Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cartoon World 2

Come Tight And Original

Another Bizarro original. This time he presents us with a split mix tape, with side one featuring instrumentals and crew cuts, and half an albums worth of breaks on the b side. Wonderfully rough 4-track production and one-take freestyles are what to expect with this one. Crucial Legends material.

Cartoon World 2

Mind Sagas

Another Dirt Works Production

Bizarro's second tape is much like the first, only enhanced: Tighter tracks, more emcees, and better production. Several Legends show up to lend a hand, including the Grouch, Asop, Mystik Journeymen, Murs, and Eligh; as well as Japanese emcee Rino for a show-stealing verse. The high point for me on this great tape is the nearly-ten minute "The Epic", which is a meandering, sloppy, weeded crew cut, where nearly every participant falls off at least once. You've gotta love it. Check it out, it's another classic from the early days of the Living Legends.

Mind Sagas...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dirt Works

Dirt Works Intro
This is the rough-ass 4-track debut by Living Legends dejay/emcee/producer Bizarro (now known as Bicasso). With Arts and Craft he put down a fine example of the oldschool LL aesthetic (remember their slogan "4-track is king"?), as the album is filled with the signature murky vocals and stuttery beats that typified the old Legends sound. And that goes double for Bizarro's early dirt works. Mystik Journeyman PSC guests on one track, Nebulus produces a couple tracks, and two uncredited songs can be found at the end. But make no mistake, this is Bizarro's trip from beginning to end. To me this tape represents what Living Legends was all about in their heyday: independence, experimentation, and youthful exuberance. From 1997.

Arts and Craft

Jedi Knights Circle

Optimus Rhymes, Aura, Cosmic, Autoflo, Randy

JKC are a geographically expansive crew of emcees and producers, stretching from San Diego to San Francisco, and onward up into Oregon. They don't come together to do a crew album that often, so when it happens it demands attention. 2001's California is such an album. The beats here are what attracted me initially; they're trippy and relaxed, with dark, sci-fi and world music themes - which is a perfect match for the lyrical styles and subject matter that the Jedi Knights employ. Definitely worth checking out if you're into the whole LA2The Bay sound, and even if you aren't. 21 tracks deep.

California

By the way, for a bunch more JKC-related material, check out jediknightscircle.com and  Record Science!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

...Estuary

Dj 'D aka The Highlife Movement

Producer Dj D created this beautiful 4-track collage of field recordings, beats, vocal samples, and freestyles under the moniker The Highlife Movement on the Massmen Records label. Released during the underground hip hop explosion of the late 90s, this album is unique from the thousands of lo-fi records from that time both conceptually and creatively - not to mention musically. Although passionate voices are often heard on ...Estuary, the focus doesn't fall on them. Instead, they are only part of the the aural tapestry Dj 'D weaves with this record. He isn't interested in forcing his ideas on the listener; he's merely presenting his abstract art and letting them figure it out for themselves.
The sounds here flow and drift together, beats fade in and out, and sampled voices from Howard Zinn to Mike Tyson compete with freestyled verses from notable talents like Mikah 9, Lady Blue, Aceylone and Abstract Rude. 'D holds it all together masterfully, creating a cohesive unit from all these disparate parts through his signature pixelated loops, and through an impeccable sense of ebb and flow.
These are classic sounds. This album stands as yet another testament of the versatility and creativity evident during an incredibly fertile era of hip hop.

...Estuary

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

B=Bornday

The Mayor of Seattle
Vitamin D dropped this free ep on his birthday yesterday, making me feel like it was my birthday. This guy has been one of my heroes forever. Seriously, if you pay attention to Northwest hip hop at all, past or present, you know that it's all due to him. So happy bornday Derrick, and THANK YOU.

