DUST IT OFF: Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” 20 years later

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.

    Raekwon photo Raekwon_cover_zpsrx2oakwy.jpg

  • 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.

  • DUST IT OFF: The U-WU began 20 years ago today

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

    Ol' Dirty Bastard photo ODBReturn_cover_zpsoob1dm7b.jpg
    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.

  • 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.
    Rodney Franklin photo RodneyFranklin_pic_zpspqffquhp.jpg

  • 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.

  • DUST IT OFF: Earth Wind & Fire “That’s The Way Of The World”… 40 years later

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    Little did Earth, Wind & Fire know how powerful their sixth album would be when it was released on Friday, March 14, 1975. That’s The Way Of The World was not only their 6th LP but the fourth for Columbia Records, which must’ve showed the label that they are more than willing to continue the music they had made since the release of Head To The Sky and Open Our Eyes. The group did have their share of soul hit singles from each album but it seems they wanted to take things higher with help from Charles Stepney. Stepney did work on their previous album, Open Our Eyes, as an associated producer with Joe Wissert handling the production chair but it seems Maurice White needed a much stronger captain. White was more than capable of doing it himself, especially after years of handling some of the work at Chess Records, but he also knew how Stepney could do with his work at Chess and with the Rotary Connection (some of which White played drums on). It may not have been a “make or break” album, as bands did have the luxury of easing up at the pace they wanted to, but if you listen to how the album flows from one song to the other, they were running eagerly somewhere stronger. Look at the album cover. Maurice White is looking as if he’s saying “welcome to my kingdom” while Ralph Johnson has a slight head nod and a “how you like me now?” attitude. Bassist Verdine White has a glare, saying “you’re gonna love this, come inside with us.” Philip Bailey is just getting down to the groove while keyboardist Larry Dunn is flying or levitating in the air, just happy to get off on whatever they were listening to at the time. Meanwhile, Andrew Woolfolk, Al McKay, and Fred White are just taking in the rise while guitarist Johnny Graham is smiling, saying “i don’t know what’s going on, man, but I’m digging it.”

  • That’s the attitude the band had on That’s The Way Of The World, where they’re not standing outside in Colorado near the recording studio where they recorded Open Our Eyes, freezing their asses off and just wanting back in an air conditioned studio. They were in a room, dressed to impress and ready to make some music, and they began with the incredible “Shining Star”, which begins not only with one of the best introductions to any song, but their group philosophy and perhaps what they were intending to do:
    When you wish upon a star
    dreams will take you very far, yeah
    when you wish upon a dream
    life ain’t always what it seems, oh yeah

    The double guitar groove from Graham and McKay offers a wonderful groove, while Verdine White’s basslines dance as if he’s on his own path but knows whose foundation he is on.

  • The title track is easily one of the best songs Earth, Wind & Fire not only recorded, but one of the best songs Maurice White ever wrote. The mood of the song sounds laid back, features a horn and string section, is very jazzy, but the lyrics deserves much attention, talking about what makes us tick as people and why sometimes we can’t tick together:
    We come together on this special day
    wing our message loud and clear
    looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days,
    future pass, they disappear
    you will find peace of mind
    if you look way down in your heart and soul
    don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
    stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never old

    For me, the core of the song is centered in two lines which basically doesn’t answer why we are the way we are with one another, but it makes us think how to change, if at all possible:
    child is born with a heart of gold
    the weight of of the world makes his heart so cold

    It could be considered a church sermon of sorts, made very clear in the song’s last minute when it sounds as if he is testifying. You hear the sweet vocals of Bailey and you just don’t want that feeling to end, but does fade out.

  • If “Shining Star” wasn’t a song to get the crowd jumping, then “Happy Feeling” was very much the energy that kept listeners dancing and jumping like the band on the cover. What I always loved about the song is that despite the fact there’s a united mood/feeling throughout, it is divided in ways that let people know where they’re at or where they need to be. We hear a passage that sounds like the bridge could be there before getting into a chorus, then a verse here and then, and builds up for Maurice White’s kalimba solos, with the last one being the funkiest point on the album as the band is very much down on the one, complete with the horn section understanding what’s going on and Verdine White’s bass work speaking in tongues.

    “All About Love” ends Side 1 in a beautiful way, a ballad written by Dunn and White that allows a bit of personal reflection about things, be it about self or everything within the vicinity as Maurice White raps with us about spirituality, or the inner self which leads about the expression of what becomes our outer selves. As White says in the song, he’s talking about beauty and perhaps if all of us are beautiful in our own way, we become what we want to see in the world, the way it is not at times.

    Earth, Wind & Fire photo EWFThats_cover-gatefold_zps8vcivya6.jpg

    “Yearnin’ Learnin'” begins Side 2 almost in a way that sounds like the introduction to the 1970’s TV show Battle Of The Network Stars or an energetic scene for a movie. Basically, this is a song that had deserved to be a hit as it has a feeling that could make anyone dance but perhaps the understanding of the lyrics may have been difficult, or if not the lyrics themselves, the manner in which they vocalized. The next song on the album would do its share of positive damage.

    There are many ways to describe what Stepney brought to the group but if there’s a perfect example of his contributions to the group, it’s “Reasons”. Listen to the song and imagine what it would sound like without the horn and string arrangements. Then listen to it again with everything blended in. The vocal harmonies are wonderful too, the band are making things mellow, but you can tell that this was done as Bailey’s centerpiece, which he would do in Earth, Wind & Fire concerts for the next 40 years. The song is symphonic in a David Axelrod manner, if not better, for while the song sounds romantic and sensual in the right spots, there’s another layer where you may feel longing, you may feel hope, you may feel engaging, there’s something but you’re uncertain even as the song fades, which happens at the right moment. Stepney genius.

    If older fans were feeling the group were losing their jazz roots and origins, “Africano” showed they always kept their feet planted into the ground, rooted with their ancestors. The percussion and horn section tigthened up to show why Earth, Wind & Fire were a band to not mess with but for people who were turned on to their music for the first time, they wanted to let people know why they should stay around. The group kept on doing instrumentals as they moved from Warner Bros. Records to Columbia, with songs like “Spasmodic Movements”, “Runnin'”, and “Biyo” that showed everyone if they wanted to let loose and just jam, they were more than capable. “Africano” would become a staple of the band for years.

    The album ends in a song that begins on a 7/4 time measure and the arrangement sounds complex with a statement that becomes part of the moral of the album’s story:
    Lookin’ through the clouds, what do you see?
    sky of gases, child in need
    troubles everywhere, more than I can bear
    so I’m searchin’ from within

    The band switch up a bit, getting into a melody that sounds similar to “Feelin’ Blue” from Open Our Eyes to allow a bit of continuity from one album to the next, complete with similar vocal harmonies and Dunn’s synth solo. While Bailey has always been a spiritual man, with him releasing a series of gospel albums over the years, this was a song where he was allowed to see and share the light he feels, and to let people know that they too can be inspired to feel the light within, however you want to interpret that.

