Monday, December 12, 2005

Best MC Behind the Boards: Lord Finesse

Gaining pounds

Illegal "On Da Mic (Feat. AG and Lord Finesse)"
from The Untold Truth, 1993
DJ Cam: "Broadcasting Live (Lord Finesse Remix)"
from Abstract Manifesto, 1996
Peanut Butter Wolf: "Run the Line (Remix)"
from Definition of Ill, 2004 1998 (thx, Tired & Broke)

When the subject of "Best Producer on the Mic" comes up, names like Diamond D, RZA, and Large Pro tend to dominate the number one spot (no ghostwriters allowed...Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, and Kanye are automatically disqualified). Flip it around, and you've got a new list: The Best MC Behind the Boards. Producers who are primarily MCs that get busy with the SP are many, but few have become equally known for their production work. Lord Finesse's legacy is now equal parts memorable basslines and punchlines thanks to his work in and out of the DITC crew.

It's no secret that the funky technician laced the end tracks for both "Ready To Die" and "The Chronic 2000," or that practically half of Big L's "Lifestylez..." was his production work. But looking at it in retrospective, it's pretty amazing, particularly since the bulk of his production resume consists of one-off remixes for a ton of underground acts (see the discography).

Manifest Destiny serves up three lesser-heard Lord Finesse productions that represent the scope of his work. First up is the piece he did for kiddie-gangstaz Illegal. Rolling thick bassine, check. Fly horns sprinkled on the chorus, check. DITC ally on the guest spot? Check.

How great is Finesse's production work? Great enough to make even French rappers Channel Live sound nice. DJ Cam enlisted the work of the Bronx architect on his "Broadcasting Live" joint.

Finally, the Lord Finesse sticks to his audio blueprint on the remix of Peanut Butter Wolf's "Run the Line." I'll be the first to admit that I'm a rap nostalgist to the core, but this formula is essential DITC and rarely gets tired, even 10 years after its apex in the hip-hop soundscape.

Extrablogicular Reading
Lord Finesse's own production credits page
Diggin in the Japanese Crates: Vinyl Addicts incredible post about Japanese DITC exclusives

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Technical Difficulties

Please pardon the broken links everywhere while my audio and graphic server is undergoing a domain name change. Back in effect shortly...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Close But No Cigar: Daddy-O's Solo Debut

The original Rhymerator

Daddy-O: "Swung It, Blunted, Brung It"
Daddy-O: "Kid Capri"
Daddy-O: "Flowin In File"
from You Can Be A Daddy, But Never Daddy-O, 1993

The credentials were all there--founder of The Hip-Hop Band Stetsasonic, two classic albums under his belt ("Fire," and "In Full Gear"), countless production credits (Mary J. Blige, Junior MAFIA, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Queen Latifah), and piles of respect throughout the rap community--none other than Public Enemy credits Daddy-O for "lyrical inspiration." But when it came time for him to put together his debut album, let's just say the end product didn't live up to the name. Instead, the 1993 release was a muddy mix of ruffneck griminess that should have been left to the young ones coming up in the game at the time. I suppose that's the story of every aging rapper looking to make a mark on the charts well past his prime, and Daddy-O was no exception.

Lyrically, the album was kind of awkward with this originator imitating far lesser MC's in his delivery, growling through verses ("Swing It, Blunted, Brung It," or "Buc Buc Buk"). On the production tip, it's extraordinarily uneven, fluctuating between Atomic Dog samples and weird East-meets-West concoctions that results in an album that's impossible to listen to straight through. Three of the brighter spots on the album are served up in today's post.

Extrablogicular Reading
Daddy-O's ambitious Self Destruction 2 project from 2002 that never materialized (to my knowledge), in memoriam of Jam Master Jay's murder.
A to the L's interview from around the same time.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Manifest Destiny Celebrates: The Birth

Be a father, if not, why bother?

RZA: "The Birth"
from Birth of a Prince, 2003
RZA: "See the Joy"
from Birth of a Prince, 2003
AZ: "Whatever Happened (The Birth)"
from Pieces of a Man, 1998
Queen Latifah: "Mama Gave Birth to Soul Children (feat. De La Soul)"
from All Hail the Queen, 1989

Three RZA-related songs for the masses today, in celebration of my daughter's birth last week. And one bonus Native Tongue throwback for good measure.

