DUST IT OFF: Wu-Tang Clan’s “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”… 20 Years Later


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It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the Wu-Tang Clan made an impact with this album. That impact was definitely not immediately, at least not nationally. When Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) was released on November 9, 1993, the Wu did not have any heavy rotation anywhere, outside of NYC. Those months between the album release day and the spring of 1994 would eventually cause a shift, which would mark the end of another era of hip-hop and the glorious beginning of another.


I became a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan when the video for “Method Man” was getting airplay on BET’s Rap City. I loved the raw feel of the song, could not get enough of Method Man’s flow, it was that great. I also loved his constant barrage of pop
culture references, as if this guy knew where I was coming from even though I had no idea where he had come from, at least not yet. It was with that song that The Genius said “from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again: The RZA, The GZA, Ol’
Dirty Bastard, Inspector Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer, and the Method”, then Method Man rhymed for the next three minutes, making reference to everything from Tootsie Roll Pops to the Rolling Stones and Dr. Seuss to Digital Underground, and I did not know what was going on. I felt I had liked the rap music that was released between 1990 to 1993, there was a hell of a lot of great music in those four years and yet it felt like this approach was old school and yet new school. Method Man was truly “hitting you from every angle” and I had to have more, but at the time there was very little to
go on.

For me, the big news in hip-hop was that A Tribe Called Quest had just released their third album, Midnight Marauders. This was going to be the album of 1993, nothing else could beat it. There had also been some buzz for a group called Black Moon who had just released “Who Got The Props” as a single, a song that sounded fun and festive, a bit different from the slightly dark vibe of the album. Or if not dark, it was a bit like walking down an alley unsure of what would be lurking, but you’d take that risk anyway. Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was an album that was a few weeks before and people would soon not get enough of them and the collective they helped create. I definitely didn’t buy Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on release date, for the group and the album was not something in demand, at least I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back, maybe it was looking for me. It would actually take video airplay for “Da Mystery Of Chessboxing”, with its kung fu imagery, for me to finally by the album. Were these the same guys who were rapping about making a bitch squirm for
supersperm? Yeah, there was Method Man with his face hidden.

This had to have been in December or early January, but I remember the moment when I popped the CD in:
Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style. (Hmmm.) If what you say is true, the shaolin and the Wu-Tang style could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?

En guard, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”


This was straight out of all of the kung fu movies I watched as a kid, either at theaters in downtown Honolulu with my dad, on Kung Fu Theater on the USA Network or all the kung fu movies I was renting on VHS. Then came the chant of “BRING THE
MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS! BRING THE MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS!” It may not have happened, but my eyes, mouth, mind were wide open and in awe from what I was hearing. There was nothing like it, this was not something I heard in songs by Biz Markie, Showbiz &
AG, Ice Cube, Ice T, Gang Starr, or Dr. Dre. This was far better. The song also had percussive snaps and brick slaps, as if it was a group of warriors in a Shaolin temple praying and waiting for someone to invade. Ghostface Killer would start up the song before Raekwon comes in and delivers, and then Inspector Deck offers greatness. The song ends with the sacred words of The Genius. They were waiting, and eventually they could no longer wait. You heard warriors fight, smacking each other left and right before came the one man army Ason Unique, a/k/a Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and getting dope with “Shame On A Nigga” before Method Man comes in with his verse. The album continued to build from there, and to hear all of these new voices and not have any sense of who was saying what was incredible. The group may have shown themselves on the cover behind masks, but
inside there was a photo, but Method Man was not a part of that line-up. At least here on the west coast, I had never seen the video for “Protect Ya Neck”, which offered a chance for viewers to see who was who and by name, as if they were teen pop
sensations. Outside of hearing them mentioning their own names in song, there was little to go on in terms of applying a face to a name.

It wasn’t until the DasEFX cover issue of The Source did I know who they were, their pseudonyms, and everything else that made them out to be hip-hop’s Marvel Universe. I had read and collected comic books as a kid, so I understood what it meant to be named this, then that, and then maybe two or three other things. The Wu-Tang appealed to me because they thought like kids, but doing things in a very adult manner. It was a bunch of guys shooting shit amongst one
another, but there was also a sense of the now, as if they knew that they could not live in the past, and thus thought about the future, what would come next for themselves and for others.

Each song on the album felt like there were reaching new plateaus, and when the song finished, they would all make it to the next level and build again. It was great to hear a song that might have two members, or another with four or five, before it leads to a song with the core eight. Then you learn that the core eight expands to a nine. It would be a few more years before that nine turned into a ten man team, but while Digital Underground did it to a point, it was always “to a point”. Plus, Shock G. was also Humpty Hump, who was also MC Blowfish, a/k/a Piano Man, and when when you heard Money B. say “well I’m Humpty Humpin'”, I was left wondering “well, who are these guys?” X-Clan had an incredible collective too, even though on their albums it was generally Brother J doing most of the raps. You also had Isis and Queen Mother Rage, and of course Professor X had his own solo album too but that was it, Brother J really didn’t get his own path until X-Clan was over. The Wu-Tang Clan seemed like a different beast, an entity, as if they were looking at hip-hop, celebrating what came before and were going to build on the successes and see how far they could go with it.