B=Bornday EP

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shhh - Baaaa: Sincere Like Love Notes and Deadly As Noose Chokes

Silas Blak and Jace Ecaj: The Mighty Silent Lambs

Few acts come out the gate as strong as the Silent Lambs Project did here. This debut EP from 1998, with the signature abstract, cerebral, and head-scratching poetry from Jace and Blak, devastates from beginning to end. But nothing else could have been expected by this duo. By the time this was released, both lyricists had been veterans of the scene for years - Jace as a part of Fourth Party, and Silas holding it down in Blind Council. But listening to this release, you'd think they'd been in the same group for ever. Both are foils to the other: Blak's delivery is edgy and filled with tension, while Jace's floats smoothly and effortlessly over the beat. The two deliver perfection like yin and yang.
Joining them on the various tracks are some of Seattle's top producers: Dj Sayeed from Black Anger/Bedroom Produksionz provides the title track and "SL Shit", King Otto's on deck for "Paid Poet", Mr. Supreme from the Conmen shows up for "No J R", and SpecsOne produced "Stand Over Him". Kendo from Black Anger also shows up on "Comrade".

Comrade 12"

PS, be sure to check out their current project with the incredible Felicia Loud, Black Stax. It's mind-blowing stuff.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the Air?

Originally posted by Will Johnsen over at The Musik Lounge:

TML Radio: Seattle Special

The show Saturday didn't record and it's a shame cause we had a special guest in. But Mr. Jack Devo of Bring That Beat Back hit me with some tunes and I put together a special Seattle edition of TML Radio for y'all! Featuring 10 tracks from Jack by artists in the town in the 90s and 10 (plus an extra remix) from me by the current crop of talent, we weave a story of Seattle Hip Hop then and now. Peruse the track list and get the podcast!

DOWNLOAD TML Radio: Seattle Special

Jake One ft. Kutfather "No Introdeezy"
The Good Sin, Young TH, JusMoni & Tay Sean "Turn You On"
The Flood "Purple Rollin"
J. Pinder & Spaceman "SXSW/CMJ"
The Silent Lambs Project "Comrade"
Grynch "Biological Didn't Bother 2010"
The Ghetto Children ft. Truth "I Wanna win"
Helladope ft. Isabella Du Graf "Gods on a Mission"
Elevators "Elevator Music"
Brainstorm "Blameyaself"
Source of Labor & Beyond Reality "SOLBR"
THEESatisfaction "Pause"
Black Anger Movement "206 Mix Tapes (Worldwide)"
Kung Foo Grip ft. Brothers From Another "Kids In The Mall"
Doublevision "My Pleasure"
State of the Artist ft. Helladope & Jarv Dee "Extrahelladope"
Phat Mob "Wrong Number"
Michael Dean "1day"
Sharpshooters "Trust No One"
Goodie Mob "Free (Astronomar Remix)"
Fresh Espresso "Vader Rap (OC Notes Remix)"

DOWNLOAD TML Radio: Seattle Special

Extraordinary Vandals

Used To Rock Sirs Hunted, Now We Just Fly Low Like Birds Blunted

The Ex Vandalz proved with this release that they are much more than just an offshoot of the Shape Shifters. In fact, for having such close affiliations with that eclectic crew, the Vandalz keep it remarkably down to earth. You won't hear any of Circus' conspiracy theories or alien abduction stories here; likewise, you won't hear any space-beats from Asmar or Transducer. This group is more interested in the oldchool subject matter. This is Beat Streat mixed with Wild Style to the Shifters' Close Encounters and Star Wars - The Ex Vandalz make it clear they are are only concerned with b-boying and graf writing.
Perk One, Mek One, and Bleek (three og Shifters and CBS writers), along a seemingly endless revolving-door cast of dope emcees and producers, make up the Ex Vandalz crew. Perk is the obvious nucleus here. His delivery is robust, loud and direct, and it's clear he sets the tone for the rest to follow. And it's due in large part to his endless ingenuity for classic references and fresh analogies to b-boy culture that makes the songs so successful. He's truly an artist that can paint pictures with his words. The Vandalz are joined on this release by a host of other capable lyricists, including Rakaa-Iriscience of Dilated, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, Ellay Khule, and various Shape Shifters. They all share space on this release with producers Meck, Dj Lime, Deeskee, Joe Dub and Avatar. With so many talented cooks in the mix, it means there isn't a dull moment to be found. It also makes it a great record. As a testament to that, when I first picked this up it didn't leave the player all summer.