Six weeks after dropping that last post, M Ceezy returns with a few clips in the chamber, so stay tuned. Special thanks to Hagus Shamus, the Black Irishman, for holding things down in my absence. Let's hope he continues to drop the drunken jewels. And of course a thanks goes out to all those patient readers who've kept this site bookmarked despite the lack of recent updates. Coming soon: EPMD remixes courtesy of Money Men$ch, a piece on the best MC behind the boards, the continuation of the Humor in Hip-Hop series, and much more.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Strictly Beats: Subterranean Instrumentals

The Ill Saint Presents

Rob Swift: "Rhythmic Wind"
Prince Paul: "One, Check, One"
Afrika Baby Bam: "NiteStalker"
from The Ill Saint Presents: Subterranean, Vol. 1, 1998

Been maaaad busy, as those readers who know me can well attest! Three truly underground hip-hop instrumentals from Wordsound Records' The Ill Saint Presents Subterranean Vol. 2. The most well-known releases from this label were the first edition of Prince Paul's classic Psychoanalysis, and MC Paul Barman's debut. Most other Wordsound records were less accessible, pushing the boundaries of hip-hop for better and for worse. Artists like Sensational (p.k.a. Torture from the Jungle Brothers' underappreciated J Beez With The Remedy) and Anti-Pop Consortium's M. Saayid found refuge in Wordsound's willingness to print up unorthodox hip-hop sounds that had zero potential for cross-over.

Rob Swift's "Rhythmic Wind" (insert gastrointestinal pun here) is a mellow, minimal instrumental designed for late nights in dark rooms. Prince Paul's "One, Check, One" is recognizable to those who picked up Paul's excellent Itstrumental, reappearing 8 years later as the basis for "It's a Stick Up." And lastly, Afrika Baby Bambaata contributes the upbeat "NiteStalker" that begs for some Mike G presence.

Special thanks goes out to Notes from a Different Kitchen, Vinyl Addicts, Pyramids to the Projects, Broken Language and The Broke BBoys for recommending Manifest Destiny to its readers.

Extrablogicular reading
Wordsound Store

Monday, August 08, 2005

Humor in Hip-Hop 1: Kwest Tha Madd Lad

This track is butter

Kwest Tha Madd Lad: "Lubrication (Safe Sex)"
Kwest Tha Madd Lad: "Lubrication (Unprotected)"
Kwest Tha Madd Lad: "Lubrication (Instrumental)"
from Lubrication 12" 1993

Biz Markie. Slick Rick. The Pharcyde. Redman. Ol Dirty. Devin the Dude. Humpty. Humor in hip-hop is one of the more neglected areas of lyrical craftsmanship in the 2000-era. Throughout the 80s and 90s, however, it was practically expected to hear rappers kick comedy routines like Slick Rick's "Indian Story," or EPMD's "Jane" saga...suffice to say, it was part of the standard repertoire of Skills. In 2005, true lyrical comedy seems few and far between, and the purpose of this series is to bring some of that ol humor back into the limelight.

First up: Kwest Tha Madd Lad's "Lubrication", with the Pete Rock sample anchoring the chorus. Kwest's debut on Def American was doomed to be his last; the cover depicts the rapper wearing only diapers and socks...the concept works for the logo (see above pic), but best not executed with live actors, much less with Kwest himself! And it's too bad because he proves himself to be a versatile MC, providing some classic laugh-out-loud moments, including "I Met My Baby at VIM" and "101 Things To Do While I'm With Your Girl". Dan Charnas laces three of the doper productions, and captures the trophy credit for the aforementioned cover concept.
I put my arm around her squeezed and shorty said, "Uh uh, please
You don't know me to touch, you might have some disease"
Ohhh, so now I look like I got somethin, stop frontin
on the skillz squally, you know I'm a little bumpkin
Do I look like I got gonoh-syphla-mydia phase III
Walkin round beggin people TO MAKE LOVE TO ME

The Safe Sex version's got some reworked lyrics compared to the Unprotected version, and the instrumental is simply...butter.

Question: What artists today are putting humorous verses to beats? Luda, Jay-Z ("Girls, Girls, Girls"), MURS ("Bad Man", "Trevor", etc), come to mind...who else should I be checking for? I'm talking about real funny shit...not G-Unit gangsta humor and little punchlines. What's The Pharcyde "Oh Shit" of 2005? "Looked at her shoes and her feets was real long..."