I’m someone who lived in Honolulu but grew up admiring the hip-hop from the east coast, specifically what came from New York and New Jersey. It was NYC or die, and yet I loved what everyone else from Seattle to Los Angeles, Dallas to Miami were doing, the more the merrier. In my mind, there was a slight shift on the artists that would gain acceptance, and maybe that had a lot to do with some of the shifts happening in the community. If hip-hop started in NYC, it seemed to turn into Motown in 1971 and headed to Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that, but there was a lot of music being released that became hits but I did not like. At the same time, there was much more to Cali hip-hop than MC Hammer and everyone had a chance, yet it seemed from afar that the NYC stuff was being pushed to the side. It seemed to make artists push harder to be heard and make better music, even if it meant “better for ourselves”. The Wu-Tang Clan came out not giving a fuck about anyone else but themselves, and I loved that attitude. It was in that early 1994 interview on MTV where Ol’ Dirty Bastard talked about his name, how he was old school, his style was dirty,and he was a bastard, because when he rhymed, there was no father to his style. That was attitude and a half, and yet he meant it, as if to say “I know what came before me, but I want to show you what I’m about, for the now people.”


What also made Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) interesting is that by the time “C.R.E.A.M.” had become the hit of early 1994, that’s when news surfaced about how they were going to make sure that each member of the group would be signed with their own solo contract and release their own solo albums. To me, this brought back memories of Kiss and their four solo albums in 1978, and what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did with the various combinations they made music under. This was much bigger, and I couldn’t wait. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long, as The RZA was working with producer Prince Paul, Stesasonic’s Fruitkwan, and fellow Tommy Boy Records’ alumni Too Poetic in a group project called Gravediggaz. This would be RZA’s thing, and while no one knew it at the time, Gravediggaz was one of two “make or break” projects he was working on in 1992-1993. His career as Prince Rakeem only lead to the “Ooh, I Love You Rakeem” single which barely caused a dent in 1991. The RZA offered the Wutang (no hyphen) to Tommy Boy Records as a possible group to work with but they passed. Tommy Boy was losing their impact on rap music, and that’s when Rakeem became The RZA and started two projects, hoping one of them would gain some glory. Due to the success of the Wu-Tang, Gravediggaz would soon pick up steam, eventually becoming recognized in their own right. Then there was word on Method Man being signed to Def Jam. His solo album would be released in the fall of 1994, and then there was word of three more Wu solo albums on the way.

It seemed too much, and I loved it because within a two year period, the Wu-Tang Clan were doing things other rap groups had only talked about or imagined. As Method Man would later say, “you talk about it while I live it”, and no one had ever done what they were doing within a hip-hop context. On top of that, if any of the guys in the Wu wanted to drop a verse/cameo in other songs, they could. Did they want to product something? They did. Have some affiliates they wanted to hook-up with? There was more than enough time for everyone, and to experience it in real time, before the MP3 became the format of choice for music fans, was something that may not be repeated in the near future. The music felt good, it sounded good, and you couldn’t help but want to find people who were into that goodness.

Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was about entering their world, knowing that one had to echieve certain levels before bein gable to proceed, but realizing that even if you had reached the peak, you had to then create your own path. It was as if they were also telling their fans “it’s all on you. Take it where you want and if we can help guide you towards your own path, go for broke.” That was the attitude they all had on the album, as if they were all going for broke, as if tomorrow did not exist for any of them. We all know what happened with their individual careers. We all know how Ghostface Killer (later Killah), the man who once hid his face from view, would become the most visible of the bunch. We all know how The Genius, like true geniuses, would become the hermit crab. We all fell in love with The RZA’s “Miracle On Dirty 4-Beats”. We loved what Inspectah Deck offered in everything he rhymed and was hoping he would be next to release an album in 1995. Some of us were stupefied by Raekwon’s delivery and wit. Then there was U-God, the 4-bar killer, who came and went with his 4- or 8-lines in a song, we all wondered why but we were happy with it. For a brief moment, it seemed everything that was good about hip-hop was achieved with that album. The egos were self-contained and it had a Three Musketeers-meets-Brand Nubian feel, “one for all and all for one”. Anyone who had ever felt the East Coast had lost its way, they would find the path again with the Wu-Tang. It was a celebration of Spider-Man, porno flick bitches, and Saturday morning cartoons and cereals. We all understood the power of that shot in the “Can It Be All So Simple” where the kid did a wheelie with his bicycle, when that was considered the ultimate goal. Nothing else in the world could be better than that wheelie, and you felt like a bad ass. For a brief moment in my life, the Wu-Tang Clan meant the world to me.

Yes, it was indeed so simple then.


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VIDEO: Negroes On Ice’s “Textual Healing”


Have you ever wanted to see a hip-hop video featuring a woman with a cucumber in her pants? Prince Paul has made it possible for you to actually see a woman also hold a piece of doo doo with one hand. ONE! It’s all a part of the Negroes On Ice project, one that Paul has been teasing us with for a long time but now it’s reality. “Textual Healing” is a great about all of those acronyms that are a part of how we communicate with each other digitally, some of it merely to make a point, other times a means to use our digits. Even the use of the word “digits” is different. Years ago, getting someone’s digits meant to obtain one’s phone number. Now, when you ask for digits, it means “stick your finger in my crotch”. WHAT?!?!? Okay, that last one has nothing to do with Negroes On Ice but then again, it may very well be. Who knows, it’s Prince Paul, you know it’s going to be a blast anyway.

More soon.

FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD: Prince Paul’s “Spongebob (Unreleased Demo 2004)”

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When the Spongebob Squarepants movie was created, producer Prince Paul put together “Prince Paul’s Bubble Party”, which featured The Waikikis and Wordsworth. However, there were two songs submitted, and one of them was rejected. This is that one.

The unreleased demo is basically a new mix of the Spongebob Squarepants song that you can hear in the TV show end credits, but as Paul himself said on the Soundcloud page for the song, “actually liked this the best”. See if you agree.

