DUST IT OFF: Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Return To The 36 Chambers”… 20 years later

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There had been a small handful of hip-hop groups where they would release a solo album, perhaps maybe one or two but more times than not, the solo releases were very limited. Lucky you were to get a solo album. In 1994, the Wu-Tang Clan had changed that with the release of Method Man’s first album Tical, although you could go back four months previous and look at the first album by the Gravediggaz, 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis, featuring Prince Rakeem/The RZA/Rzarector. It was announced in the second half of 1994 that there would be three solo joints from the Wu-Tang. Three full length albums? Solo albums? IF you were a fan of the X-Clan, you would get music by Isis, Queen Mother Rage and Professor X (Brother J didn’t release anything with Dark Sun Riders until 1995). If you were a fan of Digital Underground, you would get Raw Fusion, Gold Money, and of course 2Pac within 18 months after the release of Sex Packets. 3rd Bass fans would get albums from both MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice but by that point, they did not exist as a group. However, who didn’t want more music from your favorite group when they were still around. In 1994, we would discover what was possible within hip-hop, and then we had much more.

  • Looking back, it didn’t seem odd that Ol’ Dirty Bastard would release a solo album, especially when the Wu-Tang Clan made it clear that everyone in the group would not only be releasing their own solo albums, but would be signed to their own solo contracts. When Kiss did it in 1978, each of their solo albums were on the label the group were on, Casablanca. When Crosby, Stills & Nash released their solo albums, each one came out on Atlantic, the label which released their group efforts (while Neil Young did become a part of the group too, he was already signed as a solo artist on Reprise). The Beatles had all released their solo work on Apple up until the end of Apple Records in 1976 (Paul McCartney ended his deal with the label he co-founded and started to release solo work for Capitol in 1975, a year before Apple closed shop). When the Wu-Tang announced solo deals, no one knew what was going to happen, there was no map for what they wanted to do. Then we heard Method Man was signed to Def Jam. Slowly but surely, we would hear that The Genius would be releasing his second solo album on Geffen while Raekwon would remain with LOUD/RCA but for ODB, he would find his way on Elektra, becoming label mates with Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and what was Leaders Of The New School. Ol’ Dirty was off to a great start.
  • Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was promoted first with the release of “Brooklyn Zoo” as a single, complete with The RZA’s trademark keyboards and piano samples and playing, and as it highlighted a lyric directly pulled from “Protect Ya Neck”, the song itself felt like a blast in the face. It was very much how Ol’ Dirty described himself and his music, for the song was old school, it was very dirty, and you had never quite heard anything like that because there was truly no father to that style. The song hit hard and, like Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”, it was devoted to having just one verse. While some may have bought the 12″ or CD single first (featuring the great B-side “Give It To Ya Raw”), some may have heard the song first from the music video, which came with its own clean edit. The RZA was becoming a master in creating clean versions of songs, where he would either fix up the profanities by adding sound effects or having an MC drop a clean line or verse and add that in the song to replace the explicitness. For me, I still prefer the clean edit of “Brooklyn Zoo” over the dirty album version just because it’s funny and someone made an effort to be sure the song got on the radio, which it did. Ol’ Dirty became a champion of the word “nuh” and while everyone knew exactly what word he was cleaning up, it was humorous and tame yet very effective. If you wanted to react to what he was doing, he would bring it on back, and he would for the 60+ minute album.

  • The album didn’t begin with a song and maybe you couldn’t quite call it an interlude, for there was nothing before it. Again, no father to his style, so he decided to read a letter which actually happened to be his tribute to Blowfly. He decided to sing a ballad but instead of singing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, it became “The First Time Ever You Sucked My Dick” (from Blowfly’s Zodiac Blowfly album). As he was singing, he was having a laugh at the same time and I remember listening and not being able to stop laughing.

  • The first full song on the album begins with a sample where Richard Pryor saying “oh, the fuck you can’t even sing. You got the sing to get some pussy”, which was a slight clue about not only the humor of the album, but the semi-disturbed mind of Russell Tyrone Jones, done for the hell of it. The song also featured another hint from Wu-Tang’s past, a lyrical reference to “Clan In Da Front”, and the song began with almost elementary piano chords. The album version seemed unfinished with just a chorus and verse, but it would take Elektra to release the song as a single before one was able to hear a second verse. That’s the version I preferred.

  • “Baby C’mon” almost seemed like it was nothing more than a continuation of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, a Part 2 if you will, but hearing the Wu-Tang chant a minute into the song and the cool bass sample during the second verse showed he was willing to be a party man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Following the placement of “Brooklyn Zoo” came the very cool “Hippa To The Hippa”, which I liked due to the use of Booker T. & The MG’s “Hip-Hug-Her”. By the time Ol’ Dirty reaches the second verse and throws out jokes and insults left and right, it was obvious that this was a guy who wasn’t trying to impress a lot of people by being a Kool G. Rap or a Chuck D., he was very much like a Biz Markie or Bobby Jimmy and we were all the Critters.