Extrablogicular Reading
"Lubrication" lyrics at
The Complete Discography at Werner VonWallenrod's Humble, Little Hip-Hop Site
Treat Williams *just* covered this like a week ago, with additional song downloads.
Fithy Choice asks, "Where Are They Now?"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Talk Strange Like Bjork: Stressed Out Remixes

ATCQ: "Stressed Out (Bjork's Married to the Mob Mix)" feat. Bjork
ATCQ: "Stressed Out (Bjork's Dandelions Mix)" feat. Faith Evans
ATCQ: "Stressed Out (Bjork's Say Dip Mix)" feat. Faith Evans
from Stressed Out 1996

This trio of remixes is definitely a different take on one of the stronger singles from Beats, Rhymes, and Life. Horns in hip-hop are nothing new, but the way Bjork drops in the fluttering woodwinds is unusual. The short "Married to the Mob Mix" is the most radical interpretation, layering a line from Phife over Bjork's emotive vocals with the drums subtracted from the equation.

"Dandelions Mix" is a step closer to convention, but remains interesting with the industrial soundscape around the 3:45 mark. And finally the "Say Dip" mix is clearly the result of Jive demanding a mainstream remix from Bjork; even so, the sax melody is a nice accompaniment to Faith's "someday we gon' make it" chorus.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Rap Oddity: The Rapsody

Black man, white woman, black baby

Xzibit: "E Lucean Le Stelle"
Puccini: "E Lucean Le Stelle (Reprise)"
Mobb Deep: "Nessun Dorma"
from The Rapsody Overture: Hip Hop Meets Classic 1997

Bonus Track
Bounty Killer: "Hip-Hopera ("Mr Punk")" feat. The Fugees
from My Xperience 1996

Rapsody: the sibling of Bushwick Bill's Rapera, or MTV's (or Volume 10's) Hip-Hopera. Will the mind-bogglingly clever wordplays on the melding of rap and classical (RAPsical, anyone?) music ever end? I could devote an entire post on analyzing the cover of this album, but instead lets focus on the music. This oddball import album that sported the Def Jam logo turned up in 1997 with an impressive tracklisting, featuring Xzibit, LL, Warren G, Redman, Onyx, Nikki D, Mobb Deep, and more. What really intrigued me, however, was the tagline "Hip-Hop Meets Classic," which implied the collision of hip-hop music with classic orchestral music. What the cover didn't mention was the wack European producer Klaus Voelkel stitching it all together with cheesy drum kits and synth sounds.

With that said, I present to you these rap oddities. Xzibit opens the album with a lyric reminiscent of "LA Times," and you have to wait til the chorus before the lilting oboe from Puccini's "E Lucean Le Stelle" solo appears. I wonder what Thayod, Havoc, or Warren G could've done with such a melancholic sample; in the hands of the German hip-hop hack, this album becomes a Frankenstein invention, neither hip-hop nor classical, but a grotesque and awkward union of the two.

"Nessun Dorma" (translated, "no one sleeps") is the gorgeous Puccini standard that Pavarotti is known to rip. On this album, it becomes an unwitting comic outro, as Havoc and Prodigy puff "spread it out," and "QBC!" over the orchestra warming up. When the actual beat drops, the production sounds straight out of an informercial, and the QB duo phone in their performances (can you blame them?). The operatic chorus appears briefly ("Vincero!!!!") following the first and only verse, and the listener can imagine what could have been: the combination of some of the most beautiful melodies that the world has ever known, mixed with the modern boom-bap. The concept still looks interesting on paper, but has yet to actually be executed by a producer who understands, respects, and has mastered both forms.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lost in the Shuffle: The UMC's

Undisputed Masters of Charisma

The UMC's: "Blue Cheese (Smooth Mix)"
The UMC's: "Blue Cheese (Instrumental)"
The UMC's: "Any Way the Wind Blows"
The UMC's: "Any Way the Wind Blows (Boom Mix)"

I was about to post these cuts off the Blue Cheese single, but O-Dub beat me to it, literally the same day. I gave it a few weeks to mellow out, and figured I may as well put em up here. Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists got it right: "Fruits of Nature" is one of the most slept-on rap albums of all time. The production by RNS throughout is the epitome of early-90's flavor, and their lyrics almost lived up to their acronym "Undisputed Masters of Charisma."

The pre-Wu Staten Island story has been told many times before, but the UMC's lack of success can't be blamed on the Wu-Tang Clan. Hass G and Kool Kim's whimsical approach had some appeal at the tail end of the Daisy Age, and by the time their sophomore album "Unleashed" came around, the entire East Coast rap scene had gone grimy. To make matters worse, the duo were on the Wild Pitch roster, then the poster child for rap labels you wouldn't want to be on ("you don't want to make a Pitch that's Wild"). In an interview I conducted with the UMC's back in '94, Hass's disappointment with his record label was not masked; when asked what the situation was over at Wild Pitch, he answered, "they are delete and void from my mind." In all fairness, their second album just wasn't very good, and their Ill Demonic Clique (read: weed carriers) were even worse.