    Looking back, the album is solid from start to finish but it’s also easy to hear it as an album that didn’t get to the power it was trying to achieve. Then again, the album does end with African chanting and Dunn’s keyboard interludes that works as a continuation of the dialogue the group has always shared with people, and a bit of nerdery that ahd them saying “I’m going to doodle a bit, thank you for listening, please come back next time.” For me, I didn’t get this album until long after I had Spirit when I was six and All-N-All at 7. That’s The Way Of The World was always the album a lot of people had when I went to their house. I always wondered why they would have That’s The Way Of The World and not have Open Our Eyes, All-N-All, or Head To The Sky, which my auntie had. It seemed that if families had Earth, Wind & Fire in their collections, it was either That’s The Way Of The World or The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire or both. Yet when I saw someone had Gratitude, I knew they were deep listeners. That was a double album, which meant they had taken time to listen to it deeply. Everyone may have had Frampton Comes Alive but Gratitude made me feel as if they were good people. That’s The Way Of The World released two very successful singles that are played on pop radio 40 years later: “Shining Star” and the title track, and due to the short length of “Shining Star” (under three minutes), it is often played alongside “That’s The Way Of The World” back to back, similar to what Queen would have with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”. For Queen, that was a double-A sided single while EW&F came out with two separate singles yet radio often plays it together as one. As big as the song seems to be, “Reasons” only released as a promotional single to radio, which could mean Columbia had considered to release it as its own single and held it back, or merely pressed it to radio was a way to promote the strength of the album.

    As huge as the album is and how powerful it resonates with listeners, I still prefer Head To The Sky, Open Our Eyes, Spirit, and All-N-All. I am more than aware that without That’s The Way Of The World there would be no Spirit, and All-N-All. It is due to the success of That’s The Way Of The World that lead them to a massive North American tour that lead to the release of the double LP live album Gratitude. I have always felt That’s The Way Of The World is penultimate compared to the majesty that is All-N-All due to all of the great songs that are on it. At this point, I’m talking about personal preferences and I shouldn’t take away from the success That’s The Way Of The World achieved. The album was #1 on both Billboard’s Pop and Black music charts, the first time for Earth, Wind & Fire. They now had pop success and would remain there for the next six years and considering all of the songs that were high on the pop charts, that’s a lifetime. That’s The Way Of The World remains on a number of critic charts and remains the first choice EW&F newbies choose if they are to pick out an album, alongside The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. I. The group may not have been aware of the goodness they were about to achieve when they shot the cover but it looks like they just were given gold record awards, with the platinum award that didn’t exist until 1976. The weight of the world can make all of us grow cold but with powerful music, it can lead to brighter and better days.

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  • DUST IT OFF: A Tribe Called Quest’s “People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm”… 25 years later

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    When A Tribe Called Quest released their debut album on March 13, 1990, it almost seemed like an odd duck at first. The group did release “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” the year before and “Bonita Applebum” a month before but for people outside of New York City, Q-Tip was nothing more than the guy who said “black is black” in De La Soul’s “Me Myself & I”, he had little to know credibility outside of that and ATCQ’s first two singles. But we were meant to be taught in order to learn. A Tribe Called Quest were a part of the Native Tongue along with Jungle Brothers, which is where some also first heard Q-Tip in a song called “Black Is Black”. Then things started to change and gel together. A Tribe Called Quest were doing this for themselves, for music, for the tribe vibe, and for hip-hop, thus why they called their album People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm. The album title could’ve came off of a rare obscure jazz/free jazz album, but those travels they were talking about were not only musical but very much instinctive, for it said it required the mind. Thus, Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Mohammad, and Jarobi were about to take us into a few mind games.

    When I look back at the album, I consider it to be the best in their discography, which seems to be different from the mainstream consensus, and is there a reason? Perhaps. It was The Low End Theory that had bigger hits, you can’t take away the success of “Check The Rhime” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, and the format gave us phrases that many hip-hop heads know as sacred mantra. We all want to get to the boulevard of Linden to give thanks. It was Midnight Marauders that not only gave us music and more hits, but it gave a slogan, a mascot of not only the music but the album, with a cover that represented what hip-hop represented in 1993, before the new wind of the Wu (-Tang) was to dominate. It was the community of creatives, all gathered at the New Music Seminar in New York City where various people were told to gather and have their photos taken. Those photos were assembled for Midnight Marauders and history was made. So why does People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm get a small blip in comparison? For me, it doesn’t.

    First, let’s look at the hits it did offer. We can never forget “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”, an incredibly funky story song that had Q-Tip telling everyone he lost his wallet, he had to get it and was willing to detail that voyage, a path of rhythm. He traveled from New York to California and back, almost like a then-modern version of “This Land is Your Land”, “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” is very much a folk tale, it was his way of saying “this land was made for you and me, I’ll wear my hair the way I want, I’ll speak like how I speak, I’ll get to know you, you can know me, let’s be together.” But first, he had to get his wallet, hoping that his money and Jimmy hat was still in there. For me, I immediately caught The Young Rascals sample that opened the song (“Sueno”) but I would later learn the primary sample in there was courtesy of THe Chambers Brothers’ and “Funky”.

    The second single for the album was the great “Bonita Applebum”, the video of which began with Special Ed and Queen Latifah dancer Kika being romantic near any location they wanted: the supermarket, the subway, near a public phone, it didn’t matter. It was very much a love song but not like LL Cool J’s “I Need Love”, for this song was not a ballad. There was a bit of funk with the drum sample, and who didn’t enjoy Minnie Riperton’s voice that was heard in the Rotary Connection sample? The form of the song was unique, for it wasn’t just 16 bars and a chorus. It was 8-bars, but not spoken in the typical hip-hop way, it was almost as if Q-Tip had written a message and wanted to pass it along to someone. Let’s also not forget that for the single and video version, the word “prophylactics” had to be reversed for fear that it may be offensive to some listeners. It was still a few years away from someone like Ludacris rapping about licking women from their head to their toes, but that’s the state of radio in 1990.

    a tribe called quest_bonita applebum by stillhiphop

    The third single was for “Can I Kick It”, which arrived in the form of a remix that I felt was better than the album version due to a funkier groove courtesy of added samples. The video featured Trugoy and Posdnuos of De La Soul showing the gathering of the tribe, but perhaps more importantly, it was also the first video to highlight the power of Phife Dawg, which would show that ATCQ had two core voices to pay attention to, that it was not just a Q-Tip venture. You may also see Juju of The Beatnuts in this video too.

    A Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It by jekyllah

    Three solid singles was more than enough to make this album huge but perhaps people weren’t ready for Tribe just yet, or maybe they were overwhelmed. People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm began with the sound of a baby crying, the birth of Tribe, and “Push It Along” has Q-Tip and Phife getting into the boom, the bip, and then the boom bip as they define what they’re about and what they plan on doing. That leads to Jarobi the navigator getting us where we are in the album in order to understand the listening process.

    When the album got to “After Hours” and I caught the Richard Pryor album, I knew I was going to fall in love with the album and this group. It may come off like an underground album on purpose, maybe because it sounds like it was recorded in a basement, just as it seemed like Prince Paul produced 3 Feet High And Rising in the shed where the lawnmower is. While “After Hours” generally represents what happens after a show or after a business closes, the song gets into the activities that one should do before the sun rises, as if they’re hanging out near a bakery, smelling bread as they’re talking about the basketball song they watched the night before as they’re listening for the frogs in the back alley. Organic? Perhaps. Then the sun comes up.

    “Youthful Expression” is a song with zest despite the fact Q-Tip sounds like he just woke up, at least to me he did. But it’s a laid back voice placed over a funky jazz sample complete with a Hammond B-3 feel where Tip highlights the fact he’s a member of the Zulu Nation and wherever he goes, it is an eternal gestapo.

    We then hear Prince Paul speak in the incredibly funky “Rhythm”, which I love from the distinct sound of the snare to the kiddie sample taking from a Funkadelic song, the whispering and a reference to the soul makossa. The song also has a hook which is simple: “I got the rhythm, you got the rhythm”, which means the rhythm they share is for one and all, feel free to share and celebrate it.