Industry Standard

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nomad Da Nomadic

Sedated Thoughts


From 2000, this is the sophomore 12" by Seattle emcee Nomad da Nomadic. This is one of my personal favorites in the 206 section. Nomad is a Northwest cat through and through - his flow is heavy-footed and grimey, and his top notch beats on these three tracks (by Jake One, Bean One and Proh Mic) are mid-tempo, dusty and rough. There are no tricks here. No ironic raps in double-time, no clever pop-culture samples, no guests emcees to dilute what he has to say. Nomad delivers his message straight to your head in plain language. This release sums up what I love about the oldschool Northwest scene: In an era of hip hop known for its unchecked expansion and wild experimentation, this record remains understated, direct, and wholly refreshing because of it.

Sedated Thoughts 12"

Friday, March 19, 2010

From the Barrio With Love

Put the Dirty Hippy's Song Last.

This compilation from Darkroom Familia dropped in 95, and featured a selection of typical west coast gangsta indicative of the era. That's not saying anything negative about the music, except that a lot of it was going around at the time. However, tacked at the end of this six-song EP is an awkward, clunky, and very un-gangsterish track credited to OMD - Of Mexican Descent. Strangely enough, Xololanxinxo is nowhere to be heard, and 2Mex states at the beginning of the track that it's actually a Songodsuns song. So whatever. Either OMD or Songods, this is possibly the earliest official release by 2Mex.
No producer credits are available, but "Songs of the Big Sky" sounds suspiciously like it's using an Awol One beat.

From the Barrio EP

Monday, March 15, 2010

Noise Pollution

What You Need

Bay area king Young Joseph of San Francisco Street Music, aka Joe Dub, made this great tape back in '99. Noise Pollution is anything but what its name implies: For a 4-track production, this is a smooth release. Joe Dub's delivery is akin to a rubber band, loose and flexible, and his crate-digging beats have always been brilliant. Joe is joined by Alex 75 (also from SFSM) on many of the soulful beats, and he managed to assemble one of the best line-ups of lyricists any album could hope to offer. It's a testament to the esteem held for this producer/emcee that continues to this day. Abstract Rude, Neila, the Shape Shifters, Tommy V, Subtitle, and JESFSM, among others, all make their presence known here.One of many dope Joe Dub productions, and one of my all-time favorite west coast tapes.

Noise Pollution

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Record Players

Activate Your Innermost Happy Place

This is the second release, (as far as I know) by the LA2TheBay super-group Record Players. This short tape managed to collect together some legendary underground heads, from Hawaii to California to Arizona. If you know any of these artists you might correctly guess that this is some laid back, sunny hip hop. Good time music. Joe Dub's distinctive drawl is all over this release, and more than any other emcee he sets the tone for the rest of the Players to loosen up and stretch out lyrically over equally double-jointed beats from Deeskee, Da Golden Ray, Alex 75 and Joe.
This is an easy album to dig, not only because of the interplay of the talent involved, but because the music is just fun and light-hearted. They aren't trying to write the underground hip hop manifesto or anything. As far as the previously-mentioned talent, I'll remember this album as a jumping-off point for me, as it helped me discover some great artists out there (most notably Joe Dub's old crew San Francisco Street Music, and Maleko, who has some great output both as a solo artist and as a current member of the Jedi Knights Circle). Maybe it will do the same for you. This release has Seven full tracks, an intro, and two instrumental tracks not included on the expanded "Direct Drive" album from a couple years later.