  • I always felt that while “Brooklyn Zoo” was one of the first big highlights of the album, the album truly makes a turn for the better with song #6, “Rawhide”, partly due to Ol’ Dirty being assisted with help from Method Man offering a hint from the original Rawhide theme before Raekwon throws out a bit of freaky and fly shit, wanting to be as hot as a Ron G. tape before Meth hits hard:
    Comin’ soon to a theatre near you, it be the Wu
    yeah, find yourself in the square and see it’s true
    actual facts to snack on and chew
    my positive energy sounds peace to you
    a wise man killed one horse and made glue
    wicked women puttin’ period blood in stew
    don’t that make the stew witches brew?
    I fear for the 85 that don’t got a clue
    how could he know what the fuck he never knew?
    God-Cypher-Divine come to show and come to prove
    a mystery God, that’s the work of Yacub
    The Holy Ghost got you scared to death kid, BOO!

    During a time when every other rapper was dropping science in their lyrics and interviews, this came off as something serious and profound so to hear it along with Raekwon’s verse was a bit of being elevated to a higher level. It was needed at that point on the album for while Ol’ Dirty’s jokes and references was great, one also needed a bit of time to breathe and what better way than with a bit of knowledge?

  • The next major highlight on the album was the song to follow, which begin with kids introducing who was to come up in the song, a duet between Ol’ Dirty Bastard and The Genius, but was it a genuine duet? Not really. In truth, The RZA recorded at least two versions of the song, one that featured Ol’ Dirty solo, the other featuring just The Genius. It was decided during post-production to combine them so that it would sound like they were battling one another, so it is possible that someone else may have done a version of the song too, same lyrics and everything. If the song was written entirely by The Genius, then most likely it’s just GZA and ODB doing the song. As The RZA used to say, his style of production was the Miracble On Dirty 4-Beats so it’s possible to hear buttons being cued during certain parts of the song or voices being muted out of nowhere, so you may not hear someone finishing a word. Regardless of those technical mistakes, the humor errors gives the song and the album a unique quality, along with the blaring keyboard that sounds like a cross between a bass keyboard and a siren, if not an old Nintendo NES soundtrack. The song jumped from start to finish and just when one wanted more, it ends when it shouldn’t but it feels nice.

  • Oh, cutie got it going on!
    Cute, what?

    “Don’t U Know” begins with two women talking about what they’re attracted to in men, specifically what they like about Ol’ Dirty Bastard. However, only one woman finds Ol’ Dirty appealing while her friend cannot believe what she is saying. The lady says “you don’t see what I see, B” but quickly gets a response: “I don’t see nothin’, you wearing glasses so…” and eventually it’s all about the desire they feel that happens to be very completely different from one another. Ol’ Dirty then gets into a bit of frisky flirting, telling everyone what he wants and desires before be throws out another sexy ballad. Out of nowhere, here comes Killah Priest with his own verse. It may have seemed somewhat odd at first considering Killah Priest was known as a member of Sunz Of Man at the time, who were very politically and socially so a sex rhyme may have seemed out of line for him. Yet listen to it again and the lyrics are not raw or filthy by any means, it’s along the lines of gentle puppy love, wanting Snapple and fries with her, maybe a bold drink in the evening to dance and the club to see what happens. With Killah Priest, we never know what happens because that’s not important. Later in 1995, we’d hear Killah Priest on The Genius’ album with the song “B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)” along with the great Sunz of Man singles, “Soldiers Of Darkness”/”Five Arch Angels” and “No Love Without Hate”. He wasn’t about to change what he was trying to present as an artist, and he never did, at least not hear. As for Ol’ Dirty, he was on another agenda, a sexual one.

    The song continues and if Ol’ Dirty made an attempt to be sensitive with his ballad, he went in for the kill and went out to bust a nut with his verse:
    I’m just sittin’, right
    in my class at a quarter to 10, right?
    waiting patiently for the class to begin, right?
    teacher says, “open up your texts and read the first paragraph on oral sex!”
    I said “Oral sex!, what kind of class is this?!”
    the girl next to me said “what’s wrong with you, miss?
    this is a lesson that makes you feel fine
    kinda ease your nerves and relax your mind!”
    I said “Don’t try to use no hypnotic spell”
    she said “Be my assistant, I’d sure rather tell”
    my knees buckled heart started to drop
    my dick grew at a size that my nerves couldn’t stop
    I tried to run, she yelled out “FREEEZE!”
    pulled down my draws, dropped to her knees
    ripped off my draws as if she had claws
    broke the rules that defied sex laws
    she responded quick, with a slick
    welcoming kiss and a ice cream lick
    oh, I begged, I begged
    “Easy on my balls, they fragile as eggs.”