    On vinyl, the album ends with “Ham’N’Eggs” but the cassette and CD ends with the amazing “Go Ahead In The Rain”, which I immediately got into because of the Jimi Hendrix Experience sample before it gets into a bit of the slide (Slave’s “Son Of Slide”) and excellent use of the applause from Maze featuring Frankie Beverly”s “Joy And Pain”, specifically the live version on Live In New Orleans)

    Now if we want to get technical, the CD ends with what was A Tribe Called Quest’s first single, “Description Of A Fool”. Now, I caught the Sly & The Family Stone sample immediately and the slight reference to The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” but it sounded nothing like the rest of the album, or what preceded the music. It truly sounded like a jungle, or that I was about to get back to the parking lot or perhaps I was heading into the jungle for that quest and meet up with Maseo somewhere, I don’t know. I think what I liked more than anything about “Description Of A Fool” is that despite that it sounds out of place with the rest of the album (and on purpose), it was nice to hear a set of music where each song didn’t sound like what came before or what was to come after, which was part of the hip-hop norm back then.

    There wasn’t a concept for People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm, the listener meant to listen to it and kick back. We were listening to each path, trying to understand each venture and move forward, as we all do in everyday life. But what a venture it was, with much more adventures to come. For me, the album was solid from start to finish and sure, there were moments that seemed a bit too clumsy despite it being a way for them to deliver an important philosophy or two (i.e. “Ham’N’Eggs”) but the music was strong and we were in a city full of wonder. Look at the cartoon cover and one may be able to say it’s a continuation of the path of friends seen on the cover for War’s The World Is A Ghetto.
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    We love our homes and neigborhoods, be it our apartment or house, and the people and characters surrounding it, but we all have to use our feet to get on the road and find new places to travel, and rhythm is often the way to broader and brighter discoveries. Occasionally, as Q-Tip said in “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”, there is no fear if we gotta go back.

    DUST IT OFF: Method Man’s “Tical”…20 years later

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    When Method Man released his first solo album 20 years ago today, no one could comprehend what the group were about to do. Method Man’s Tical was a statement from the man who had his own song within the Wu-Tang Clan, so it seemed natural for him to drop a solo album. It was an album not released as a way to say he’s no longer in the Wu-Tang anymore, he was still part of the collective. However, the group had established earlier in the year that each member of the group will release their own solo albums. Groups like the X-Clan and Digital Underground came close to accomplishing this, and it was great to be able to buy music from Raw Fusion, Isis, Gold Money, or Queen Mother Rage, but this was planned on being bigger.

    For me, it reminded me of what Kiss did in 1978, when I walked into DJ’s Sound City in Ala Moana Shopping Center and saw an album each from Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter staring at me, and me staring in awe. It reminded me of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The Beatles had become very successful as solo artists. Now, it was being considered for a hip-hop group, but would it work? We would see.

    If the idea of everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan releasing a solo album didn’t sound insane, hearing that they’d each have their own contract on different labels seemed insane, if not a logistical nightmare. The Wu-Tang Clan were signed to LOUD Records, distributed through RCA Records. Method Man was signed to Def Jam, one of the biggest and most influential hip-hop labels. A few months before, The RZA presented himself as a member of Gravediggaz, which featured Prince Paul, Fruitkwan of Stetsasonic, and Too Poetic. It was essentially the Tommy Boy Records All-Stars, or with the exception of Prince Paul, Tommy Boy Non-Stars. The idea of three rappers and a producer/DJ doing an album with horror-themed songs seemed a bit bizarre, but anyone who knew and loved hip-hop backed then knew that the best music was all about witty lyricism, and this one measured up. We now knew that if The RZA could present himself as a member of two groups, then Method Man’s solo album would be awesome.

    Time has not treated this album nicely in the sense that when it comes to all of Wu-Tang’s solo albums, or at least one of the first batch of solo albums they released, it doesn’t get treated as well as Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, The Genius’ Liquid Sword (which was actually his second album, but the first post-Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), Ghostface Killah’s Ironman or even Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers. In my opinion, it is one of the best solo albums the Wu ever released, and I consider it an important album because not only was it the first, but because the music sounds incredible. If the Wu-Tang Clan were known for their “Miracle On Dirty 4 Beats”, this one as dirty and dingy as a basement that hasn’t seen Pine Sol in ages.

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    Like Enter The Wu-Tang, Tical was not a conceptual album nor did it have a continuous theme, it just sounded like a bunch of random songs sequenced in a way that made each song stand out. We got to know some of Meth’s own steez from Wu’s album and now fans were going to enter his world, to discover what made him tick. The title track let us know what tical was about because he smoked it. A lot.

    “Biscuits” showed his sense of humor with this song, or at least I felt with talking about putting down people who came off as fake. What I loved about the song was his he interpolated “Just An Echo In the Valley”, which I heard in an episode of The Little Rascals as a kid but I also knew it as being part of a Hawaiian song by the Ho’opi’i Brothers called “Ei Nei”. I thought “wait, he just sang a Hawaiian song?”

    It then moves into Meth’s first solo hit, the awesome “Bring The Pain”, where we are allowed to go into his astroplane. It comes off briefly as a glossary entry of what Method Man is about before he tells us that he’s totally crossed out like Kris Kross.

    Six months before it was released as the album’s third single, “All I Need” was already a personal favorite as it was arranged in a way that sounded differently. That was partially because there was a prepared chorus for it, although “Bring The Pain” also had a chorus of sorts too. On the album version, “All I Need” didn’t have a Motown song steering it nor did it have Mary J. Blige singing the chorus, but it still showed back then that Method Man was still live and direct from the 160, keeping things and himself and check before they decided to branch out.

    “What The Blood Clot” begins with a sample The RZA used in the Gravediggaz “Diary Of A Madman”, and for me I thought perhaps that he would be using a bit of musical continuity from this point forward. He did not, but Meth spoke on how less impressive people would not matter to him because he’s about “36 chambers of headbanger, bitch.” At this point, it was obvious that this was very much about Method Man’s world, which was different when Raekwon released his album on July 31, 1995, which was said to have planned as Wu-Tang’s second album before it became a Raekwon and Ghostface effort.

    While The RZA was heard in the song before, we formally hear Raekwon in the duet “battle”, “Meth vs. Chef”, and I know I wasn’t the only one who had hoped there would be future battles on later albums. At least Ol’ Dirty and The Genius did the song title to themselves in “Damage”, I was ready for Rebel INS vs. Masta Killa or something. Even though this was not a conceptual or album with a running theme, there was a unified vibe with this album, and that’s probably due to the energy created by The RZA’s productions and the lyrics that Meth wrote for his verses. As he said in the song before, “we can all get high if we unify”, so perhaps something was in mind when he wrote that.

    With help from producer 4th Disciple, The RZA helped to organize the low-end “Sub-Crazy”, which sounded a bit off-kilter, or at least like a song Meth had vocalized in the studio when he and everyone else was super high. Method still retains mentioning more pop culture references, and what I also love about this song was that there are no hard drum samples. It still has a sense of a rhythm but the lack of solid drums makes it stick out beautifully. It was now time to flip the album over to Side 2.

  • “Release Yo Delf” became Tical‘s second single and begins with Blue Raspberry’s strong vocals and a drum sample in your face, with horns that sounded like something pulled from a Rocky soundtrack but ended up being a thrift store gem, Herb Alpert’s “The Treasure Of San Miguel”, proving that DJ Mark The 45 King was not the only one who could master horn samples. As far as my favorite line in this, it remains “shit’s gettin’ deep in here, I mean thick/n****s lookin’ all in my face like they want dick“. I also loved the censored/radio edit of this song, for the word “dick” was replaced with a nice thud.