Two Thousand and One

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maroon Colony

Dayz Like This
Here's another one I don't know anything about. I bought this back in '98 or '99, when I was picking up everything I could find from the 206. And what I heard when I put this album by the nine-member Maroon Colony was definitely pleasing to the ear: Accomplished musicians creating some awesome, jazz-infected hip hop to accompany four very talented emcees. I would compare them to the Roots, musically. Ev, Josh, Ken, Drew, and Van manage to play some lively, groovy, and sometimes psychedelic music, while keeping it uncluttered enough for Krisys (AKA Khalil Crisis, AKA Khingz), Mensah, Weapon X and Sunspot (NOT Sunspot Jonz) to lay down some lyrical density. The emcees evoke a decidedly west coast vibe (and by west coast I mean Cali), which is surprising since a lot of what came out of Seattle back then seemed to borrow a lot from the more rugged east coast sound. I always regretted not seeing this group live, because you can tell from this album that a show by the Colony would have been heat. However, the energy of a dope live show doesn't always translate smoothly to tape, and that is unfortunately the case here. But don't let that deter you, as this is some classic creativity by a group of talented artists. Vitamin D guests on the hidden track at the end.

Dayz Like This

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shit's Stranger Than Science

The Youth of Today

Continuing on with the Shape Shifters thang... Sorry, I've been waiting for the right moment to unleash my nerditude regarding this crew for quite some time...Planet of the Shapes shares much of the same madness apparent with it's successor Know Future. The science fiction and conspiracy theories are as present as ever, complete with appropriate sonic backdrop - the cheezy horror movie samples, the weird sound effects, and the devolutions into white noise and incomprehensible radio transmissions - and Circus is again very much at the helm of this starship. In fact the only noticeable difference between this album and Know Future is that Planet of the Shapes isn't crawling with as many lyricists. Yes, as weird as it sounds, the Shape Shifters keep pretty much to themselves on this one. (Which is an absurd statement, as the 'Shifters have traditionally had an ever-shifting [no pun intended] line up. At one point, Circus said that all you need to be a Shape Shifter is to give him 20 bucks... )
But it's true, Planet is a surprisingly insular project. Circus is joined lyrically by fellow 'Shifters Mek, Radioinactive, Shumagorath, Awol One, Die, Akuma, and Transducer, with the only guests being Nonaim and Himnal from Darkleaf (which is Shumagorath's old crew, for those who need to know). But don't let that lead you to believe that this record is any more cohesive than Know Future. Believe you me, this is just as crazy as that record, which is quite an accomplishment. Together, Planet of the Shapes and Know Future (as well as Gangstahz Fo Gawd and Four Eyed Mortalz) represent to the fullest what I consider the great, lost Shape Shifters sound.



Planet of the Shapes


Diablos Y Brujas

The Real Underworld


This second installment from the Three Eyed Cowz is a looser, more inebriated, and darker record than The Evil Cow Burger. Although the album is credited to Awol One and Dj Esp, and although there are numerous guests, Awol sounds totally alone on this one. Throughout the record, he raps like he's whispering drunken freestyles from the corner of his room in the middle of the night, afraid to wake his family up. Listen to his muted delivery on "Freestyles Alike Twice Removed", or the exhaustion present in his voice on "Perfection On Lies." Then there's the grittiness and realism portrayed on "The Real Underworld" and "Permanent Paradice". Even the instrumental tracks are distant, cold, and ominous.
It's due to this dark quality that makes Four Eyed Mortalz my favorite Awol One record. His delivery has always been tired and world-weary, and the sympathetic tone of this record does nothing but enhance that vibe. He's never sounded more at home than with ESP's empty, backwards murky bass guitar on "Perfection On Lies", or buried amid the distortion on the hideously-recorded "2:00 AM Live!". His freestyle on "Weeds Are Bloomin" meanders, flounders, and almost derails; but it's a perfect fit for the mood of the record. Deliberately, this music isn't designed to rock the crowd. This is for afterwords, when the party's over and you're back home and the drugs are wearing off. It's the perfect lonely album from an artist who calls himself the 1,000 year old emcee.

Four Eyed Mortalz

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Circus Fo' Dictator

Gangsta-Size Me

Anticon producer Odd Nosdam leaked these five tracks from an aborted 2004 album by Shape Shifters ringleader Circus some time last year. If these tracks are any indication of what the album would have been like, it's a shame indeed that the album was never finished. Circus sounds more lively than he did on Gawd Bless the Faceless Cowards (and less like Curtis Blow), and his past penchant for combining self-depreciating humor with social commentary is back in full swing. According to someone on yootoob (an authority on definitive information, I know) Circus is sitting on additional finished tracks. Let's hope he chooses to release them some day. It's been years since we've heard anything new from Kid Zelda, and these tracks are seriously some of most refreshing solo works from the 'Shifter camp out there - if you can get past the isolated misogyny that is :(.