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VIDEO: Prince Paul goes on a “Musical Journey” with new series

Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey – Episode 4: Face Melting Metal Fest from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

If you only know Prince Paul from his hip-hop music and only that, you only know a small part of his talent and interests. Just as his music looked beyond the accepted hip-hop norms, he’s now stepping out of the comfort zone people want to keep him in, and he’s going… metal?

He’s doing it as part of a brand new series called Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey with his friends Mr. Dead (yes, the same Mr. Dead who released Metabolics Volume II: Dawn Of The Dead 11 years ago on Wordsound) and Soce, who you may know for his Math Problems series. Together, they are looking for music and how it thrives and survives, all while having fun. The above video is a mere trailer but if you want to see a full episodes, look below.


Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey – Episode 3: New Orleans Bounce Music from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey – Episode 4: Face Melting Metal Fest Trailer from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey – Episode 5 from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

Musician Impossible: Prince Paul’s Adventurous Musical Journey – Wet In the Desert: Episode 6 Trailer from Scion A/V on Vimeo.


More episodes will be revealed very soon.

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DUST IT OFF: De La Soul Is Dead… 20 years later

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In the June 1991 issue of The Source, there were full page ads for new albums by Terminator X, Young Black Teenagers, Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs, Cypress Hill, Success-N-Effect, KMC, Tony Dee, and Chubb Rock. Within its pages were articles covering people such as The Genius, Nia Peeples (then-host of The Party Machine), and Lifers Group. There were still regional scene reports, with people like Billy Jam covering the Bay Area, Geoffrey Watts covering Chicago, and DJ P looking into the music of L.A. Inside were reviews of music by Rodney O & Joe Cooley, Dream Warriors, 3rd Bass‘ new single “Pop Goes The Weasel”, Kid Capri, Busy Bee, and YZ. Of interest was an article by Scott Poulson-Bryant on the power of Fishbone, whose “alternativeness” (compared to the regulars in The Source) made them a potential crossover. There’s also an article by Chris Webber on police brutality. The magazine also had a section called Unsigned Hype, where young artists could submit a demo tape in the hopes of being recognized for potential signage. In this issue of The Source was the magazine’s first and only DJ to be honored in the column, an 18-year old music man from Davis, California who called himself Shadow. He made music with a Yamaha MT-100 4-track recorder, and impressed writer Matty C enough to put him in the magazine. We now know Shadow as DJ Shadow.

However, the focus of any magazine is the cover story and for this issue it was De La Soul and the release of their long awaited second album, what was called De La Soul Is Dead. There was also an “anonymous” editorial at the beginning of the magazine which looked at what they felt was Rap Music’s Identity Crisis, so the idea that this music was having issues was very apt. I’ve often cited the idea that rap music was going through a moment of uncertainty in 1990. Rap music was grand and bold, but I had wondered if artists were wondering if this hip trend would be over with, that the “fad” would no longer be valid in the 1990’s. Yo-Yo may have been ready to stomp into the new decade, but were major labels ready? Little did we know how ready major labels, and corporate America, would be.

As for De La, the group were still celebrating the popularity of 3 Feet High And Rising, which was not only an album with a good amount of singles (and videos to go with it), but was also cited for its use of unauthorized samples. Some were wondering of De La Soul could actually do a second album, since many felt 3 Feet High And Rising, produced by Stetsasonic DJ/producer Prince Paul, was too freaky, too weird, too “out there”, too… dare I say, “white”? It left many to call what De La did “alternative hip-hop”, since what they were doing was a complete 180 to what was being pushed in the mainstream media. Keep in mind The Source was still a rap magazine barely available in stores, and it’s safe to say very few understood (or wanted to understand) what Posdnous, Trugoy, P.A. Pasemaster Mase, and Prince Paul were trying to do or say. De La Soul spoke of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age”, which they said on the first album meant “Da Inner Sound, Y’all”, but when everyone saw flowers, paisley clothes, and homemade Flowbee-type haircuts on these guys from Amityville, New York, people were like “damn, are these fuckers really from Mars?” They poked fun at themselves, but it seemed as if it was at the cost of people thinking they were legitimate, as if all they were was a bunch of day-glo nerds. Maybe they were, but their second album was a strategic move to kill the misconceptions, and arguably themselves.

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In popular music, people love a good “dead” story. People enjoy reading about musicians dying, how and why. Maybe the idea of calling the album De La Soul Is Dead was an attempt to poke fun at people who would see that and go “oh, if they’re dead, maybe there are clues to find”. It’s as if stating they were dead was like a Paul McCartney moment. People looked at the new De La logo the group were now using, and how when you turned the word “LA” upside down, the A could be the Roman numeral 5, and the L looked like the percent ( % ) symbol. Were they part of the 5% Nation Of Islam? The upsidedown L also looked like it could be the number 7, so were they dropping mathematics? Seeing the illustrated cover of a pot of daisies fallen to the ground was obvious: De La had to be doing something different. Combine all of these elements, and what you had on the surface was a brand new album with new music, new stories, new lyrics, and new puzzles to figure out. While the group had released “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” as the first single from the album, the group would make their new mission known when De La Soul Is Dead was released on May 13, 1991.

The album did not have a proper concept, but rather it was done in the form of a read-along story book, complete with “dings” that would allow listeners to turn the page to a book that did not exist. You did that in your mind. What the group and Prince Paul did was arrange the songs in a way that had some level of narrative, but did it really? No. The narrative was done through Paul’s skits, allowing people to find out what would happen if you were a kid who found a De La cassette in the trash and be bullied because you did not listen to MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice. To listen to De La meant you were different, even if you weren’t. But already, the group were already showing how fans were stigmatized for not listening to something that was “typically rap”. The group would jump on various examples of the stereotypes, on how you had to “hold my crotch ’cause I’m top notch”.