    Carlton Fisk was the first non-Wu-Tang Clan member to make his presence known on a Wu-fam project (outside of Miss Raspberry) so his presence on “P.L.O. Style” was not only valued but a proud moment, still showing what it was like to be “within the fam” but to see how Meth could work with others outside of the Clan proper. What I loved about this song is not only the slowed sample, but how the end of one of those samples stutters for a few more bars to make it sound like someone is popping a car horn. Also: the use of chimes that are common on read-along books in order to turn the page while listening, that was a perfect touch.

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    I loved “I Get My Thang in Action” because it starts with a kung fu dialogue sample but also because the song was influenced by an old Schoolhouse Rock song “Verb”. In this case, the song sounded funky and should have been released a single, perhaps one that could’ve worked better on fans than “Bring The Pain”.

    The killer bees return to make their presence known in “Mr. Sandman”, a track featuring The RZA doodling almost in Rzarector mode and Raspberry caressing the tune with her harmonies. The man that makes this song his is Inspectah Deck with a verse that could’ve easily become its own song, although Meth’s Lovin’ Spoonful interpolation of “Summer In The City” is quite nice too. Second Wu-fam contribution comes from Streetlife.

    The intro to “Stimulation” pretty much sounds like it’s preparing to land back home, with a drum sample that sounds reminiscent of “Method Man”. What truly takes this song home is the string sample. Due to how it was mixed, it sounds like something from the 1930’s or 40’s but it ended up being “Snowbound” by Sarah Vaughan, arranged and conducted by Don Costa, who may be known more today as being the father of singer Nikka Costa. What also works about the last third of “Stimulation” is that it sounds like everyone in the studio was extremely high and ready to wrap this project up, even though this may have been the first song recorded for it.

    The man closes with what was originally released as a Wu-Tang Clan track as a B-side to “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”. It now becomes a Method Man song but still remains its “remix” status. He gets down with his southpaw, tells everyone that he took 1, added 7 more and then he 8 up. What makes this one work is that the piano sample heard in the original “Method Man” song sounds filtered in an effect that makes it come off like it was coming through underwater. Horn samples are chopped and almost made indecipherable, as if The RZA wanted to make sure to keep things gritty and everyone in check. It still sounds “under construction”, almost as raw as the first Wu-Tang Clan before he became too digital and started cleaning up his production techniques.

    Tical works perfectly because the album is under 45 minutes. Not too short, not too long, no interludes, no B.S. While there are a small handful of appearances throughout the album, you get a sense that this is as Method Man project because Meth is the dominant voice, no one is barging in verses or ruining song with background yelling. This was not for the 85 who didn’t have a clue, it was very much for those who understood the music, the recipes, and the elements the Wu-Tang Clan wanted to spread around the world, merely by opening the chambers and showing what were once secrets. Looking back, maybe she should not have opened up the doors so wide. At this stage in their master plan, the Wu-Tang Clan were still together and thinking not only to show individual dominance but also brothers of hip-hop who were thinking of a master plan in order to be paid in full. At least in the process, they didn’t lose their sense of making music for the betterment of hip-hop. Four months later, Ol’ Dirty Bastard would release his solo album, the first of three solo joints from the group, and it made a lot of fans happy, excited, and anxious at the same time. No one, not including Meth, could have predicted how their lives were changing but twenty years ago, it was officially the start of their dreams becoming reality, but also the start of their grand empire slowly falling apart. For the time being, Wu-ness was good, with the album going to the top of the Billboard R&B Album chart and going as high as #4 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.

  • DUST IT OFF: Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome To The PleasureDome”… 30 years later

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    To say that Welcome To The PleasureDome (Zang Tuum Tumb) saved my life in a small way is putting it lightly, or perhaps the statement in itself is a bit too boastful, a bit too grandiose. Looking back, the music on the debut album by Frankie Goes To Hollywood did pull me put during a time in my life when I was wondering what was going on, unsure of where to go and what to do next, despite the fact my circumstances were fairly small. Looking back, it helped put me on a path that gave me a focus when I felt I didn’t have it.

    Upon its release on October 29, 1984, I had been a FGTH fan for less than a year. I knew of “Relax” as it was one of the biggest UK singles of 1983. You could barely hear it on U.S. radio not because it was banned in the UK, but because U.S. radio stations didn’t feel it was hit worthy. With people like Prince and Madonna coming out with powerful American pop that year, something as insignificant as FGTH seemed like small news. Forget the fact that the group’s first two singles, “Relax” and “Two Tribes”, both went to #1 and it seemed the U.S. didn’t care too much. They were mentioned a bit on MTV as the next big thing, someone following the likes of Duran Duran and Culture Club but the group were stuck between overhype and underwhelming. Some felt they were going to be one-hit wonders, forget the fact that at the time “Relax” hadn’t been an American hit yet. It would take three tries from Island Records until “Relax” finally caught on to American eras and by then, FGTH had already gained four hit singles and a fairly successful album. To most Americans, Welcome To PleasureDome was a confusing slab of wax to some buyers, as a few wondered if the album was just nothing but hits and a whole lot of filler, or just two slabs of waste. The album went as high as #1 in England and New Zealand and would gain #10 status around the world, with the exception of the U.S., where it went as high as #33 on Billboard’s Album Chart. Was it too much too soon, or did people not understand or want to get it?

    Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a mixture of superhype from the Zang Tuum Tumb empire, which also included a number of myths and truths. Part of this seemed to be too overwhelming for a group who, for some, were nothing more than two gay singers and three straight lads, and unlike Duran Duran, where people got to know Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and the three Taylors, perhaps it was hard to grasp onto the semi-legends that were Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Mark O’Toole, Brian Nash, and Peter O’Toole. Maybe it was hard to grasp because of their producer, Trevor Horn. Horn already had massive success in 1983 and 1984 with Yes’ comeback album 90125, reviving the career of a formerly-dead progressive rock band and made them 80’s pop superstars. Horn also produced music by ABC and also was one-fifth of the function that was Art Of Noise, whose production and creativity essentially paved the way for much of England’s music in the early 80’s and the rest of the decade. It seemed that at the end of the day, what exactly was Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who was the real group and who really made the music?

    Regardless of the correct answers, it was a unified structure. The group were fronted by two singers, the lead vocalist being Johnson. The band definitely played their own instruments, although half of their musicianship was mixed in with sounds created by Horn’s production team, which included Art Of Noise and a number of side musicians. In a way, it was not unlike Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and Michael Jackson’s Thriller where the headliner was backed by “a cast of millions” in order to achieve a powerful sound. However, with a group that were solely known for hit singles and steered as hit makers, how could they come up with an album? Fortunately, they did.

    Side 1 (Side “F”) began with a dramatic and operatic introduction, the start of the show before going into a delicate acoustic piece, backed by keyboards. Eventually, we formerly enter the pleasuredome, with natural sounds and a stream of water. While the cover art showed the illustrated group offering subliminal innuendo and a gatefold that didn’t leave much to the imagination, it was a way to want to know what the pleasuredome was. After a build up of two and a half minutes, a synthesized voice says “welcome to the pleasure…dome” and the wall of keyboards, the funky bass and the powerful drums began their jungle call. The pleasuredome was not only sexual, it was very much erotic, it was playful, joyful, it sounded like a place you wanted to enter and never escape. The drum pattern made things sound energetic while the guitar gave the atmosphere its funk, as if it showed the influence of Chic. The tribal chants saying “OOH HA!” could be hypnotic if you allowed it to, it was the pleasuredome’s heartbeat, its heart of noise, and while the song told about its path to the inevitable destination, Johnson and Rutherford would continue to say this place was a “long way from home”, but how far would one have to go? The songs pace barely slowed down and while it did stop at one point, it was only temporary. It was a bit of a marathon, a heated endurance test of a sexual nature, and you wanted to feel every sensation. When the female singers (uncredited) begin singing “shooting stops never stop, even when they reach the top”, the gospel element enters as if the group wanted to bring or reveal a hint of disco to their world, or wanting to bring them onto their trip to the pleasuredome. It builds and builds until the ladies sing “there goes a supernova, what a pushover” and then it leads to a powerful “YEAH!” that holds for a few seconds until it heads to an exhausting “wooo!” All you wanted to do was dance and jump, gyrate and feel every pulse of the rhythm, even if you didn’t know what the rhythm was doing to you. The instrumentation slowly quiets and Johnson is only heard singing “the world…is my oyster”, followed by sinister laughter. His voice gradually slows down until it is realized he is the leader of the show, and we’re allowed to stay for the next 45 minutes.

