debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and while there were a number of places to find the news, there wasn’t one place where you coukd find that gathered information. I wanted the newsletter to be a mixture of The Source and Rolling Stone, but I wanted to add my nerdiness to it by offering a growing discography. I wanted to show the world that hip-hop could be in the pages of Goldmine, which I attempted to do with reviews in the early 90’s but they did not feel covering hip-hop was worthy enough. In hip-hop, there was very little attention being paid to the discography, for it was believed the music is not going to be around that long and it’s not collectible. My goal was not so much to prove them wrong, but to archive an artist’s output so that other fans could locate what they’re missing. For four years, I made an attempt to buy anything and everything that was Wu-related, at least within the U.S. By 1996/early 1997, it was becoming a rough task but I tried.
The U-WU started with nothing more than 5 members. Sending stuff via e-mail was not impossible, but a very difficult task. For a brief moment, I could only send out x-amount of e-mails before Prodigy would charge me. When they realized people actually wanted to send e-mail out of Prodigy (everything was done internally), they opened it, but you could only send something at 100 e-mail addresses at a time. At its peak, the U-WU was 5200 members strong, which meant I had to send out an e-mail for each newsletter 52 to 53 times a crack.
What I loved was hearing from younger members who said they printed my newsletters and would pass it around to friends who wanted to read not only my information, but the e-mails from other members across the U.S. and the world. It felt good to know my work was being appreciated in that way.
When the Wu-Tang came out with Wu-Tang Forever, I began to lose a bit of interest with what was going on with their music. That might be considered odd, considering Wu-Tang Forever opened the group up to an entirely new audience, those who were not there from their first album or even experienced their solo albums. Or if they did begin, they started with Ghostface Killah’s Ironman in 1996. That in itself also coincided with three albums that year that made me realize that perhaps I should expand my outlook to more than just the Wu-Tang, which I was doing. Those albums were Prince Paul’s Psychoanalysis (What Is It?), Dr. Octagon’s self-titled album (some of you also call it Dr. Octagonecologyst) and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.) I was reading URB magazine a lot a lot more than The Source and found the music in URB to be much more to my liking. Oddly enough, most of it was what I considered more towards hip-hop, even though I did like the subgenres. In truth, like many of the other big publications I wanted to write for, I wanted to write for URB but didn’t make it in. It was my way of showing people there’s more to music than just the Wu, which in truth was my way of saying “this is what I like to listen to, check this out.”
There were two things that let me know the U-WU was a success. One was that I had received a call from Wu-Tang management, asking me to check out a new group he was working it. I don’t remember who it was but the track was something like “NY Drive-By”. I liked it and talked about it. The next week, I call up the management and they had no idea who I was or why in the hell I would call them. I was like “I was given a fax from you a week ago” and their view was more or less “we didn’t send any faxes to you.” Sure.
The other thing was when an official Wu-Tang related website used a discography from another website. a discography that was mine, right down to the descriptions I wrote for each title. They decided to give someone else credit, basically for stealing the information from me.
By 1999 or so, I had to find a way to send out e-mail in a better way so I chose to try out Yahoo, which was the hot source engine of the era. They began to have mailing lists, which was my way to transfer some of the e-mail addresses to the new database. By 2001, I had pretty much lost interest with what the Wu were doing. The last album I covered in the newsletter by IRON FLAG. By then, I had found a few communities that featured people I could gel with: Okayplayer, In/Flux//Hindsight, and Soul Strut, the latter of which came from the ashes of the Crates mailing list, which featured a number of well known DJ’s, producers, and collectors. A few of the people in each group were also from rec.music.hip-hop (RMHH) and Prodigy, whom I may have known from when chat room freestyles were a thing or when there was a group known as Lyrical Militia. In many ways, the best communities I was in was an online knitting circle where we could all talk shit.
When I ended the U-WU in 2001, it was a longtime coming. There were other websites who were doing far better graphic-wise, and it was obvious (to me at least) people wanted quality images more than text and info. I’m able to do graphics on a basic level but not what I felt some wanted/preferred. By then, having OKP, In/Flux, Hindsight, and Soul Strut felt like places I could belong in. Maybe in a small way, there’s a bit of a lone rebel mentality but I feel I did very well with the U-WU. I was able to be one of the first to bring a discography mentality into hip-hop when someone like Mercer of Sandbox Automatic was one of the few that made it worthy to others. I wanted to say “this record is worth something, and not just on the collectible side. If it’s worth something to do, archive it in a proper way.”
It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years since I started it, something I really didn’t think was going to turn into anything. I can look back and remember various writers who had just started out and see where they’re at now. I look at myself and I’m still struggling, hoping to get to another next level so someone will now that my hard work is worth something. 20 years from now, I hope to be somewhere better, figuratively and literally.