At the same time, it was time to reflect about what hip-hop had become circa 1991, one of the threads of continuity on the album. In “Oodles Of O’s”, one of the first songs where the majority of the song rhymed in a continuous fashion, Dove basically said it was time to sell some O’s at the corner store. It was as if he was saying “for a moment, let’s go back to when we were kids, when the corner store meant everything to us and our friends.” The song briefly looked back, and then looked forward as the album would proceed. Prince Paul was already showing his audio continuity by reviving the “oh, shit” sample from 3rd Bass’ “The Gas Face. Then there’s “Talkin’ ‘Bout Hey Love”, and while it’s kind of toss-off/joke song where the female vocals repeat the same vocal melody over and over, it’s almost as if that influenced hip-hop hooks in the last decade. It’s almost as if someone focused on that part of the song and loved it, so it could be an influence. What may have also been an influence: the WRMS breaks heard throughout the album used Joe Sample‘s “In All My Wildest Dream”, slowed down slightly but still evident. Its slow tempo was very much unlike the hip-hop going on at the time, where people were either wanting to go hip-house or just being funky, there was no “laid back” vibe. A year later, DJ Shadow would take credit for creating the trip-hop movement, in that the sample used was slow enough to make people trip out, and yet Shadow himself might cite these De La interludes, The Beastie Boys “To All The Girls” (Shadow also sampled “Loren’s Dance” in his own “Shadow’s Legitimate Mix” he did for Zimbabwe Legit or Queen Mother Rage‘s “Slippin’ Into Darkness” as an inspiration, and yet Prince Paul was doing his thing to let people know that yes, slow and mellow samples work too. (2Pac would use the Joe Sample track again for his song “Dear Mama”.)

Upon first listen to De La Soul Is Dead, it almost seems like a sensory overload, or that the group were trying to do everything to create something that didn’t quite happen, but to my ears that’s far from the truth. They saw the changes happening in hip-hop, how the music was turning into something where only “hardcore acts” were gaining respect, while being light was considered weak, as they talked about in “Afro Connections At A Hi 5 (In The Eyes Of The Hoodlum)”. They were not afraid to talk about the threat (perceived or otherwise) of gangsterism, and yet in “Pease Porridge”, Mase was not afraid to say he will not hesitate to pop someone in the face if need be. The group had been perceived as peace loving hippies, but as they said on one of their earlier B-sides, it wasn’t too hip to be labeled a hippie, especially when that was something created by their label, Tommy Boy Records. Here was a group making fun of themselves as being peace loving gentlemen, while also talking about how the music was becoming more business-like and corporate. In an interview they did with MTV that spring on Yo! MTV Raps, they told Fab 5 Freddy they were going to have De La Glow Nuts, a store that sold glow-in-the-dark doughnuts. There were glow-in-the-dark T-shirts made to promote 3 Feet High And Rising, so why not have their own store? (It would be awhile before groups would acknowledge the benefits of having their own store filled with merchandise, as with the Wu-Tang when they had their Wu-Wear stores and seeked to make Wu nail salons a national success.)

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My first exposure to the album was the cassette version, which lacked a number of tracks that were on the compact disc version, released about three months after the album hit the streets. Cassettes were still the format of choice in rap music, vinyl was (as it has always been) a DJ thing and only vinyl purists were looking for the actual record. (There was hesitation, since 3 Feet High And Rising‘s duration of 70 minutes was slapped on a single piece of vinyl, reducing the volume and audio quality on an album that was good as is. Tommy Boy solved this by releasing a promo-only double LP of De La Soul Is Dead but eliminating the interludes, although original stock copies had always been difficult to find.) For me, this is how the album was introduced to me:

Side 1
Intro
Oodles Of O’s
Talkin’ ‘Bout Hey Love
Pease Porridge
Skit 1
A Rollerskating Jam Named “Saturdays”
WRMS’ Dedication To The Bitty
Bitties In The BK Lounge
Skit 2
Let, Let Me In
Afro Connections At A Hi 5 (In The Eyes Of The Hoodlum)

Side 2
Rap De Rap Show
Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa
Skit 3
Pass The Plugs
Not Over Till The Fat Lady Plays The Demo
Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)
WRMS: Cat’s In Control
Skit 4
Shwingalokate
Fanatic Of The B Word
Keepin’ The Faith
Skit 5

If your exposure to the album has only been with the CD version or digital download (equal to that of the CD), you’ll see that a good amount of songs are missing:
Johnny’s Dead AKA Vincent Mason (live in BK Lounge)
My Brother’s A Basehead
Who do u Worship?
Kicked Out the House