    Side 2 (Side G) was a chance for the group to highlight the hits and then some. As their singles in a number of different formats, it was a way to hear their songs in different mixes than what was previously released. “Relax” was the release of the album, or that what you wanted to hold back from until you could release your energy to a place known or unknown. “War”, their cover of the Edwin Starr classic, was a non-LP track on the “Two Tribes” single and found a place to talk about peace, politics, what it meant and if it really has any place in the world, or if it should matter when there are better things to be concerned about. The side formally ends with a new mix of “Two Tribes”, which barely got any attention in the United States except for the video, due to the feud between the fake President Ronald Reagan and the fake Russian leader Konstantin Chernenko. People were more into the theatrics than the song itself, even though the songs was incredibly funky and equally as theatric, if not more.

    The side properly ends with a segment that is common throughout the album: taking from the multitracks from other songs, isolating them and using them to create something else. While not credited on the album, it’s the Russian orchestral portion from “Two Tribes” featuring a voice talking about penetration and orgasm. It may not have related to what “Two Tribes” was actually about, or perhaps it was a way to combine love and war, or love and hate.

    Side 3 (Side T) was the beginning of the second half of the album and while I never had a problem with it, I can see how some people may have played Welcome To The PleasureDome and asked themselves “what is this?” “Ferry (Go)” is a much shorter version of their cover of “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, the Gerry & The Pacemakers song that was originally on the “Relax” 12″ single. In this case, it’s just the vocal track from that song, added with an all new instrumental backing. Only the first verse is heard before a dialogue is heard. It then cuts into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”, fitting the boys and lads into tramps of the American dream. It may not have fit in with what Frankie Goes To Hollywood represented at this point, but maybe they were in love with Springsteen. It allowed the band to rock out a bit, complete with mean bass riffs from O’Toole and a grunting Johnson getting hot and bothered.

    This is followed with what may be the strangest cover on the album, and yet somehow fitting: Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”, simply titled “San Jose (The Way)”. The most interesting thing from this song is the bass riff that starts the song and is heard throughout the song. While O’Toole’s bass work is heard in the song before, the bass track isn’t O’Toole at all but a sample of Yes’ “City Of Love” from the 90125 album, played by Chris Squire and produced by Horn. I remember when I first heard this and wondered why it sounded familiar. Horn was already recycling himself, or perhaps it was the Art Of Noise production team wanting to dip into their own bag of sounds.

    The following song was one I wished FGTH and ZTT would’ve/should’ve released as a song, the funky “Wish (The Lads Were Here)”. The vibe and lyrics seemed energetic to me, and what I always loved was how the song changed tempo and style during the bridge, getting funky and into a dirty disco groove before driving itself back to the faster tempo it began with.

    This goes directly into “The Ballad Of 32”, a moody instrumental that comes off like a temporary instrumental or even a song of romance and sensuality, especially when the orgasmic moans are heard in the last half. Keyboard sounds from what sounds like “Relax” are heard here too, but the weirdest part is what sounds like a random phone conversation coming through the moans. What is being said, and what does it have to do with the moans? It had nothing to do with anything, or maybe it did and I didn’t know it?

  • Side 4 (Side H) is as varied as Side 3 and begins with one of the more powerful songs in FGTH’s discography, the suggestive “Krisco Kisses” with Johnson talking about loving like thunder and feeding his hunger. If the song was released in the 2000’s/2010’s it might have had the chance of becoming a hit but in 1984, it was a bit too suggestive, even with a group like FGTH who had a hit with the already-banned “Relax”.

    “Black Night White Light” was a mid-tempo song that almost borders on being a ballad, and had it been rearranged or rewritten with a stronger bridge and better last verse, it could have been a hit too. Johnson’s vocal track from “Two Tribes” are borrowed and used in the last third of the song as an accent but what also worked for me was Rutherford’s background vocals. That in itself could’ve helped the song become a hit, in the same way they showed on their next album with “Rage Hard”.

    “The Only Star In Heaven” is next and while I love the song too, I think what doesn’t make it work is that it sounds like an idea that doesn’t come to full fruition, like “Black Night, White Light”. In fact, on the album version, it ends cold before it reprises itself with another chorus segment from the multitracks. It sounds good but doesn’t work. I prefer the piano outro from the instrumental version on the alternate 12″ single, had that been attached to the end of the album mix, it could have worked wonders. Perhaps the somewhat confusing lyrics of “got to shake you tail to break away (FISH!)/got to shake you tail to make a wave (SHARK!)” made people question their motives, what did the oceanic metaphors have to do with anything. Then they get into a bit of Sun Ra inspiration with the “space is the place” reference, so they move from the ocean to the universe to going to Hollywood for something promising, but is it marriage, a dance, or something unknown. In a way, it comes off like a bunch of random ideas written on Post-It notes and turned into a song that goes nowhere. The chorus is great, but the rest of it I still question if I have to.

    The album’s last full song is “The Power Of Song”, FGTH’s third single that doubled as the band’s holiday single in late 1984, which became their third #1 song. It tied in with a religious-themed video, but the song in itself was powerful about the strength of the song title. With lyrics like “Love is the light scaring darkness away” and “make love your goal”, it was obvious to see how it could have double meaning with its spiritual video, which may have been nothing but promotional hype to get people aware of the song, but it worked. The string arrangement from Anne Dudley is beautiful and very much sounds like what she had done with Art Of Noise and “Moments In Love”, but much more grand. If Art Of Noise offered a mere moment, she helped FGTH to create a love power.

    The album ends with another extraction from the multitracks, this time the keyboard ending heard in “Ferry Cross The Mersey” but now mixed with the mock Ronald Reagan heard in different remixes of “Two Tribes” and “War”. This time, mock Reagan brings the album to a conclusion and states that after his voice, there will be “no more”. The end. Pure genius.

  • Some people may think sides 1 and 2 have a lot of incredible peaks while side 3 and 4 may have too many valleys, but I think the multi-levels heard in the second half of the album help to balance things, making sure that they weren’t afraid to release songs that didn’t have a message, even if its messages didn’t make sense. Even within the nonsense, the group knew how to have fun and by having musical assistance making sure it sounded good, Welcome To The PleasureDome is a wonderful masterpiece representing a land of make-believe that perhaps we could only have in our minds unless we knew how to find the dreams we all want and desire. If this was a way for the group to somehow construct their own myths and to create a specific Dionysian world, they succeeded. That persona of the group would go away when they followed it up with their second and final album, 1986’s Liverpool. It may have ended some of the mythical optimism of the early 80’s that allowed them to want better, even if the reality was not as positive as the dream. Yet for 64 minutes, that fantastic world in our dreams was indeed our oyster, and we could eat it if we were hungry enough to taste it all.
  • In the first year of release, the vinyl and cassette pressings of Welcome To The PleasureDome was the proper way to hear the album. A year after its release, ZTT released a compact disc version where the track order was different, some songs appearing in completely different mixes, while others were replaced with other songs. At a time when the CD format was slowly picking up an audience, the new version of Welcome To The PleasureDome may not have been the right idea for them. As the CD format started to dominate, that’s the way some fans were introduced to the album. It wouldn’t be until much later that a remastered CD pressing would duplicate the vinyl/cassette program and finally be available in the digital format.