    If his ode to Blowfly wasn’t overboard enough, his last verse was very much over the edge. Hilarious at the time and still is but it would be very hard to see this on any mainstream album released in 2015 without anyone protesting. At least we knew back in 1995, this was the persona of a man who was a sexual fiend, who did a bit of drink, smoked a bit of weed and whatever he felt like doing. We knew it as a persona, at least that’s what we wanted to believe, until we learned that some of his tales were true to life, or at least his life.

    The song was a way to end the first half of the album and while the song ends by him saying “part two coming up… on the next hit”, there was no actual Part 2 of the song, at least on the album. “Don’t U Know Part II” ended up finding its way as a B-side to the “Rawhide” single. It is here where he talks about not enjoying using condoms because he it doesn’t allow his penis to breathe. “Going raw” may have been something he preferred but as you hear the other lyrics in the song, you can figure out why this didn’t make it onto the album. Not that talking about how his genitals are “as fragile as eggs” is something nice, but he comes off like a borderline criminal. He reaches a level of being sleazy, but then goes beyond the line of no return. Even though it came out as a B-side, perhaps it was one of those songs that should’ve remained in the vaults yet considering the music he would release after this album, I’m certain it would have leaked out anyway. It’s safe to say that “Don’t U Know” is a bit better when it ends at Part 1.

    On the vinyl and cassette versions of the album, we hear “Don’t U Know” fade out but on the compact disc, it segues directly into “The Stomp” where we hear him make a slurping sound before saying “taste the shit, taste it again, like it.” Did Ol’ Dirty admit to not only enjoying analingus, but enjoying to tongue a woman’s doodoo hole with a hole that is filthy? It seems so, and it seemed if he couldn’t get anymore disgusted, he did so without hesitation. In a way, he wanted to be hip-hop’s version of Blowfly, showing himself as a comedian, a master of sex rhymes but a lover with heart and unknown finesse.

    While it wasn’t used on any album version, there was actually an intro to “The Stomp” that only surfaced on the bootleg/counterfeit pressing of the instrumental version of the album, which features Rose Royce’s “I Wanna Get Next To You” from the Car Wash soundtrack before going into The Main Ingredient’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Girl Blue”. As these songs are being heard in the background, Ol’ Dirty is talking with the lady in “Don’t U Know” who loves his funky disposition and they same to be throwing words back and forth, humorous at times but it seems they get one another for the sake of love or whatever they choose to have together. Nonetheless, this seems a more appropriate segue way then “Don’t U Know (Part II)” did although due to the use of Rose Royce and The Main Ingredient, it may have either been too expensive to use the songs as they did or maybe it was unable to be cleared due to the words spoken over the songs. This passage goes for about 75 seconds before it ends, and the album version begins, where Ol’ Dirty talks about being a fanatic of butt play.

    “Goin’ Down” has him going back to his childhood in two completely different ways, starting the song with a game of Punch Hall before he touches on various old school hip-hop songs, taking things to the five boroughs before the music went maintream, before “Rapper’s Delight” blew up, singling out different locations letting people know the importance of where they’re at or where they are from. Up until this point of the album, Ol’ Dirty has shown how dirty and raw he can be but at the 2:57 mark of the song, he begins to sing Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in a way that showed vulnerability and fear, as if for a few seconds, he allowed himself to escape the Wu-Tang empire, leaving the G-Building, leaving Brooklyn for a brief moment and looked into the mirror, saw Russell Tyrone Jones and was capable of singing to himself, alone, while the woman who once was all about his disposition is now arguing at him non-stop. It is then that we are allowed to hear, for a brief moment, the true man behind the insanity, perhaps one of the few times we ever got to hear that side before leaving it behind for good.

    “Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie)” may be nothing more than a joke for some but regardless of his talents (or lack of it), Ol’ Dirty wanted to be sultry and smooth by singing a serious ballad while honoring the artists from the past. It would be a style of singing that Ol’ Dirty would bring back throughout his life and career. A part of me thinks had he taken that side of him seriously, he could’ve been a decent singer but he loved to hear himself moan and grunt a lot.

    The album snaps back into its hardcore brutality with “Snakes”, conclusing the third phase of the album or perhaps leading the way towards the fourth and last phase of Return To The 36 Chambers. Ol’ Dirty brings in Killer Priest, The RZA, Master Killer, and Buddah Monk and in many ways, had there were more songs like this on the album, it could have easily ranked equally along Raekwon’s debut and The Genius’ Liquid Swords. Not that it didn’t, but Ol’ Dirty was not afraid to talk about his urges, libido, and having spirited times, this was his statement and he was not about to change (nor did he).