Circus/Nosdam

The Evil Cow Burger

The Legendary Three Eyed Cowz
I think I'm going to run with the Shape Shifters theme for a while...
This tape has been circulating online for ever, but I have my reasons for posting it here anyway. For one, before this whole file sharing thing got out of hand, the Three Eyed Cowz tape was a coveted and much sought-after piece of west coast rareness. I remember feeling a deep, deep sorrow when I missed bidding on a copy that turned up on ee bay back in the day.
Another reason I'm posting this is because the version that's been circulating has a disclaimer saying that it's missing a handful of tracks. Well, the version I'm posting has those tracks - but before you get too excited, know that those tracks were always present on the online version, just tacked onto other tracks. All I've done is separate them. Also, these missing tracks are just vocal snippets from various folks, so no actual "songs".
However, the main reason I'm posting this is because it's just a great tape. It has everything you'd want in a classic underground album - rough beats and rhymes, posse cuts, tape hiss, and more tape hiss. The Shape Shifters of course represent, along with EX2, OMD, Tommy V of Imprints, Gasia of Acid Reign, Danu of the Visionaries, and Jizzm of Kali 9. Massive aka Mass Dog and Ab Rude also drop in on the afore-mentioned vocal snippets.
It's a shame that Awol never rereleased this, because people would have eaten it up. As it was, it dropped just before the whole LA Project Blowed explosion, so a lot of us missed out on it. So for those of you who haven't yet pulled this down, now's your chance!

The Evil Cow Burger

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zumthing Different

Rock Der Planet

Request... Here is one of my favorites. Which is surprising, because the first time I listened to this album I thought I would never be able to get through it. It's a loud, sprawling, poorly recorded mess of a record, spread across two discs, each over an hour in length. There are a million emcees and musicians cluttering up a mix that's already dense with old movie clips, science fiction sound effects, reverb and tape hiss. Every so often a beat comes in to carry a melody made on a cheap keyboard, but it's just as likely to cut out into a drunken karaoke session than to keep things moving. If ADD has a soundtrack, this is it. I distinctly remember walking across town back home from Jam Records the day I bought this, with the first disc playing in my discman and my headphones punishing my ears, and thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"
Before that day, I had never heard the Shape Shifters. Back in LA I had heard of them. And since Awol, Circus and Radioinactive had appeared on OD's Beneath the Surface I knew they must be dope. I had even picked up music by Awol (his NME 12", to be exact), so I figured I had a pretty good idea what the Shifters were going to sound like.
Eh, wrong.
There is no way to prepare yourself for an album as disjointed and crazy as this. It's like no other album from the LA underground that I'd heard at that point. The hippyish vibe from Beneath the Surface is laughed at with this record. Awol's more traditional hip-hop is likewise absent. "Let us warn you: before storming into this funhouse is run by the gimmicks of lunatics, don't be tricked by the politics of microchips, think different," rants Circus in a double-tracked, jumbled, nearly incomprehendable - and perfect - introduction to the album. Immediately after, an impossibly-heavy beat drops while Circus and Radioinactive continue on - except that the two emcees are rapping entirely different spiels from one another... over the top of one another... at the same time.
And the album continues it's twisted path from there. The Shape Shifter hallmark topics of alien abduction, worldwide conspiracy theories, and religion share verses with references to hannah-barberra cartoons and children's toys. Straight-forward emcees (Mek, for example) share space with the sedated freestyles of Tommy V or the afore-mentioned schizophrenic rants of Circus. And in more ways than one, this is Circus' show. More than any other emcee he represents the fullest on this record. Where each emcee gets their 16 bars, Circus takes 64. His name is on nearly every track, as emcee and musician, and his raps are by far the most far out, keeping the other-worldly aquarian illuminati vibe alive and ever-present throughout the two discs.
And although initially Know Future is a dense, crazy, exhaustive listen, it's ultimately rewarding. Circus is a mad genius, and if you let the album play, you can hear how the tracks flow in to one another, keeping the ever-morphing sound collage going. The subject matter, as well, plays out like a well-scripted manifesto: Circus is passionate about what he believes, and although his delivery may be goofy and masked in humor, he has a lot to say. To him, the connections between Jesus and GI Joe are obvious, and when you listen, you begin to see it, too.
After this record, the 'Shifters consolidated their talent a little, got a little more focused, and put out a couple well-received albums. However, the chaotic, charismatic madness that's so apparent with this album (and it's predecessor Planet of the Shapes - also a double-disc affair) is absent with those later releases. It's too bad, because this is how I will always think of the Shapeshifters - crazy, inventive, imaginative, and completely into doing their own thing. It's these qualities present with this album that kept me listening again and again. It makes me wish there was more like it in the 'Shifter vaults.
I should stop ranting now. Give this record a listen; it takes some work on the listener's part but it's well worth the effort. It may even open up your eyes a little. Be sure to check out the liner notes at the top to see who's on what - like I said, there are a million emcees on this release.