  • DUST IT OFF: “Chicago 13″…35 years later

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    35 years after the release of Chicago 13, the public tends to look at the album differently than it originally did, but not in a wide sense. Fans of Chicago can be very divided over their friendliness towards the group, with fans loving the Terry Kath era, fans that don’t mind the pop craft that they engaged in in the second half of the 1970’s, and those who are not afraid to embrace the lush pop that lead them to radio and many hits throughout the 1980’s. Yet if there’s still an album that continues to make people question its existence, it’s Chicago 13.

    The band had replaced original guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath with Don “Donnie” Dacus, who seemed to look and embrace the feel of other pop stars of the era like Rex Smith and Leif Garrett. He had long blonde hair, so there were some who saw his youth and looks as something that was different from what Chicago had intended. Nonetheless, the man could sing and he could play a damn good guitar, and no one said anything when their 12th album, Hot Streets, gave the world hit songs like “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”. It was just new Chicago music, and by that point, original bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera was becoming the band’s primary face.

    What made Chicago 13 different was that Columbia Records decided to give the band a chance to film music videos for the songs, or what were called “promotional film clips” back then. There was no music video cable networks in 1979, so the only way you could see these film clips were on public access, in between movies on HBO (maybe), or at record stores which made a special section which involved nothing but a TV with the videos running continuously. Well, at least that’s how music videos were presented in the late 70’s in the U.S,. as England were utilizing music videos as part of a promotional tool for artists, songs, and albums. Here in the U.S., it was extra, if not strange, but Columbia Records were making an effort. The videos made were for the songs “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away”, and “Street Player”, and while the video seemed to get limited exposure on TV, it seemed people were not impressed by what the videos showed. “Must Have Been Crazy” showed the group jokingly lounge at home while a black cat caused terror wherever it walked. “Run Away” involved a master reel of tape going around Los Angeles as the band were practicing at a venue, while “Street Player” showed the inevitable performance. The videos showed a sense of humor that people didn’t expect from them, and perhaps it was way too strange for those who just played “Another Rainy Day In New York City” or “If You Leave Me Now” in front of their couches and fantasized all day.

    “Must Have Been Crazy” was Chicago 13 first single but fans didn’t seem to take to it, or more specifically, hearing Dacus take a lead vocal. Chicago were known not only for Cetera, but also pianist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Kath before he died in 1977. So who was this blonde guy singing… a Chicago song? People didn’t like the mood, or it didn’t catch on, or radio programmers felt it sounded different than what was going on the radio at the time, which was a whole lotta disco, or at least the last end of disco’s fame and (mis)fortune. Cetera did do background vocals in the song and could be heard in the last minute, but that was not enough. It also had a pleasant guitar solo from Dacus too so if radio tried to push it while a video made tried to let people know who Dacus was, it failed.

    “Run Away”, written by trombonist James Pankow, was a great song too, complete with a wicked solo from Dacus that now reminds me slightly of Toto’s Steve Lukather or Journey’s Neal Schon, as he plays throughout and including the fade. But since radio didn’t take to “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away” didn’t have a chance.

    As for “Street Player”, fans praise this song for its use as a primary sample in The Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)”. Released 15 years after the release of Chicago 13, The Bucketheads knew that the song and the album it came from were one of the band’s biggest failures, but the song was funky in its own right and managed to turn it around and bring it its rightful majestic power. “Street Player” was co-written by drummer Daniel Seraphine, detailing his life as a rough kid in Chicago who almost lived the life of a punk, had he not had music to turn his life around. Seraphine’s primary voice before the release of the song was his drums, playing amazingly in songs like “25 or 5 To 4”, “What’s This World Coming To” and of course their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man”, but this shined the spotlight on the drummer that most people tended to ignore, or at least not grab the light that Cetera, Lamm, Kath, Pankow, or the rest of the horn section had claimed over the years. The song also gave the spotlight for a solo to jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, identified by some of the man’s high pitched horn squeals to let everyone know he was in the studio. As Cetera sang “I’m a street player…and I’ll play you a song”, the band continued to play their disco groove, which got slightly Brazilian in feel, leading to two horn breaks in the second half. This then leads to another powerful guitar moment for Dacus, all before Cetera sings “street player, what you do, gotta make you groove” and the rest of the band are pumped in ecstasy, figuratively and literally. Ferguson comes back briefly before they all fade the song, running close to nine minutes. To be honest, it remains one of Chicago’s brightest moments and yet the band suffered in the same way The Rolling Stones did with “Miss You” and Kiss did with “I Was Made For Loving You”, in that once they were identified with something disco, they were dead. It would’ve been true had they not continued once the 1980’s started, but the bad luck streak told in the promotional film clips for Chicago 13 were essentially a bit of wishful thinking that, for a few years, they thought was a bit too close to home. Fortunately, Chicago were not ready for home base, at least not yet. Years later, when Chicago kicked Seraphine, one of the band’s founding members, out of the band, he had the last laugh when the “Street Player” sample helped him out significantly in the publishing department. Considering how many Chicago songs became hits, “Street Player” is the one that people know as a sample, even if they might not realize it is a Chicago song, primarily because of its no hit status.

    The rest of Chicago 13 had some great material, and with wonderful production from Phil Ramone, who also worked on Hot Streets with the band, the band couldn’t do any harm to their career. Chicago were worthy in 1978 and with “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”, they were alive and they returned. Songs like “Mama Take” (Cetera) and “Paradise Alley” (Lamm) showed that the group’s pop and jazz ways were as powerful as ever. Even saxophonists Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane even had a joint composition on the album with “Window Dreamin'”, so it seemed the group were spirited and ready to end the 1970’s on a high note.

    HBO did run a Chicago concert special in support of Chicago 13 and it was the perfect way for listeners to hear the classics from the group, along with a string of songs from the new album. One of the performances was another song written by Seraphine and David Wolinski, who also co-wrote “Street Player”. “Aloha Mama” hit me because here I am as a kid in Honolulu hearing one of my favorite bands sing one of my words. The song was built on a very nice jazzy groove, with a rhythm that is very funky, what would be called the Purdie Shuffle., in honor of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. You may recognize the drum rhythm from Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” or partly used in Toto’s “Rosanna”. The band were not only in jazz mode, but vocalist Cetera also put himself in jazz costume as well, crediting himself in the song as P.C. Moblee. The harmonies were perfect, the feel of the song was great, it had the right to be a hit had it been released as a single but that was not to be.

    Even longtime Chicago percussionist Laudir de Oliveira had his own song on the album, when he wrote “Life Is What It Is” with Marcos Valle. These days, we would call this type of laid back groove “yacht rock”, complete with added percussion from legendary musician Airto Moreira. The song is smooth, funky, exotic, and perfect to hear in any occasion. You could pop this song in a mix of songs by The Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise, and Kenny Loggins and no one would have said a thing. Cetera takes the lead with Dacus handling a few background harmonies and again, this song could have gained some AOL airplay had it been pushed in the right way.