    While one never heard “Don’t U Know” in its two parts on the album, this did feature Part II of “Brooklyn Zoo”, which sounds nothing like the original at first. “Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)” is looser and revives lines from “Damage”. What makes the song go to a nice level of greatness is Ghost Face Killer’s verse, where he proves why he is an assassination master. Right in the middle, the song becomes a highlight reel of what happened on the album so far, before the song goes into a live recording where we hear what made Ol’ Dirty a chief when he was on stage. He never held back and was often uncontrolled even when he knew how to limit himself. Then again, as you can hear, there was never any limits for the One Man Army.

    As “Proteck Ya Neck II The Zoo” begins, it already feels that the album is about to reach its conclusion, for now it is a follow up to Wu-Tang Clan’s own “Protect Ya Neck” but by bringing some incredible Wu-Fam power with Brooklyn Zu, Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest and 60 Second Assassin. At this point, the Wu-Tang Clan made everyone want to listen to them individually but it also made everyone wanted to hear anyone who was associated with anyone from the slums of Shaolin, even if it was Ol’ Dirty’s mom (who he had promised would release an album but the project was ever initiated). At this point, we got to hear what made people attracted to the Wu-Tang Clan in the first place and none of us wanted to leave this chamber. We knew we would be leaving sometime soon.

    “Cuttin’ Headz” not only sounds like a variation of “Clan In Da Front”, but it is obviously an old Wu-Tang Clan when the group first started. The RZA still sounds like Prince Rakeem and could have easily been placed somewhere between “Sexcapades”, “Deadly Venoms”, and “Ooh I Love You Rakeem” but by this song being placed here, Ol’ Dirty brought it on back and went to his musical origins to let people know where he came from. It nicely ends Return To The 36 Chambers on a slightly unpredictable note but with happiness. However, as the compact disc was officially the primary format for albums, during a time when more people were able to afford the CD’s, there was two more songs to go.

    “Dirty Dancin'” originally was credited as Wu-Tang Clan featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard when released on The Jerky Boys soundtrack, where he received credit for engineering and mixing the song while The RZA produced it. Method Man dropped a verse on it too but in my opinion, I always felt the song was a bit half-assed, an effort that could have been improved but wasn’t. It didn’t do anything on The Jerky Boys soundtrack nor does it do anything on the album, even if it’s filler. “Give It To Ya Raw”, the B-side to “Brooklyn Zoo”, would’ve done better here. If “Dirty Dancing” is the weakest of the bonus track, then it presents the greatness to come on the better bonus track, and what I feel should be considered the album’s official conclusion.

    At the intro, we hear Buddah Monk say that we are going to take things back to Hollywood, before Ol’ Dirty Bastard sings the first verse of Kool & The Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging” in his own way, with his own rearranged lyrics. This then cuts into the world we have become familiar with on the album, his “terminology/psychology”, essentially the mind and mad genius of this rapper we have come to know and love. We realize we loved him from “Protect Ya Neck”, “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”, “Shame On A Nigga”, and “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” and it would become clear we would love him as he was to wrap up the first verse in the song:
    they said “rhymin on the mic is the number one”
    then a brother get the feeling that he want to play cool
    you discombumberated diabolical fool
    hog-flesh MC, go play in the mud
    another 20th century modern day (C.H.U.D.)
    Cannibal Humanoid Underground (Dweller)
    C.H.U.D. broke loose from the god damn (cellar)
    dope-fiend addict why you walk with
    Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
    when the MC’s came to live out their name
    most rocked rhymes that was all the (same)
    when I elevated and mastered the time
    you was stimulated from the high post (rhyme)
    you got shot cause you knew you were rocked

    With this part of the song, Ol’ Dirty refers to a line that The Genius and The RZA would bring back in “Liquid Swords” six months later. What I always loved about this lyrics is that Ol’ Dirty revived it in MTV’s special on the benefit album America Is Dying Slowly. The studio and live version also featured Killah Priest, Raekwon, The RZA, Master Killer, and Inspectah Deck, and normally the song would fade out. However, the entire Clan is in the TV studio, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard and we hear him saying “word up” a number of times beginning at the 2:40 mark and when this was broadcast, no one knew what was going to happen. At the 2:47 mark, we see him moving around in the background with glasses on, so one gets a bit suspicious. At 2:59, when the song is about to fade out, Ol’ Dirty walks up to the front and says “let’s stop this for a minute, let me get on into it“. At this point, no one in the group knew what ODB was going to do and they look completely surprised, very uncertain. He could have easily played the fool but he doesn’t. Instead, he begins to drop a verse from “Harlem World” and leads up to the “Liquid Swords” inception. For me, that became the moment when Ol’ Dirty Bastard truly became the genius.