It may be a mere four songs, but for me, these songs were able to add a bit more continuity to the songs on the cassette version. For example, “Who Do U Worship?” sounds like a track that was almost out of place, although at a time when Afrocentricity and faith were minor issues in the music, and it was almost as if some were trying to have hip-hop be one thing or… nothing. In other words, you really couldn’t be “other”, or at least the only thing that existed was “hardcore rap” and “good rap”, and good rap for many meant wholesome and cuss free, such as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Kid ‘N Play. De La Soul represented a completely different “other”, so maybe the group were as out of place as “Who Do U Worship?”, and yet people who heard them loved what they were hearing because it was different from what was becoming an accepted norm. At the beginning of “Skit 3”, Mase asks what in the world was that “Who Do U Worship” crap, the sign of the devil or something? On the cassette version, it seemed like a random part of the album’s conversation, as if he was talking about someone else (or heavy metal music, which in 1991 was all about the evil that was Guns N’ Roses). With the extra song, Mase’s conversation made much more sense, even though (IMHO) the song really doesn’t add anything to the trail of thought going on. “Kicked Out The House” was the group making fun of hip-house, a style of music that their fellow Native Tongue affiliates were having fun with (let’s not forget that the first Jungle Brothers hit was the now-classic “Girl I’ll House You”). At the end of “Kicked Out The House”, there’s a vocal sample that repeatedly goes “put it on vibrate” before ending with the Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick sample. With the next song, “Pass The Plugs”, it begins with someone saying “this time, put it in mellow”. While the connection may not be a major one, it was almost as if Paul was adding this little things to see if anyone would/could figure out his sense of continuity, or at least he was adding his own storyline to the album. In other words, the bumping house music was annoying to where someone is yelling “put it on vibrate”, and when the song is over, they’re asked to “put it in mellow”, and we get that. I still feel that at times, the cassette version worked a lot better without the extra songs that made it on the CD, although out of the four bonus tracks, “My Brother’s A Basehead” is the best one.

The cassette version shows how the album is properly divided, so that the first half ends with “Afro Connection At A Hi-5” and the second half begins with “Rap De Rap Show”. The first half has the group hanging out at the corner store, having fun, being wise asses and showing who they are as individuals. The second half is a bit more serious in tone, with “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” covering child abuse that leads to a murder, “Ring Ring Ring” showing how the group’s successful status lead to people feeling they were the ones who could rescue new artists with a recording contract, when they felt it was nothing more than “demo abuse, getting raped and giving birth to a tape”. De La’s corner store raps were being threatened by the business of the business, and Dove casually says he “found it hard enough dealin’ with my own biz”. As worldly as the group may have sounded to fans and critics, they kept on establishing that they were down to Earth and wanted to remain that way. What success (or someone’s view of their success) lead to was people saying “here’s my tape, make me famous too”, which is why the song’s chorus has them reacting as if they were an answering machine, which was (back in 1991) also recorded on tape and added to the “piles and piles” of tapes that the group had to deal with.

Initially, the last three songs on the album were hard for me to embrace at first. They were all good songs, but my original outlook was that they slowed down the pace of the album. It would take a number of repeat listens to make me rethink this, so today, “Shwingalokate”, “Fanatic Of The B Word”, “Keepin’ The Faith” are a perfect way to end an incredible sonic adventure. On this album, Mase found himself not only rapping in a few tracks but becoming a more vocal member of the group, figuratively and literally. You also had appearances from Q-Tip, Afrika Baby Bam, Mike G., and Dres, the group most certainly brought a party atmosphere into their music, or at least made it out that “the bigger the family, the better things will be”. We now know through interviews and articles at at times, the Native Tongues collective may have been too crammed at times to where even people who weren’t part of that musical family were trying to make a name for themselves by saying they were. In 1991, it was still about the music, and that these side controversies would never be a big issue as they might have been had the group started in 1999.

(SIDENOTE: As an alternate way to hear De La Soul Is Dead, I tend to prefer the single mix of “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” as heard in the music video, and at times I also like the extra samples and vocal hook in the “Full Mix” of “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” (which Prince Paul would later use to good effect in “Mommy What’s A Gravedigga?”). The “Straight Pass” mix of “Keepin’ The Faith”, used in the video, is also a nice switch over the original, complete with a nice scratch of The Mohawks‘s “The Champ” heard throughout. I also highly recommend “What Yo Life Can Truly Be“, a nice reworking of “A Rollerskating Jam Named “Saturdays””, and “Who’s Skatin’ Promo“, a mock radio spot. Both of these mixes were released on the 12” single for “Saturdays”.)

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De La Soul were not only playing games with fans and themselves, but they were also doing it when they promoted the album. With an appearance on BET‘s Video Soul, Dove was credited as one “Rahlow”, and I know I had no idea what that meant. Rahlow was discovered to be “Cousin Rahlow”, the guy who sold blow in “Afro Connections At A Hi-5”. For a group who were more than willing to “kill themselves” in order to prove they should be worthy of being heard amongst everyone else, they were still not afraid to let people know that their lyrical twists and turns could also be explored in their promotional game, at a time when “promotional game” was not something everyone flirted with in 1991. Perhaps they were taking a few hints from the Beastie Boys, who once did a full week on MTV showing them traveling around the world, when they were doing nothing more than driving around Los Angeles.

  • Were De La Soul really dead? If not, what was dying? The original spirit of hip-hop? NYC hip-hop? The original community of what was hip-hop? The non-existent divisions of hip-hop? Or were they predicting hip-hop’s demise years before Nas came into the picture? Or none of the above? If the group were going out of their way to kill themselves, De La Soul Is Dead is one of the best examples of character assassination. The demise of someone else’s perception of their music and personalities helped them tremendously, for they were able to turn on more fans who may have felt 3 Feet High And Rising was a bit “too much”. But too much of what? Too white? Too left of center? Was it not rap music to people? 3 Feet High And Rising was released four months before the Beastie Boys’ second album Paul’s Boutique, a record that still gets credited as being an eccentric sample-based album, when 3 Feet High And Rising featured everything from a Turtles 45 played at 33, Wilson Pickett, and Hall & Oates. De La Soul Is Dead could have been destined to suffer the sophomore slump, it could have been the album that ended their career and if so, perfect, De La Soul had already (as the old saying goes) killed themselves on wax. Yet by letting everyone know that they were in this to win, and not just a group trying to cash in on trends they didn’t create (nor participate in), De La Soul wanted to prove that you can love or hate their approach to music, you can love or hate their made-up De La way of speak, but they were going to do it because they knew people were willing to think and love what they were hearing.