    Sadly, Chicago 13 ended up being bad luck for the group. Music was great, singing was great, songwriting was up to par, and people were fed up with Chicago’s magical power. They were the kings of pop radio of the mid to late 70’s, they had enough. When the group followed it up with Chicago XIV, which brought the group to legendary producer Tom Dowd, it faired worse and they eventually left Columbia Records and moved to a new label. This would eventually lead to a new hit era for Chicago in the decade, and a style of music that didn’t please the earlier fans. It didn’t matter. Pop fans loved the new material and were pleased by the outcome. Chicago stayed on the charts, they sold millions of records, and that was that, even as they too would also bring in new vocalists (keyboardists Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin, the latter a founding member of Sons Of Champlin). Cetera eventually left, and Chicago moved on. However, the group became unfashionable in the 90’s and sales for new music started to drop a bit. Looking back, Chicago 13 was not a massive failure by any means, for it allowed the group to have ten more years of pop chart success, which meant hits. Sure, Chicago fans changed during this time but the album is feared because of that disco beast known as “Street Player”. They looked at the shining light from the 13th floor on the illustrated building with the Chicago logo on the cover and said “I’m not going there. Leave me out of that building now.” Guaranteed, those who discovered the album and found a liking to it all wanted to be on that building, realizing that if you don’t believe in superstitions, you can go further in life. The music on Chicago 13 definitely, in the words of “Street Player”, made you move and made you groove. On vinyl, it’s fairly easy to find at thrift stores because those who bought it have tossed it out, and covers with cut-out marks are plentiful but if you must, don’t ignore it. Play it and hear it from a band who did their best to survive in the game and while the public discarded it, they also did so without listening. It’s your time to listen.

    DUST IT OFF: Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique”…25 years later

    To say I’ve been waiting for this day to arrive is putting it lightly. When that Tuesday in 1989 happened, I went out to buy the album. I played it and did not know what to expect, even thought I had bought the Love American Style EP with “Hey Ladies” and “Shake Your Rump”. Once the album was over, I knew I would be around for 25 years to talk about its greatness. It would be too easy to say “its legacy” but that’s for others to decide. In the words of Phil Collins, I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life. I remember what I was like when I was 18: unsure of where my life would lead but I had good rap music to get me through. I wasn’t specifically thinking “what will I be writing about when I’m 43 years old?” Now here I am, and I’m able to look back 25 years in history, about to talk about what the Beastie Boys’ second album has meant to me.

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    The moment I first heard “Hey Ladies”, I knew that this was a special song. I recognized some of the samples as if it was a part of my musical upbringing. with The Commodores’ “Machine Gun” starting things off. I recognized Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and being a fan of 70’s rock, I definitely caught the “Ballroom Blitz” (Sweet) reference. I knew Roger’s “So Rough, So Rough” was in there. In the video version, I knoew that the funky Hammond B-3 came courtesy of “Hush” by Deep Purple. All of these sounds were an accumulation of goodness, but little did I know that this small dose of accumulation would become mere drops towards the recipe that would be Paul’s Boutique.

    When I first heard “To All The Girls”, I was sitting back, enjoying the funky laid back vibe and wondering what was about to happen. Then came “Shake Your Rump”, interrupting the song that opened the album and it was their way of saying “let’s begin… NOW!” I loved how solid the soundscape was, each sample was coming at a pace similar to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, and I loved the randomness of it all, at least at first. One sample followed one another, as if it was just thrown in for good measure, and it was almost too much to handle. In fact, it was too much to handle, but it felt like a massive musical orgasm, and yet it kept on getting better. I was thinking to myself “if this is not the climax, how is this album going to wrap up?” That would come, heh, later.

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t take to “Johnny Ryall” at first, although what I did take to was the wind that segued “Shake Your Rump” and “Johnny Ryall”. That was the wind that was a segue between Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days” and “A Pillow Of WInds”. With the Beastie Boys now signed to Capitol Records, I was also wondering if they were trying to be Beatlesque in some fashion. I wasn’t sure, but I wouldn’t have an answer until the end of the album. It would be years before I fully got into “Johnny Ryall”, that off-center guitar sample was a bit of a turn-off at first but once I got into it, I felt the song was an essential part of the record. However, I did love “Eggman”, enjoying the “Superfly” sample from Curtis Mayfield, along with brief glimpses of Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” (my favorite P.E. song). “High Plains Drifter” seemed like a new Beastie Boys to me, as they were talking about going somewhere to rob people, a topic they never really touched on with Licensed To Ill. Were the Beastie Boys trying to become a bit on the hardcore side a la N.W.A or Ice-T, or was this something else? I did catch the Loggins & Messina sample for “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and again, it was as if the album so far was having flashbacks of my childhood, but in a unique and (oddly) funky way.

    The first Beatles comparisons would happen with “The Sound Of Science”, when they were getting educational while rapping over “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which then lead to manipulations of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, and “The End”, throwing in Boogie Down Production’s “My Philosophy” for the hell of it, then squeezing in some James Brown at the right moment.

    The ping pong came that introduced “3-Minute Rule” seemed completely random, as if we were either listening to the guys in the studio or just… I don’t know, some backroom ping pong game happening. It was with this song that I started to take some of the lyrics to heart, as something that wasn’t just mere words to guffaw at. Ad Rock’s verse that closed the song hit me first:
    Are you experienced little girl
    I want to know what goes on in your little girl world
    Cause I’m on your mind, it’s hard to forget me
    I’ll take your pride for a ride if you let me

    MCA’s verse was very clever in a number of ways, and while the album did have a lyric sheet, the words were so small that it was difficult at times to go through it, yet we did, trying to go along with the stories they were telling us:
    It’s just two wheels and me the wind in my eyes
    The engine is the music and my nine’s by my side
    Cause you know Y. A. U. C. H.
    I’m takin’ all MC’s out in the place
    Takin’ life as it comes no fool am I
    I’m goin’ off gettin’ paid and I don’t ask why
    Playin’ beats on my box makin’ music for the many
    Know a lotta def girls that would do anything
    A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain
    I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan
    I smoke cheeba it helps me with my brain
    I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane

    Mike D.’s verse was very twisted in its own way, more puzzles and required deciphering but anyone who had ever rejected his wit before had to recommend it after his verse:
    I got lucky, I brought home a kitten
    Before I got busy I slipped on the mitten
    Can’t get better odds cause I’m a sure thing
    Proud Mary keeps on turning rolling like a Ring Ding
    Jump the turnstile never pay the toll
    Doo wa diddy bust with the pre-roll
    Customs jails me over an herb seed
    Don’t rat on your boy over some rat weed

    Did we want to know what the three-minute rule really was, or did it truly matter? Each Beastie had a minute to make an exchange before bailing out, and that was that. Then Side 1 ended with “Hey Ladies” and the album so far felt like a moving thing. What could Side 2 give us?

    Flipping the tape over (I bought the cassette of Paul’s Boutique first before I bought the CD and different vinyl pressings), Paul’s Boutique began with… a country song? Bluegrass? What the hell was going on? Ad Rock was talking about cooking up at a barbeque and everyone seemed like they were having a great time. It then cuts right into “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun”, which was incredibly funky too. I caught Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” sample when it happened. To me, the song had a slight “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” feel, which was the band’s metal-ish track from Licensed To Ill. This new song had powerful guitar and bass riffs, but are these samples or are they being played? We really wouldn’t know until they released a video for the song, featuring outtakes from the recording sessions.