    Going back to the original “Harlem World”, Ol’ Dirty ends the song by taking it back to Brooklyn, letting people know what it means to be hip-hop and what it means to be a New Yorker, where you are supposed to honor what hip-hop is all about or else. His words are very in-your-face and it becomes less about his ego and more of what it means to be an MC:
    Repeat your rhymes all the time like a fuckin’ parrot
    phony gold chains only rated two carats
    you tell your friends that your home is like heaven
    livin’ in the gutter sewer seven pipe eleven
    you wear your socks twelve days in a row
    turn them on the other side so the dirt won’t show
    go to school, take a shit, don’t wipe your ass
    blame it on another sucka nigga in your class… YOU WANNA BATTLE?
    is it the pork on your fork or the swine on your mind
    make you rap against a brother with a weak-ass rhyme
    swine on your mind, pork on your fork
    make you imitate a brother in the state of New York
    chain on your brain that drove you insane
    when you tried to claim for the talent and the fame
    nothin’ to gain yet and still you came
    suffer the PAIN as I demolish your name
    not like Betty Crocker, baking cake in the ov-
    sayin “this is dedicated to the one I love”
    not a swine or dove from the heaven’s up above
    When I rap, people clap so they push and they shove
    When I rhyme I get loose, better than Mother Goose
    Rock the mic day and night so you see I’m the juice
    Like the two-six-eight, politicians demonstrate

  • Despite how foolish he made himself out to be in the previous 60 minutes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard brought things down to the essence of him as Russell Tyrone Jones and to hip-hop, what it’s all about as a fan and a participant. The album went as high as #2 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart and went to #7 on the Pop albums chart. It would be nominated as Best Rap Album in 1996’s Grammy Awards but was beaten by New Jersey’s Naughty By Nature and their Poverty’s Paradise album, released a little over a month after Ol’ Dirty’s debut. Nonetheless, the music brought things back to the era when you’d go to a crusty movie theater as a kid to watch kung fu movies or head home to watch your favorite cartoons on Saturday morning. It brought listeners back to their youth while always being sure they never forget the benefits of being older and getting mature with age, even if it means to be immature once in awhile. Return To The 36 Chambers is going back to remind yourself and everyone why you love what you do, why you do what you do, and why you’re able to pass it along to the next generation so everyone can celebrate the good times, whatever it may be. In other words, this 66 minute album lets everyone know why it’s okay to grow old with grace, not be shy to get dirty once in awhile, and to do things on your own to show individuality because only you can be you. It’s okay to be a bastard, as Ol’ Dirty showed us in his lifetime. To paraphrase the opening sample on the album, Ol’ Dirty had 35, there was no 36. He died two days before his 36th birthday and thus was not able to make it to the chamber he created for himself. It would be too easy to say that perhaps it was meant to be but that’s unfair. Nonetheless, in honor of what he was not able to see, we carry on for him through the 36th chamber.

  • SOME STUFFS: The Moth Gatherer create teaser video for new release

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    The earth is The Sky is the follow up to the debut album from Swedish experimental post-rock/metal band The Moth Gatherer, and they are more than ready to unleash it to you and your mind. The album will be released by Agonia Records and they’ve created a very brief teaser that isn’t enough to enjoy deeply but it will make you anticipate what is to come.

    SOME STUFFS: Sinitus Tempo prepares for debut solo album on Tuesday

    “Egocortex” is just mere flavor of music to come from Sinutus Tempo’s new project, an album called EGOCORTEX. The album will be available via HiPNOTT on March 31st and if the above flavor was far from enough, you can have more below in a song featuring Brian To Earth called “Created To Destroy”.

    AUDIO: Toro Y Moi’s “Run Baby Run”

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    New music from Toro Y Moi is on its way on April 7th when What For? (Carpark) is released. That’s an album but what you can have now is a song so have a listen to “Run Baby Run” and get down, funky, down with a deepness for solid pop swaggerud. He is currently on tour, click here for details and links where you’re able to order tickets.

    DUST IT OFF: Digital Underground’s “Sex Packets”… 25 years later

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    The first I heard about Digital Underground was by taking a chance when I went to Tower Records on 82nd in Portland, Oregon back in the fall of 1989. I was in the cassingle section when I saw the word “Doowutchyalike” and the phrase Digital Underground right on the front. In my mind, maybe this was electronic music or some kind of odd dance music, maybe along the lines of M|A|R|R|S, Bomb The Bass, or Simon Harris. To be honest, their name sounded like something within the Kraftwerk family so I was expecting that. Rap artists weren’t using the word digital often throughout the 1980’s and the tape was not in the rap section so there was no way I knew what it was or what type of music it could be. The cover was illustrated, and all I concentrated on was the name of the tape, I didn’t bother to see the other titles until I got in the car, so I never saw “Hip-Hop Doll” until after the fact.

