Friday, May 30, 2008

Afu-Ra - Body of the Life Force (2xLP, 2000)

I have a vague recollection of purchasing this CD.

I think I was at the CD/Game Exchange, checking out the five dollar hip hop, and this one jumped out at me because I recognized it from my brother's shelf. Makes sense. GZA and Masta Killa do guest spots, and there was a time when we would have purchased anything that featured Wu members.

I haven't listened to this in years, but maybe I should have. It's solid hip hop, featuring a few tracks produced by DJ Muggs, and a bunch of tracks produced by DJ Premier.

And GZA brings it.

"Bigacts Littleacts" featuring GZA

Buy at Amazon

Aerosmith - Get Your Wings (LP, 1974)

In 1987, I was 11 years old. Aerosmith had a hit with "Dude Looks Like A Lady," and I was all about it. I had seen the video (though not at home, as my mom had MTV blocked) and thought they looked a little old, but never thought much of it. To me, they were, first and foremost, the band that tag-teamed "Walk This Way" with Run-DMC. I must have known they had been around for a while, but it wasn't until my aunt slipped me her old LP of their Greatest Hits that I realized just how far back their pre-"Walk This Way" career spanned.

I began exploring their back catalog, buying a cassette of that Greatest Hits album so I could rock it, Walkman style, and checking out Rocks and Night In the Ruts from the library. They were alright, but when my neighbor (he was a few years younger than my parents) let me borrow this, their sophomore LP, I never gave it back. Listening to it now, I remember why: it is as good as any 70's hard rock out there.

The first side is solid, starting off with "Same Old Song and Dance," which is probably the most radio-friendly of all the songs here. The other three tracks on side one, "Lord of the Thighs," "Spaced," and "Woman of the World," are all fine, but they're really just the warm up for side two, where the band is all over the place, in the best way.

"S.O.S. (Too Bad)" is an almost flawless hard rock song, and before you have a chance to catch your breath, it tunnels into "Train Kept A Rollin'," which is just a fantastic barrage of guitar wailing and Steven Tyler yelping. I could probably do without the fake crowd noises, but you can see how they were trying to put their own stamp on the oft-covered song. After the mayhem dies down, the track bleeds into "Seasons of Wither," an almost-ballad (especially in comparison to the others) with a super catchy melody that could easily be a hit for them today. In fact, it's way better than anything they've done in the last ten years.

The album ends with "Pandora's Box," a song co-written by Joey Kramer (!), that works well as an easy, riff heavy, familiar end to the record. Ah, bands must miss the days when it was acceptable to put out an album with eight tracks on it. In a way, I do. There was less chance of filler.

Damn. Now I wish I had Toys In The Attic.

"Train Kept A Rollin'" live in 1974

Buy at Amazon

Thursday, May 29, 2008

ABC - The Lexicon of Love (LP, 1982)

When I'm feeling particularly cynical, I have no problem writing Martin Fry off as nothing more than a poor man's Bryan Ferry. But, in the end, I don't think that's giving him enough credit. While he has certainly cribbed some of Ferry's moves, he plays up more of a thwarted wuss angle, and it works well for him.

Any semi-extensive knowledge I have of ABC pretty much begins and ends with this record, but as I sit here and listen to it, I can see why it was such a big hit back in '82. It manages to be both poppy and slightly sophisticated, while also incorporating some pretty ambitious arrangements.

And, when it comes down to it, "The Look of Love (Part One)" is just a delight to listen to.

"Poison Arrow"

Buy at Amazon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

50 Cent - Curtis (2xLP, 2007)

And, here's where Fiddy pretty much lost me.

As a rule, I try not to purchase albums that feature Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, or Akon. So, I had a hard time shelling out dough for this one. Upon first listen, I regretted it even more. The production is spotty at best, the guest spots are pointless, and songs like "Amusement Park" (it's a metaphor for fucking) are just embarrassing.

I don't hate "I Get Money" as much as I would like to, but "Ayo Technology" is easy to despise. And, maybe saddest of all, the song featuring Eminem ("Peep Show") is half baked at best.

50, phoning it in.

"Straight to the Bank"

Buy at Amazon

50 Cent - The Massacre (2xLP, 2005)

Given the success of 50's debut, we all knew he was going to be hard pressed to deliver with a follow up of the same caliber. When I saw that the first track on the album was called "In My Hood," I did not have high hopes.

My wariness turned out to be somewhat justified, but this album does pick up a bit after the lackluster opening track. "This Is 50" and "I'm Supposed to Die Tonight" are solid reminders of why 50 is often good at what he does. He knows how to put a song together, and when he mixes up his vocal styles, you don't really have a chance to get bored. He gets together with Eminem on "Gatman and Robbin'," which is ostensibly a hackneyed concept, but the production is solid and Eminem drops a pretty intense verse or two.

Still, the record gets slow in the second half and 50 insists on making it about four songs too long. But, in the end, it at least proves that he was no fluke.

"Gatman and Robbin'"

Buy at Amazon

Monday, May 26, 2008

50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die Tryin' (2xLP, 2003)

I tried not to like Fiddy. There was too much hype surrounding him, and after hearing "Wanksta," I still didn't understand what all the fuss was about. It must have been when I first heard "Heat" that I finally understood what he was going for. And on that track in particular, he was getting there.

This album remains a guilty pleasure for me, as I don't think 50 is nearly as good as his ego and record sales would indicate. But when it comes down to production and beats, this is one of the best gangsta rap albums of the last ten years.

It's too bad he couldn't keep it up.