In the past I’ve tried different hot sauces before made by El Yucateco and the fact this was called a “Black Label Reserve” made me eager to want to try it. The price for this was a dollar or two more than their regular hot sauces, and their hot sauces are considered to be “budget” priced despite the fact the flavor on them have been great.
This Black Label Reserve Chili Habanero is called that because it is literally a black hot sauce, or a dark green, but I’m sure it’s a bit of both. I didn’t think of anything before I tried it but when I had it, I said to myself “are there people who will like this?” It tasted exactly like a burnt habanero, something you put on a grill or stove when you roast it. You burn the pepper and it becomes visibly crips. It tastes exactly like that and for my tastes, the burnt flavor was a bit too much.
I say this and yet I tried the bottle. I didn’t honestly struggle with it and it wasn’t horrible but I wanted to find a dish that would make it taste decent. Of course, it complimented everything in its own way but it isn’t something I’d want to buy again. I never knew burnt could be a flavor for something, I don’t know if burnt butter would sell at movie theaters or burnt corn on the cob would do well at farmer’s markets. As for the heat, it was nice but the flavor overwhelmed and it masked everything else. This one was a no go for me.
You might listen to this and think “if Black Sabbath were a band of the 2010’s, I’d go and see them on tour this summer.” They are not Black Sabbath but they’re called Kadavar, whose style of hard rock has been encouraging their German fans to call them eternal ragers and others throughout Europe personal favorites. Some might call them proto-rock but what the hell does that mean? No matter, this is Kadavar and they sound incredible. The song will be on their forthcoming album Berlin (Nuclear Blast), due out on August 21st.
Publicist UK will be releasing an album before the end of August called Forgive Yourself (Relapse) and from it is the first video from it. The track is called “Away”, kind of a melancholy, downtrodden pop track with a not-so-subliminal rock touch that is quite engaging.
Pearl Charles released a new EP this week on Burger Records, aptly titled Pearl Charles, or you could say it’s self-titled, which may mean it’s untitled but it’s eponymous, you know what that means. For the release, she has released a video for one of its songs, the single from it called “You Can Change”, directed by Angelo Izzo. You can stream the EP in full below from Bandcamp.
She calls herself an alternative rock/pop singer, so say hello to rocker Betty Moon. She recently released her fourth album called Pantomania (Evolver Music), and she is hoping this one will take her to a higher place. Moon is originally from Toronto but relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago. Check out a song from the album called “No Good” and you may end up discovering it is quite good for you.
Most of you are familiar with Homeboy Sandman so you may ask yourself on a regular basis “where is he at now?” Well, he might be at a department store to buy some deodorants but you’re talking musically. He finds himself in a new track by a rapper you may not be familiar with, so please become comfortable with RedBaren 907, who is releasing an album called Life Behind Bars and this is a preview.
If you’ve been paying attention in the last few weeks, you may have seen some posts about a group called Hey Anna. Their new album is called Run Koko and it’s partly why I posted about them, that and they make some damn good music. Now you can watch one of their damn good videos. Well, okay, it’s a good video, whether or not it’s damn good is up to you but that’s why you’re here.
The band also have some shows that will wrap up the summer quite nicely, two of which are all ages shows. Plan accordingly:
August 28… Portsmouth, NH (The Press Room (21+))
August 29… Portland, ME (Bayside Bowl (all ages))
September 2… New Haven, CT (Bar (21+))
September 4… Asbury Park, NJ (The Saint (21+))
September 5… Stroudsburg, PA (The Living Room) (all ages)
If you attended DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s recent Renegades Of Rhythm shows, you know it was not just a celebration of hip-hop in general but it celeberates the legacy of Afrika Bambaataa and the records he used and collected in his life. A performance of this show in Oakland was recorded and will be made available for purchase.
Renegades Of Rhythm: Live In Oakland will be released on VHS tape. You got that right, VHS. Yes, VHS is a dead format but so is Betamax, and there have been many times in the last 30 years that vinyl was supposed to die too. While the demand for anything on VHS these days is beyond minimal, hardcore music buffs still flock to VHS tapes that have not been released on DVD or Blu-Ray officially. Just as there are hardcore collectors who consider laserdisc is superior, the VHS is still very much alive and well by many. Only 300 copies of this tape are being made, each one to be individually numbered. DJ Shadow has sold his share of titles on VHS over the years, from the Slurp show to the tape with well known funk and soul drummers so add this to the -ography as well. It’s a bit pricey (well, for me at least) but this is a limited edition and some of you will transfer it digitally immediately anyway. You can pre-order it over at DJShadow.com.