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    The song begins with a drum beat and a nice amount of tape hiss, so I wasn’t sure if there was going to be any more than this. Did I have to turn it up. I hear a synth bass melody before I recognized the “OOH!” sample from Parliament’s “Flashlight”, then Doug E. Fresh saying “I see guys and girls dancin'”, then returning to the “OOH!” again. All of a sudden, a voice comes into the song at an odd spot in the track, and it felt weird:
    Now as the record spins around, you recognize this sound
    well, it’s the underground,
    you know that we’re down with what you like

    In thirty seconds, I managed to discover one of the funkiest songs I had heard that year, in a year that already gave me 3 Feet High And Rising and Paul’s Boutique. I was more surprised that this was a rap tape, but Digital Underground seemed like an un-rap name to call an artist. It was just weird but I couldn’t get enough. Then I discover the song had three rappers, or was it four? Could it be two? Now why do I hear other voices sped up, are these voices made by one of the guys in this Underground group? The song is then interrupted by a station identification, fades out, beeps, and then comes back. What the hell just happened? Did this song fade out on the tape and come back like a radio show? “Hip-Hop Doll” seemed somewhat odd too and when I say odd, hip-hop songs are traditionally 4/4 with generally 16-bars for a verse. With “Hip-Hop Doll”, you really had to concentrate at first to figure out where the bars started or where a verse began or ended. With those two songs, I wondered if Digital Underground would ever come out with an album but I discovered the news in the new year.

  • When Sex Packets was released on Tuesday, March 27, 1990, it was one of the first albums to be released in what I called the year of uncertainty for hip-hop. I say uncertainty because I wasn’t sure if hip-hop was going to continue to be as big and powerful as I felt it was or if the music industry felt it was a fad and decided to give up on it. Fortunately, artists and labels were not ready to make anything a thing of the past. I remember picking up the tape and seeing who Digital Underground might be, that it’s more than just Shock G. and Humpty Hump, although Humpty was not on the cover. I did see DJ Fuze and Money B., so it was time to figure out who this Underground were. I was familiar with the group’s new single, “The Humpty Dance”, as it was becoming out of the hottest songs of the early months of 1990. I remember seeing the video and knowing the group had Shock G. and Humpty Hump and I was thinking “wait: these guys are one and the same. Someone is incognito and letting people know he’s two different people. Let’s see how far this goes.” You never quite saw both of them at the same time, Shock G is seen as the slighly off-member of the group while Humpty was just completely off his rocker, and had a fake nose. Despite the novelty factor, it was one hell of a song that was highlighted by sampling Sly & The Family Stone’s “Sing A Simple Song”, specifically the right channel. By moving the balance on one side of the stereo spectrum, it eliminated the horns and organ, so all you heard were the drums. That would become one of the most used samples of the 1990’s but “The Humpty Dance” had so many highlights to choose from: lyrical reference to doing the 69, saying MC Hammer looked like he smoked crack, getting busy in the Burger King bathroom, and as someone who is Hawaiian, I celebrated when Humpty gave a shout out to Samoans. This was easily one of the most warped rap songs I had ever heard and I wanted to know what else this group had to offer. Oh, there was more.

  • The first new song on the tape was “The Way We Swing”, and I immediately caught the guitar sample: Band Of Gypsys’ “Who Knows”. It was nice to year a Jimi Hendrix sample on here and for Buddy Miles’ voice to be part of the song. The song sounded bluesy due to the sample and it was a bit of a throwback without it being old school, it wanted to say that it was a throwback to the era of Hendrix, which for the song was New Year’s Eve 1969 and New Year’s Day 1970. We were flashing back to 20 years so it was a bit of a cultural and musical reference. The song also lasted longer than the norm (close to seven minutes) and in fact, some of the album’s stronger songs were that lengthy and felt like the extended songs you’d hear on a rock or soul album, while you’d enjoy the single edits on the radio. If you very much wanted more of what you’d like, you’d go to the album so Digital Undergroup seemed to bring back the era and vibe of the jam back into the tightly created rap art form.

  • “Hip-Hop Doll” came up next and then it was followed by “Underwater Rimes (Remix)” and at the time I wondered about it. If this was a remix, where was the original version? I hadn’t been aware the group had released a single in 1988, so I learned “Underwater Rimes” was the group’s true origin, at least on wax. I remember an early MTV interview where Shock G. talked about the B-side in depth, called “Your Life’s A Cartoon”, and mentioned how the song was as in-depth as a Bruce Springsteen song with the kind of lyrics with detail and a story that is meant to be heard and analyzed. At the time, I was unable to find anyone in the Bay Area to get me a copy (I would find someone to make me a cassette dub of it a few years later) but I thought if these guys aren’t afraid to make a casual Springsteen reference just like that, then they are much more than just guys who are able to make funny references at every turn.