Extrablogicular Reading UMC's posting
Review of "Fruits of Nature"
UMC's discography

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Dante is a Scrub?

Super scrub

Back in April I wrote a piece on the solid Long Island-based rap crew Hard 2 Obtain, and followed that article up with a related entry on Dante Ross. As with all Manifest Destiny posts, I do my best to provide readers with Extrablogicular Reading, and the H20 write-up had a link to a particularly scathing comment by Dante Ross. During his interview with Oliver Wang, Dante, looking especially scrub-like in the interview photo, replies to O-Dub: "...I never really liked [Hard 2 Obtain] either, I thought they were kind of wack actually and I kept saying that the whole time."

Fast-forward to July 14, 2005. DJ 67, aka Kevin Calhoun, aka Hard 2 Obtain's DJ, reads the Hard 2 Obtain post and comments with his side of the story. We have all laughed at the running "Dante is a scrub" joke, but this is no laughing matter. DJ 67 contends that Dante's taken credit for tracks that weren't his, suggests that internal SD50's politics weren't all gravy, and claims Hard 2 Obtain's weed-carrier status. And he's got some good points...who in the SD50's was really responsible for that soulful crate-digging flavor? Was Geeby Dajani the sole architect for such classics as "Step to the Rear" and "Pop Goes the Weasel," and who knows what else? Or is this the rant of an individual who learned #4080 the hard way? And last but not least, is Dante a scrub?

Extrablogicular Reading
DJ 67's comment on the Hard 2 Obtain posting
The Dante Ross interview that raised DJ 67's ire

Friday, July 01, 2005

Dusty Cassette: Maseo Mixes De La's Greatest

This is for all you De La heads out there

De La Soul: "Saturday (Ladies Night Decision) + WRMS remix"

Remix with new verses from Q-Tip, Dres, and all three Plugs. Also features many guests on the WRMS show that didn't appear on the original album version, including Kane, a special Bob Power moment, and reappearance from the biddies in the BK lounge. Not much to say here other than that this is a perfect mix for a summer Saturday. With or without rollerskates.

Special thanks to Selecta at 720 Records for this classic tape.

...Staring at my boob tube
Listen to the box for a new groove
If I don't hear it and then i get my spirit lifted
I sit and write a rhyme cause I am that gifted...

Listen....this is Dres from this group called Black Sheep
When I'm not returning bottles of Similak for nickel deposit
I'm rollerskating to the flavor of WRMS

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Can You Spell That Again, Please?: Thayod Ausar

Thayod who?

King Tee: "Free Style Ghetto (feat. Xzibit, MC Breeze, and the Alkaholiks)"
from IV Life 1994

Xzibit: "At The Speed of Life"
Xzibit: "Paparazzi"
Xzibit: "Carry the Weight (feat. Defari)"
from At the Speed of Life 1996

When Xzibit emerged from the Alkaholiks camp with his debut At the Speed of Life, his street philsophy was backed by the young producer Thayod Ausar on three stand-out tracks: the title song, the classic "Paparrazzi," and the autobiographical "Carry the Weight." The cinematic beats crafted with strong, haunting symphonic melodies and heavy reverb drums added age and wisdom to Xzibit, underscoring the sincerity and heart in his lyrics.

Two years earlier, in 1994, Thayod blessed the Likwit crew godfather King Tee with the "Mahogany"-laced "Free Style Ghetto" on the IV Life album, elevating a free-for-all posse cut to something timeless. Somehow, the dramatic, melancholy music added gravity to lyrics like "Footballs, basketballs, microphones, gas and grass / just some of the few things that J-Ro likes to pass." Can't help but to crack a smile at the contrast of the music and typical Alkaholik subject matter.

Only one song on Xzibit's 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz received the Thayod treatment, "Handle Your Business," and the orchestral backing was in full effect. Little did we know that it would be almost 6 years before we'd hear from Thayod Ausar again. He re-emerged with three production credits in 2004: the G-Unit banger "My Buddy," Lloyd Banks' "Warrior" and Xzibit's "Back 2 the Way It Was" from his WMD album. Of those three, only "My Buddy" possesses remnants of the chorus-inflected backdrops that became his early signature.

Extrablogicular reading
Discogs page