    The group’s fictitious death was arguably a rebirth, and the group would mature into their fictitious teen years with their follow up, Buhloone Mind State. When that album was released on September 24, 1993, rap music was not just rap music, it had become hip-hop, which in a way it had always been. But now, people wanted to use slogans and tags in order to define the music and to show how relevant they were by being a fan and creator of the music. In fact, some felt you could be proud enough to call yourself hip-hop. At the same time people started using that as a badge of honor, the music was selling more, started gaining more mainstream press (often times for reasons having nothing to do with the music itself), and along with MC’s becoming known for their verbal game, record label owners wanted some of that fame too. People saw the success of Tone Loc‘s “Wild Thing”, Young MC‘s “Bust A Move”, Vanilla Ice‘s “Ice Ice Baby”, MC Hammer‘s “U Can’t Touch This”, and Sir Mix-A-Lot‘s “Baby Got Back” and realized that wow, hip-hop could be bigger than what was called “ghetto gold”? People boasted about their road to the riches, but the true road to money and success was having #1 hit singles, and some of the characteristics of the music began to change too. Album sales were still strong, but you got noticed outside of hip-hop circles if you had the pop hit, it meant you truly blew up successfully. In the words of De La, “it might blow up but it won’t go pop”, which was their way of saying if your sole aim is to be a pop artist, once you blow up, it’ll be very difficult to go back to a status your fans loved you for. De La Soul exploited the lure in their music, even though they released a number of songs that showed they easily had the potential to “blow up”. Fortunately, they did not (although the success of Gorillaz‘ “Feels Good Inc.” showed that patience came to those willing to wait, and by then, it didn’t matter that Dove, who simply wanted to be Dave, did a line about the Care Bears.) A few months after the release of Buhloone Mind State, a group from Staten Island, New York called the Wu-Tang Clan would mark the end of the uncertain hip-hop era of the early 90’s and mark the start of another era. The common link? Prince Paul, who found himself not only heard during (what else) an interlude at the end of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but found himself working with The RZA at the same time on what would become the Gravediggaz project. By then, Stetsasonic was pretty much over, Paul’s relationship with Tommy Boy Records was coming to an end and Buhloone Mind State would become the last full album Paul would do with De La. When the group followed that up with Stakes Is High, it was the group’s mission to let people know that they were a group with their own ideas and characteristics, a way to let fans know that they were much more than Prince Paul’s group. For awhile, Paul did become the group’s unofficial 4th member, he was very much a part of what the group were about on their first three albums. If 3 was truly the magic number, then those first three albums are truly magic. De La Soul no longer wanted to be mystical, but they weren’t about being fake gangsters, that was not their thing. Stakes Is High was the start of a new era for the group and the end of another, and regardless of what some fans or critics think, the group remain with us to this very day. Prince Paul ended up being a Gravedigga (and perhaps it was he who killed Tommy’s boy, so maybe Paul has been a gangsta all along), but a solo album on Wordsound would also mark his true independence from De La. It made him into the king of hip-hop interludes, and if you wanted a certain sound to your music, Paul was and remains the man to go to.

    In retrospect, maybe the music seemed much more simpler than it is now, maybe it seemed more refined and defined, when in truth, many artists weren’t following definition but creating new things on a regular basis. There were artists who did follow certain guidelines and rules, but those were ones regarded as those who wanted a #1 hit. Hip-hop success in 1991 meant you heard it a lot on the radio (when you could find it on the radio) or saw the video a lot on MTV and BET. Hip-hop success was not defined by major media campaigns, nor was it dictated by an assumption of what could be a hit. A hit was judged by fans and if it was good, a “hit” meant it was a good song to you. Liking a song for its chart status as if it was a baseball card statistic was not an issue for anyone but industry insiders who were looking to make another million, and was there a chance the music could make an unheard of billion? Def Jam Recordings was not the big giant it was in the mid to late 80’s in 1991, but a year or so later, jumping ship from Columbia/CBS to Polygram would not only mark a new era for the label, but for hip-hop as a new, young (perhaps naive) corporate entity. Jay-Z was still the quirky looking guy in The Jaz videos who seemed better than the person who made the actual record, but never finding a way to come out with his own music. That, of course, would change a few years later. As N.W.A would take over audience’s hearts with increased focus on rap music from the West Coast, it didn’t stop anyone to enjoy music from “the best coast”. There may have been egos tossed back and forth on who made the better music, but what was unspoken was a willingness to make good music, in the hopes of making and taking that money, all without (hopefully) sacrificing one’s integrity. De La Soul may have only thought about putting out a collection of songs that would follow up a very solid debut album, but what they ended up doing was creating a staple of the genre that many still look to as an example of how good music can be made. In 2011, there are many different staples and stitches on the fabric of hip-hop, but the quilt work created by De La Soul and Prince Paul showed that you could raise your freak flag high when people felt you were a freak or geek, but it was perfectly okay to be both and live life while fighting your way towards self-identity. It was KRS-One who once said that you had to have style and learn to be original, or everyone would want to dis you. De La Soul are true originals who became the target of everyone who wanted to throw hate because they looked and sounded different. They later did a song called “I Am I Be”, and that is exactly what they were and are. De La Soul killed themselves so that they could live, and by doing so, they revealed what they have been since “Plug Tunin'”: individuals who made music “from the soul”.