    Back to “Underwater Rimes”, what struck me was the bassline, which was very much a recreation of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and again, it was a recreation, not a direct sample. Digital Underground weren’t afraid to play with what could be sampled and what couldn’t, or how it was to be sampled and heard. Also, Shock G. introduced two more characters into the scene, MC Blowfish (who was also pictured on the inner sleeve) and The Computer Woman, who was originally heard in “Doowutchyalike”.

  • “Rhymin’ On The Funk” was great because it was another song that showed Digital Underground were admirers of the P-Funk empire, what they’d self-proclaim as the Sons Of The P, and the song also offered another twist: Money B. said he too was Humpty Hump. I wondered if Money B. was Humpty, then who is really Humpty, or who was Shock G.? Is Shock G. really Money B.? I liked what they were doing, even if at the time I didn’t know why.

  • “The New Jazz (One)” sounded a bit like the Prince side-project Madhouse, complete with Run-DMC scratches heard through out, and this brief interlude lead us to “The Danger Zone” with yet another Parliament sample. This time, Shock G. brought the listener deep into the inner city when one might get caught up in the world of drugs and violence. The song also featured a verse from D.U. member Kenny Walters, b/k/a Kenny K. The song featured a siren where we discover a woman had a crack overdose and while someone is trying to help her, the ambulance never shows up.

  • Side 1 ends with “Doowutchalike” and with the exception of “Underwater Rimes (Remix)” and “The New Jazz (One)”, every song is over five minutes, most over six. This was not your normal rap album and I felt if this was what the 90’s were going to be like, they may end up being one of my favorite groups.

    As for The Piano Man, while it was credited that Shock G. played piano and keyboards in the song and throughout the album, the truth is that it was Rodney Franklin who played in “Doowutchalike”, “The New Jazz (One)”, “Freaks OF The Industry” and “Packet Prelude”. Franklin is a pianist based out of Berkeley and had played on a lot of jazz and soul albums before releasing his own albums on the Prestige, Columbia, and Atlantic labels in the 1980’s. In an interview last year, Shock G. revealed Franklin was the piano man specifically for the Sex Packets album but he would continue to share and expand his talents on future D.U. releases.
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  • Side 1 said it was the “Safe Side” but Side 2 would be the “Sex Side”, which begins with the ultra-sexy “Freaks Of The Industry”. Sex rhymes could be found throughout hip-hop, whether you wanted Too $hort or the Ghetto/Geto Boys but this just sounded nice and sleazy, moist and meaty, hard and soft, a need to compare skin tones for the hell of it. It was nice to hear Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” as the song’s primary sample, and when Money B. states that it all begins with the birds and the bees, and then gets a bit more complex and raunchy, even enjoying the freckles on someone’s face or elsewhere. When Shock G. makes reference to Vanesse, not the lady with the singing career but the X-rated video queen, things get more adventurous, especially when he refers to “the booty starts makin’ that clappin’ sound”. Despite the fact the verse refers to “you take it out and put it in het butt” and “I hit it and split it, lick it and quit it”, it never gets as raw and explicit as Too $hort or the Geto Boys would, but it is nasty enough to where it doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. You’re listening to a porn lay out in song and your Cinemax After Hours tapes with the highlights was just a nice side effect.

  • “Gutfest ’89” was one of the cassettes tape-only tracks and easily one of the best songs on the album, for we were now entering a possible orgy, a gangbang, a group sex extravaganza and a music festival that was a concert I could’ve went to: Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, The Who, The Clash, EPMD, and Digital Underground. That’s a fantasy come true, and then for it to take part in something called Gutfest? Who didn’t want to get down to music and some crazy guts? The song gets off with two fine samples, Dexter Wansel’s “Theme From The Planets” and Johnny Pate’s “Shaft In Africa”, both of which are partly the reasons why DJ Shadow used both to create his “Lesson 4″ as a means to honor his Bay Area representatives. What I also liked is, as someone who had just finished high school, the idea of an actual Gutfest was like a dream come true, even if I had no idea how to get to something like it or how I would be able to pay for admittance. Nonetheless, they made up a fantasy world that didn’t have to be exclusive to the world of rap music, it was a world Digital Underground wanted everyone to belong in. Another cool element about the song was that the music was assembled by David Elliott, a/k/a DJ Fuze (b/k/a Goldfingers), so it was he who was involved in assembling the Wansel and Pate samples.