Buy at Amazon

Sunday, May 25, 2008

3rd Bass - Derelicts of Dialect (2xLP, 1991)

While 3rd Bass's best known album might be The Cactus, their best known song is probably "Pop Goes the Weasel," from this, their second full-length (The Cactus Revisited, a remix EP, was released in 1990 to tide fans over). This is no doubt due to the video, and you can't fault folks for retaining the indelible image of Henry Rollins, dressed as Vanilla Ice, catching a beatdown from Serch and Nice.

While targeting Ice was way too easy (and even a little late at this point), getting Rollins in the video gave them endless cred with the white kids and made for a lot of plays on MTV. For my money, this album is arguably better than its predecessor, as it's more polished, a little grittier, and Pete Nice seems to have only gotten better.

Unfortunately, this was to be the end for the Bass, as it was 1991 and the brightly colored, choreographed dance style they were known to flaunt went from cool to embarrassing overnight. They did one more single for the film Gladiator, and then went their separate ways.

Don't worry, I'll be getting to their solo albums.

"Portrait of the Artist as a Hood"

Buy at Amazon

Saturday, May 24, 2008

3rd Bass - The Cactus Album (2xLP, 1989)

1989 was a can't-miss year for hip hop. Case in point here, as we witness a Jewish kid from Queens rocking a hi-top fade (bold move, MC Serch) team up with a cigar chompin', pseudo-tough guy with a overly pronounced gangsta lean (nice cane, Pete Nice), fight the odds, and pull off a really important record. Is a lot of that success owed to Prince Paul? Not as much as you would think. It's mostly due to the beatmaking skills of one Sam Sever, who found a way to chop up classic rock samples (The Doors, Blood, Sweat & Tears) and make them funky.

Of course, the stars of the show here are Serch and the Prime Minister, two MC's who aren't the smoothest, but what they lack in finesse they make up for with deep vocab. While the Beastie Boys were the first white rap group with any chart success, 3rd Bass were the first guys to overtly co-opt the popular black culture of the time. Especially Serch. Sometimes I still can't believe it didn't backfire on him. But he preached equality and respect for the form, and people couldn't argue with that. Plus, they were signed to Def Jam and everybody else in the group (their dancers, their DJ Richie Rich, their crew) were African-American, so maybe it padded their cred.

But, none of it would've mattered if the songs weren't good. While the Beasties were for the white kids who didn't listen to rap, 3rd Bass were for the white kids who desperately wanted to be a part of the culture, and who held deep resentment for the atrocity that was Vanilla Ice. Serch led that charge, furiously doing the running man while Pete Nice stood in the background and played the cool guy. It was an obvious use of juxtaposition, but it played brilliantly.

"The Gas Face" live on MTV's Spring Break

Buy at Amazon

Friday, May 23, 2008

2Pac - R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (3xLP, 1997)

This is another LP that my friend (read below) gave to me out of guilt. I'm not sure I've even played this one all they way through. In fact, I'd doubt it, because it's pretty damn long. Listening to it now, it does sound a bit familiar, but only "Nothin' But Love" stands out, and I think that's because it was the b-side to the "I Get Around" cassette single I had in high school.

This was 2Pac's first official posthumous release, and considering the length, I remember being surprised that they were using up so much material on the first shot. Little did I know. Most of the tracks here are from his semi-early career, and they hold up pretty well, aside from the requisite thug ballad, which this time around is "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto." Gimme a break.

I've learned to like some 2Pac over the years, but I've never been able to take the plunge and really get into it. The more people praise him and insist on placing him on that shaky pedestal, the more I want to run the other direction. But, you can't deny the man's work ethic.

"Nothin But Love (Original Version)"

Buy at Amazon

Thursday, May 22, 2008

2Pac - Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (LP, 1993)

Alphabetically, my LP/CD collection somehow starts here. It's not great news for me, because I haven't listened to this record in at least seven years.

When I was 23, I was living in a one bedroom apartment in a building that was owned by one of my friend's fathers. When I moved into the place, my unit was under construction, with all work being slowly completed by said friend. It soon became evident that this work (it was mostly painting and some minor drywalling) would never be done. I would leave for the weekend and come home to my kitchen covered in plastic, the smell of paint and extremely potent pot wafting through the air. I would find my friend, stoned and covered in paint, meticulously working on the edging that surrounded the antique door frames.

This quickly became routine, and I was having trouble masking my frustration with him. We both had record collecting in common, and to assuage my annoyance, he would bribe me with LP's from time to time. This was one of them. Listening to it now, I remember why he didn't mind parting with it. The record (the LP itself, not the music) sounds like shit. My friend was a perfectionist, and he never had trouble parting with vinyl that wasn't of the highest quality. So, I ended up with his copy of 2Pac's sophomore LP.

While I used to harbor a fair amount of what I feel is justified disdain for 2Pac, I lightened up after I heard "Hit 'Em Up," which is easily in the top five (if not the top two, because it can't best "No Vaseline" by Ice Cube) diss songs ever put on wax. So, when my pal offered this album to me, I was willing to give it a shot. Listening to it now, I quickly remember what I like about it: the guest spots. "Last Wordz" features both Ices (Cube and T) kicking sweet verses, and when it comes to mid-90's booty jams, you'd be hard pressed to find a better song than "I Get Around," or a better sex rhyme than Money B's verse, which is clearly the highlight of the cut.

Hip hop is built on hypocrisy, so there's no point in mentioning 2Pac's digressions here. "Keep Ya Head Up" would have come across as a trite track coming from anyone. And it's just not a good song to begin with. But, "I Get Around" was on my iPod as recently as last year, so that's gotta mean something.

"I Get Around" Live on Arsenio

Buy at Amazon