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  • SOME STUFFS: Erykah Badu reveals artwork for “…The Ankh”

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    EMEK has returned to do the artwork for Erykah Badu‘s return, Part 2 of the trilogy that she has promised. This new album is called New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh (MotownUniversal) and true to her nature, she has been hard at work on this album weeks before its deadline. She has been hyping up the fact that the new album would be released on 3/3/3, perhaps a slightly vinyl-centric way to say March 30, 2010 (because 2+0+1+0 = 3) or she’s revealing a bit of mathematics.

    A few songs have already been heard through television appearances and gentle leaks of a song or two. As for the production and presentation of the album, we know Madlib is definitely involved. A track listing has been revealed, but little else. Gentle trickles again. I do know that Badu herself, through her Twitter account, did something most would have thought was once impossible: she wanted to release a song with a Paul McCartney sample and asked her close friends and associates to hook her up with the right people to speak to. One thing lead to another, and in about nine hours (perhaps the power of this 3+3+3 thing), the sample was approved. While I have not heard the Badu song in question, the sample that she seeked was Wings‘ “Arrow Through Me” from the 1979 album Back To The Egg. No word if it is an actual sample or an interpolation, but as soon as I know, I’ll let you know. While Beatles samples are (for now) off-limits, McCartney has always been open to experimentation in his own music for the last 45 years. In recent years he has opened his solo catalog to advertisers, so perhaps he’s opening the door for artists to legally sample his work. Emphasis is on “legally” since his songs have been “cleverly” borrowed a number of times over the years.

  • Back to the album cover. I look at it this way, concerning her trilogy:
    Part 1: winter album, cover shows mind with clutter. Darkness surrounds.
    Part 2: spring, flowers blooming, a reawakening. Vivid purples, as if the sun is about to rise.
    Part 3: 2012, she’ll release this in late August/early September. Sunrise, a la Roy Ayers‘ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine”, with “bees and things and flowers”? Her music is reflective of her “life”, and Badu has referred to the words “my life” in songs such as “My Life” and “Love Of My Life”, so a bit of continuity would not be unlike her at all.

    Maybe it will wrap up this New Amerykah she speaks of, either that or she has already planned this out from the start. While the paranoia of 2012 lurks for some, many are looking to the year as a means of a reawakening, be it personal, spiritual, mental, social, political, everything. It’s not the end as hyped, it’s a metaphorical end to the old ways, and the need to not fear a new way.

    It will also tie in with the 2012 elections, which raises the question on whether or not President Barack Obama will have another four years. Is the idea of a “new America” already in progress? Everyone wants quick and easy, maybe Obama is doing things kama sutra style: it may be at a methodical pace that seems twice as long, but the end result will be much more joyous. Is this the hope?

    So, will this new album feature a Gravediggaz sample, honoring the dead and those who will forever dig, with the use of Prince Paul saying “1, 2 (1, 2) 1, 2 (1, 2)… you ready? (you ready?) from “Mommy What’s A Gravedigga?”

    Significance? Some say the end of the world will be on December 21, 2012. That’s 12/21/12, that “one, two”, “one, two”, and Badu will be giving the world a mic check. Could she steer it in that direction? For all I know, New Amerykah Part 3 could be a folky album, Odetta style. Wouldn’t that freak people out?

    Only time, and Badu, will tell.

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  • DUST IT OFF: Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis

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    Wikipedia states that August 9, 1994 was the release date for the first Gravediggaz album, known around the world as Niggamortis but known in the U.S. as 6 Feet Deep. However, I clearly remember buying the album in late July since I had to go to Portland, 200 miles from where I live, to buy it, as no one around here was selling it and I wasn’t willing to wait a week or two for a copy (back when it had still taken that long to get music. Waiting… those were the days.)

    As the story goes, this was a project steered by Prince Paul and The RZA, when they weren’t sure where their careers were going. Prince Paul lost a deal with Def Jam when his Dew Doo Man imprint failed to go anywhere after the Resident Alien album failed to be released. Bad timing had a lot to do with it too, when Def Jam moved from Columbia to Polygram. Paul was signed with Def Jam when they were on Columbia, but Paul was left behind. There has been enough talk about his association with De La Soul at the time, and after creating Buhloone Mind State for the group, it seemed his relationship with Tommy Boy Records was uncertain. When he submitted the idea for what would become the Gravediggaz, Tommy Boy weren’t interested. Not good for a man who spent a lot of time with Tommy Boy as a member of Stetsasonic.

    Prince Rakeem had been hoping to make it as an MC, and did well with “Ooh I Love You Rakeem”, enough for Tommy Boy to want more. Rakeem submitted a new project to the label called the Wutang Clan (no hyphen) and they passed. Tommy Boy had already promoted the Wutang on the back of “The Source” but early demos made Tommy Boy leery of wanting to take a risk on something that wasn’t like Naughty By Nature.

    The demise of Stetsasonic left Fruitkwan without a group to be with or collaborators, and while he did appear in “Self Destruction”, it was pretty much over for him. At least until Prince Paul came into the picture.

    Too Poetic had been a member of the Brothers Grimm before attempting a solo career on Tommy Boy with the great “God Made Me Funky”. The song itself was actually the B-side to a house-flavored track that didn’t move anyone, but those who were impressed by the self-profressed 5’4″ MC wanted to hear more. Tommy Boy didn’t bother working with him for anything past the first single.

    Thus, you had a crew of Tommy Boy alumni whose careers were not dead, but perhaps could’ve been had they not had the confidence to work together to see what could happen.