1    2

Know Future

Update on MC Class...


Due to the surprising response Bring That Beat Back received for Posting up MC Class' Brother From the Projects tape, I went ahead and did a little more digging around regarding this artist. It turns out MC Class - or just Class, nowadays - is still busy at work doing his thing. He's relocated to Los Angeles, where he holds it down as a jack of all trades - writing, engineering, producing, and performing. He released a second album in 2000, entitled Black Rose. That album, including an in-depth artist biography, can be found here. I encourage you to check it out. A sampling of his more recent work, (with an updated version of "Fishin"!) which is a nice mix of jazz, spoken word, hip hop, and urban, can be found at his myface page.
So that's all I know. Seek it out. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Mystics

Remnants Of A Lost Culture

I found this west coast Cali release in a K-Mart in Billings, Montana, on a cross-country road trip back in 2001. At the time I had a horrible head cold, I was sick of the car radio, and just wanted to hear something new. Seeing this release, with M.A.T.T.S' (who had previously produced for Jizzm), Ab Rude's and Medusa's familiar names in the credits, I forked over the gas money and took it with me. Now, whenever I think of this group I think of being miserable in Billings (take this how you will).
The 8-man group The Mystics are actually a conglomeration of two crews and two emcees: Okie Doke and Express Fresh being the solo lyricists, with Nonhuman Intelligence (made up of Prizm, Abyss and Dimension) and Phantom Zone (made up of M.A.T.T.S. and Fourever). The result of this union is this tight crew record, featuring solo tracks, group cuts, and posse cuts. The music is crisp, clean and understated, leaving ample space for the emcees to stretch out. They enlist the help of a number of guests along the way, including the afore-mentioned Ab Rude and Medusa, as well as Rahzel, Imani from the Pharcyde, and Super Natural from Alien Nation.
Listening to it again, I should really work on getting some better associations with this record, because it bumps. Check it out.

Remnants Of A Lost Culture

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Slap Me 5

Five Fingers Of Funk
This is some great Portland hip hop from '95. Back in the day this album was on heavy rotation on the tape deck - especially their track "Posters", a hypnotic mid-temp piece with one of the most memorable melodies you'll ever hear. Buried in the middle of the album amid a bunch of funkdafied uptempo numbers, "Posters" stands out to the listener as a track worth taking serious note of. Check out this great act.

Slap Me Five 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Solesides

SS005

Classic Solesides tape showcasing the beatmaking and scratching talents of resident producers Chief Xcel and Dj Shadow. Xcel features Gift of Gab and Lateef on the mic, while Shadow quite capably goes it alone. For 1996, this was some next level shit. Actually, now that I'm listening to it again I retract that. Correction: this IS some next level shit. Period.
This tape just reinforces my conviction that producers need to bring back the art of the sample. Check it.

The Grooverobbers/Chief Xcel