    “Car Thief” was another laid back song, and what I had liked about Paul’s Boutique was that there were a number of laid back songs, where the music was at a lower tempo/BPM, samples influenced from different sources that might not be considered obvious choices. In fact, it was obvious that this album was not full of obvious sample choices. I could spot a few, but not each and every one, and as someone who was interested in knowing the song’s ingredients, I had to know more. The album, as it was customary back then, didn’t have sample credits, so it had to be a learning process. As a record collector, that meant hunting it down in real time, at real places. More on this later. What I also caught was a sample of Max Yasgur, the owner of the land whose farm became the backdrop for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair between August 15-18, 1969. As a kid who fell in love with the soundtrack album and movie for Woodstock, hearing that brief “I’m a farmer” sample made me excited. Why was that one second sample in there? Oh, because MCA didn’t buy weed, but he grew it because he was a farmer. Or so he said.

    I couldn’t get enough of this album, but then came the drums from Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” in “What Comes Around Goes Around”. Did I also hear Led Zep’s “How Many More Times” in there? I would later learn that the guitar riffs I was assuming were Led Zep was actually Alice Cooper’s “It’s Hot Tonight” from his 1977 album Lace and Whiskey, but I wouldn’t know this until much later. What I also loved in “What Comes Around” was the piano ample that didn’t say on tempo, it seemed to go slightly off center as it made its way close to the end of the bars.

    “Shadrach” was funky from start to finish, and at the time I wasn’t aware the main sample was done by Rose Royce, nor did I know the “hey” sample and the many other lyrics heard came courtesy of “Loose Booty” by Sly & The Family Stone. I was familiar with Sly and some of his albums but I hadn’t heard the Small Talk album yet. I knew it was one my auntie had in her collection, and I would eventually learn that if my auntie had certain albums I couldn’t find anywhere else, it might be really good. Eventually I borrowed that album and heard the samples in question. The song ends with a drum sample from the familiar “Funky Drummer” by James Brown before it is interrupted by a radio commercial for this clothing store. Did a clothing store called Paul’s Boutique actually exist? If it did, did it match with the photo of the store on the cover? It sounds Jamaican, was this store in Kingston and… no, the voice says you had to call 718-498-1043 and it was in Brooklyn. I said to myself that if this store really existed, I would have to go to Brooklyn to find it. Then the album would begin a slow ride home and eventually come on itself.

    While the Fat Boys were considered the first group to release a hip-hop concept album, no one had ever done a mini hip-hop opera before, in the same way The Beatles did with Side 2 of Abbey Road. Your typical hip-hop song was three to four minutes, longer if it was extended on the 12″ single. “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” came out of nowhere, a 12 1/2 minute song with nine mini-songs. Was it their version of Abbey Road, or were they pulling off A Who tactic and making their own A Quick One. What does a bouillabaisse from a B-boy consist of? It seemed to be a massive soup of different stories from different places, with different moods and textures, and just when I was able to get into one section of the song, it cuts off or ends and goes into another. The bouillabaisse became an adventure into itself, I tried to piece it together and see if all of it fit, or if there was some grand message being said? After repeated listens, it seemed like the full song was a day in the life of the Beastie Boys, starting off by getting dressed at “59 Chrystie Street” before they went throughout their afternoon. You also had a song that was in half (“Get On The Mic” and “Mike On The Mic”), and by the time it reached the end, you realized the Beastie Boys were either at their own concert or basement party, rocking the crowd for what felt like hours before they said “goodnight everybody”. Then the album ended where it began, as if it was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This album was dedicated to all of the girls, but you couldn’t helot that it was very much for all B-boys too.

    After the first time I played the album, I couldn’t believe what I just heard. It was an experience in hip-hop I had never heard before, not in that way. I understood some of the connections and the decoupage feel, but it felt as if there was much more. Did I truly know what the album meant, or was this going to be similar to those Russian dolls where one opened to find another to find another to find another? For me, with a love for knowing the samples I detected, Paul’s Boutique would eventually become a lifelong trek to discover each and every sound that constructed this masterpiece. Not only would I hunt down albums, compilations, and 45’s, but there were also times when I’d listen to a local AM radio station that played oldies songs and out of nowhere, as I’m sitting in the Alberton’s parking lot, I would say “THAT’S THAT SAMPLE! THE RECORD WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME THE ENTIRE TIME!” I have a friend in Arizona whom I’d correspond with through the mail and every few months, I’d write out a few songs I may have discovered since the last letter. It would be years before I jumped on the internet for the first time and even when I did, there was no WhoSampled, no TheBreaks, no Crates mailing list, no place named rec.music.hip-hop, I was on my own hunt and I wasn’t sure if it mattered. When I finally got into the internet, I learned there were many other Paul’s Boutique fans, also keeping track of samples too. When there was a Paul’s Boutique sample reference page, I noticed there were a number of songs not listed. I contributed a few, and my name is now a part of their database.

    I put together a Paul’s Boutique tribute album in 1999 for the 10th anniversary, which I originally was going to do in full but decided to ask for contributions from my online friends. With each other passing anniversary, I made sure to listen to the album from start to finish, as pilgrimage of some sort. I wanted to know more about the album, the photographs, the recording sessions, and even when there was a 33 1/3 book for it, I felt there still had to be more to learn. I want to see the tape session boxes, the track notes, anything and everything.

    To this day, I swear that I still hear myself in the album too. At the extreme beginning of “Dropping Names”. There is a brief sample of Ad Rock where he allegedly said “take PCP’. However, I used to be a radio DJ at a local high school station, and it sounds exactly like my voice back then. There is a funeral home here called the Bruce Lee Memorial Chapel, and my guess is that the Beastie Boys may have come here to take a look sometime in 1988, only to learn that the Bruce Lee in question was not the Chinese kung fu master, but an old white man. My guess is that if one of them turned on the radio, they discovered a radio station and with some small change, I happened to be on the air. Every time I hear “Dropping Names”, I hear what sounds like my voice saying “KTCV”, the radio station I was on. I’ve always wanted to get in touch with Ad Rock and say “hey, can you allow me to hear the multi-tracks of that song just so I can truly hear if it’s me or it’s really you.”

    Egos aside, Paul’s Boutique is an album that is part of an almighty trilogy that represents 15 months of incredible and highly influential music. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back began in April 1988, 3 Feet High And Rising came into play in March 1989, and the trilogy ended on July 25, 1989. The amount of music, knowledge, and education in these three albums are beyond what I can talk about in one article, it would require books. As someone who was a fan of the music, it was these three albums that made me realize that perhaps I could be a hip-hop producer too. All I had was cassette decks and a way with pause buttons, all I needed was the money to move and find my way to the recording studios in bigger cities and make myself known. I never got that chance, but the magic heard in these albums continue to influence me years later. With Paul’s Boutique, maybe it’s true that the boutique in question covers a time and place, an era of hip-hop that was slowly fading away. Upon its release, it was roughly 15 years away from its origins, and people were already worried about the integrity that existed. It’s a timepiece, a placard, a statement that the Beastie Boys said to say “this is where we came from, this is what moved us to become rappers, this is what made us, this is us as much as it is you.” All of us who lived back then, whether we were too young or showing age and maturity, either spent time in that boutique or wanted to find it, or something close to it. It was a dream place, or perhaps a place we still wanted but knew it was a part of history we could never return to. If the late 80’s lead to a moment where we wondered if this rap music would prove itself to be just a fad, Paul’s Boutique was the Beastie Boys’ and the Dust Brothers’ way of saying what they experienced, what they wanted to do, what they fantasized about, what they wanted to accomplish. It was the Dust Brothers’ ode to radio mixes, something you could only catch at 12midnight, if not between 3am to 6am. Rap music was what you had to seek and when you did, you were tired on your ass but you kept listening. Or if you fell asleep, you knew you had a cassette running on your boom box. In the end, Paul’s Boutique was Disneyland and even if it didn’t exist anymore, we could return to it for 53 minutes at a time.