    When The RZA was involved with the Gravediggaz, he wasn’t really 100 certain that the Wu-Tang would work. The release of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) really didn’t take off until four months after the album’s release in November 1993, when “C.R.E.A.M.” was released and became the jam for the summer of 1994. But even that didn’t mean anything. The Gravediggaz were not a side-project for The RZA as many have claimed over the years, but a full on project, and he was willing to work with anyone and anything to prove his talents as an MC/producer. He felt if the Gravediggaz made it, that would be his ticket out.

    Looking back and going through interviews, it seems 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis was an angry album for Prince Paul. It was hardcore in a horror movie sense, but still very nerdy. Nerd gangsta? It still had an incredible sense of humor, and when you hear the album, you can tell it is very much Paul’s baby, not far from his trippy work with Stet, not distant from his De La or Resident Alien work. For Fruitkwan, it was a chance for people to hear him away from Stet, away from the dominance of Daddy-O or MC Delite. For Too Poetic, he turned his flow and intellect up a few notches and let people know what they had been wanting for years.

    The eventual album freaked people out because no one in hip-hop had ever talked about chewing your own fucking arm off when you were crucified, or being placed underground and struggling to survive. Gangsta rap had been about drive-by’s and gang warfare, but the Gravediggaz used death and the afterlife as metaphors not only for their own careers, but about life in itself, how having a second chance could be beneficial if offered. The Gravediggaz were the group all MC’s and fans would be hearing when, in the words of KRS-One, you were “outta here”, they represented the afterlife of hip-hop, the same way Cut Chemist would describe it in his collage masterpiece, “Lesson 6”.

    It would be labeled “horrorcore” and there would be a short-lived horrorcore movement that literally went nowhere (dead on arrival), but the Gravediggaz were always manipulators of the sounds and words in their musical toy box, as all participants in hip-hop music should be. The album was released when the Wu were very much in the air, and for The RZA, Prince Paul, Fruitkwan, and Too Poetic, it was all or nothing. Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Part II)” was also making the rounds, and as the Wu-Empire began taking shape, 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis was in the middle of the period between Enter The Wu-Tang and Method Man’s Tical, making The RZA to release the first out of the group to release a project post-36 Chambers.

    It was an incredible time to be a fan of not only hip-hop music, but a Wu-Tang and Prince Paul fan. If you listen to 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis real good, some of those beats he had been using for years, or samples that had been used but he flipped to make it sinister. It wasn’t happy De La slow music, it wasn’t sinister CHRONIC music, this was an album that broke a few hip-hop taboos without anyone knowing it. Maybe by 1993, everyone started to have expectations of what the music should be, and what it could or couldn’t be. People were quick to say the music was “black born and raised” and it must speak from “the Black experience”, but with that came the stereotypes from naysayers who felt that “as a Black artist, you should always sing or speak about that. But don’t speak about that, that’s stuff white people like.” I remember briefly when the Gravediggaz were considered too dark like heavy metal. Consider this the full album equivalent of De La’s “Who Do You Worship”, if you will, the stuff that would be perfect in a horror movie but not in hip-hop.

    Then again, didn’t De La and Paul come from or lived near Amityville, as shown in the “Potholes In My Lawn” video?:
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    Regardless of what the album was meant to be or what it became, it marked significant changes for everyone. Unfortunately it changed the dynamic of the Gravediggaz when The RZA started to have more control over the music on the second album, which was done in tandem with Wu-Tang Forever, and Paul’s input on the final version was limited. In the end, the Gravediggaz would end up being Fruitkwan and Too Poetic, who unfortunately died soon after the release of their last album after a battle with cancer. Too Poetic should have had the same respect and attention that many MC’s from the early 90’s have today, and the resurrection he spoke about was about validating himself as a true talent.

    Regardless, 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis is an album that also marked a shift in how hip-hop albums were presented, and in comparison show how much hip-hop has put itself in a closet. The music that was about speaking and that freedom of expression suddenly censored and limited itself, but the Gravediggaz were very much honoring the words of Chuck D., when he said “our freedom of speech is freedom of death, you got to fight the powers that be”, even if for the Gravediggaz those “powers that be” were themselves.

    Arm to the Leg, Leg
    Arm to the Head
    Yo, be the Rzarector
    Resurrect the mental dead
    G to the R to Y-M reaper
    As I get deeper than a crypt, resurrect, kid!
    Don’t go against the grain, mad slang is my thang
    I leave the hearty party with a bang
    Buzza boom check my tune, it gotcha hyper
    Dont give a fuck about a sucker c-cipher
    As you decipher the tricks of a viper
    Swine is lethal, divine is evil!
    I am original, we can build upon
    The ill form and keep all your brain cells warm
    Hocus pocus, yo! whats the focus?
    Weak techniques you speak, the shit is bogus
    Even in a mortuary, slangin’ some boom
    As I seek the knowl from the womb to the tomb

    Yo, deadly, deadly, YAH! get ready
    Here come the styler, wilder than Freddy (dead)
    Cause a Krueger, boom, I do ya
    Just to let ya know Gravediggaz comin through ya
    Dead stinkin’ rotten, your brainc ells forgotten
    The past, you had your bumba raas pickin cotton
    Now ya hate ya knotty hairstyles
    I guess you figure the texture is too wild, child

    SOME STUFFS: Prince Paul & Peanut Butter Wolf to help you fall in love this Valentine’s Day weekend

    Think I’m joking? Nope. The Egyptian Lover will be there to help marinate the festivities as well.
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    This will follow with an exclusive Prince Paul/Peanut Butter Wolf Valentine’s Day podcast, which you will be able to download exclusively at Stones Throw. Fresh.