  • “Sounds Of The Underground” highlighted DJ Fuze and Money B., whom we would later discover they had their own group known as Raw Fusion and this song was their way of letting people know Digital Underground was not just Shock G. and his numerous pseudonyms and all of his friends. I always liked how Fuze scratched The D.O.C.’s “It’s FunkY Enough” throughout but after hearing how hot this song was, one couldn’t wait to find out what Raw Fusion could offer (which they did when they were signed to HollywoodBASIC, a hip-hop subsidiary of Disney that would also sign Organized Konfusion and DJ Shadow).
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  • Another song I loved was “A Tribute To The Early Days”, which wasn’t only the old school personified, but it sounded like a tape dub someone made from a radio show remembered but long gone, complete with massive tape hiss. It was just a casual freestyle laid over The Olympic Runners’ “Put the Music Where Your Mouth Is” (also sampled later by DJ Shadow in “Lesson 4″) and even though it was pre-recorded in the studio, it felt like all of us heard that in some radio show many years ago.
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  • The album concludes with the Sex Packets mini-opera and it begins with a “Packet Prelude” before starting up the suite with another Parliament gem, the live version of “Dr. Funkenstein”. One of the song’s other core samples is Prince & The Revolution’s “She’s Always In My Hair” and it is here where we learn what these Sex Packets really are. We see an image on the cover but it looked like a condom packet. Instead, we discover that it’s sex in pill form, where you’re supposed to take the pill, imagine yourself in any scenario and have an orgasm without having to touch yourself. Recorded during the decade when the AIDS virus became a major concern, the 1990’s was a way to discover and rediscover what could and couldn’t be done. Tommy Boy Records even hyped up a story claiming Shock G. was ready to invent these sex packets and have them ready by the time the album came out. When the album was released, there was a minor story claiming that these packets were on their way very soon. On top of that, Tommy Boy even released promotional sex packets to the media where one could tear up the packet and see what happened. My packet consisted of a photo of an interracial lesbian couple. Being 19 years old, I was more than curious on if this thing was going to work so yeah, I slapped on the song “Sex Packets”, tore up the packet and popped the pill in my mouth. It tasted like a lemon candy and in fact, that’s all it was. The lemon candy was nothing more than a promotional tool for the album and as for those who found themselves nude with a torn packet nearby, they were out of luck, although there was still very good music coming out of the speakers.

    The song then goes into a “Street Scene” where we hear how someone is able to get their own packets before they became legal. You had to find a dealer who sold them and whatever scenario you wanted in your mind, you could have it by popping it in, but you had to meet up with the “Packet Man” first. He would then tell you how much it was, not to go overboard, and then have fun. The suite and album ends with “Packet Reprise” and by the end, you realize you went through a very exhausting experience through funky sounds, incredible concepts and a sense of imagination.

    The world Digital Underground expressed on Sex Packets was very much what was going on in the Bay Area circa late 80’s, but it was not just the Bay Area people wanted to express from a rap group. It also chose to explore a side of the Bay Area people may have known through other means: its sexy side. It basically said that when it comes to pleasure, it shouldn’t be limited to one or two groups, it can be celebrated by everyone. If the Bay Area was known for its sexual openness and freedoms, Digital Underground wanted to let people know they knew all the hot spots to find what you want and where you need to get it. Sex Packets wasn’t an album limited to ones horniness or potential to get and remain hard, it also shared a sense of humor that also belonged to anyone and everyone. On top of that, all of it was united by the soul and the funk, all tied in with the greatest musical sponge known as hip-hop. Everyone in Digital Underground placed their role so while Gregory Jacobs rightfully deserves the credit for coming up with various concepts, lyrics, and his many personas, people like Money B., DJ Fuze, Schmoovy Schmoov, Chopmaster J, and Sleuth were all a part of the crew too. It was Jacobs, a/k/a Shock G., a/k/a Humpty Hump, a/k/a MC Blowfish, a/k/a The Computer Woman who made this masterpiece work and without him, hip-hop would not enter the next phase back in 1990.

  • RECORD CRACK: Willie Nelson’s “Teatro” gets a vinyl reissue for Record Store Day

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    Willie Nelson has released tons of records in his career, and that’s not a lie. Deep fans can name a year and tell you what he released and when. For the sake of this article, let’s go to 1998 and some fans will say “that’s the year he released Teatro, the album he did with producer Daniel Lanois in Oxnard, California”. Those fans would be correct and those fans also know the album was only released on compact disc via Island. Next month, through Light In The Attic, Teatro is getting its first ever vinyl pressing, this one as a 2-record set pressed on “gold” vinyl with a deluxe cover and booklet. One of the bad things about album releases in the 1990’s is labels did deluxe things for the CD pressing while vinyl was primarily ignored. Now, it’s a chance to fix the error. Head to your favorite record shindigs on April 18th and pick up a copy while you can and by all means, play the record too. I know there’s a generation of record buyers who merely buy it to hoard and collect but open the cellophane and pop the record on.