1/30/20

"Eric B. Is President" Extended DJ Screw Mix (and other slow delights)

For his time especially, Rakim's delivery has always been notably cool and calm, not necessarily slower than all of his peers but usually deeper in register. This makes the effect of screwing or otherwise slowing his music all the more stirring. Where some other MCs might sound slurred under this treatment, the God resonates like an actual ancient deity, the clarity and precision of his scrolls embedded in stone like commandments in tablets.

There are at least three Eric B. & Rakim songs with DJ Screw remixes, all of which you can hear on Long Island Rap's 6:31 'n the Mornin' tribute. In revisiting that compilation, I noted that none of those songs were particularly heavy on the chopping front. On closer inspection, I found that much of the scratching was reserved for songs that came before or after on the original Screw tapes. The song that had the most Screw flavor was "Eric B. Is President," mostly because Screw and his friends can be heard talking over it a bunch of times. Going back to 1995's Diary of the Originator Chapter 222: My Block, I heard more of the song on the subsequent track, Spice 1's "Fucked In the Game." In fact, the "Eric B. Is President" beat is so heavy in the mix for so much of that track, it's essentially a blend. That being the case, I decided to take about 50% of that track and attach it to the "Eric B. Is President" mix to create an extended Chopped + Screwed version, now with more chatting and chopping. Feel the purple ambience below. (Note I'm colorblind, so sorry if these photos are more blue or pink than purple.)


Of course, Screw isn't the only DJ who ever had the idea to slow down Rakim's music. DJ Crystal Clear has slowed and chopped all of Paid in Full and Follow the Leader. Both sound promising. There's also video of a DJ Grim Reefer remixing the first album as such. Perhaps truest to DJ Screw's spirit of tape hustling, however, is Pipomixes' Stoney B & Rakim, which he describes as "Rakim stoned-up, blended with all sorts of funky, slow beats." Replacing Michael Jackson's head with Pikachu smoking a Pok√© bong also goes a long way toward describing the sound here, I think.


R.I.P. DJ Screw who would be turning 49 this year.

1/29/20

Eric B. & Rakim's Fantastic Voyage (in Toronto)

Here we have a radio appearance by Eric B. & Rakim that is significant for a number of reasons: 1) it was recorded on November 21, 1987 just prior to their first ever concert in Toronto (see the poster for it in the Rakim concert flyer collection posted earlier this week); 2) it aired on 88.1 CKLN's Fantastic Voyage program hosted by Ron Nelson, who played a major role in developing the Toronto hip-hop scene; and 3) perhaps most curiously, it documents Eric B. & Rakim reacting to Coldcut's "Paid in Full" 7 Minutes of Madness Mix. A previous post on this track relayed their reaction second-hand via Coldcut's Jonathan More, who basically said Eric B. hated the mix and Rakim loved it. In this recording, however, they both seem pretty put off by it.

One interesting post-script from Nelson himself: "Today marked the first time in two years of interviewing hip-hop artists that I've ever been nervous about an interview, and you probably detected it in my tone of voice. Believe me, Eric B. & Rakim, they are power. I've interviewed Run DMC before, which I think to most people are the ultimate in power. You name it, I've interviewed them. Name a group ...Whodini, Kurtis Blow ... I don't know why but today marked the first time that I was ever nervious about interviewing an artist, and in a way I'm still coming down from it..."

Props to DJ Law for uploading the radio clip as well as the Toronto concert flyer from yesterday's post, and to Toronto writer and photographer Rick McGinnis whose photographs of Eric B. & Rakim in Toronto circa 1987 appear in today's post. (Presumably they would've been taken while the group were in town for the concert.) Below, stream Eric B. & Rakim's appearance on CKLN's Fantastic Voyage along with a short documentary on the Toronto rap scene, featuring the Ken E Krush Krew who opened for Eric B. & Rakim that night in November 1987.

1/28/20

Bookman Joe Donahue Interviews Rap God Rakim for New York State Writers Institute

Today marks the 52nd birthday of the God MC William Michael Griffin Jr. aka Rakim. Every year at this time, Long Island Rap celebrates Rakim's birthday with an annual "Rakim Week," which begins the Sunday before (or of) January 28 and ends the following Saturday.

If you've been reading our posts so far this week, you know I've been reading Rakim's new memoir/writing guide Sweat the Technique, published by Harper Collins September 24, 2019. I haven't finished yet, I don't want to give anything away, and I'm not much for book reports anyway, but suffice it to say this is a must-read for anyone interested in the life and mind of hip-hop's greatest of all time, as well as any rapper or listener who's ever thought about the actual process of writing rhymes.

On October 28, Rakim visited SUNY Albany for a book signing and on-stage discussion with Joe Donahue as part of the Creative Life series, brought to us by the New York State Writers Institute, University Art Museum, UAlbany Performing Arts Center and WAMC. Streaming below is a clip from their discussion, during which Rakim talks about two of his key influenes: Muhammad Ali and Ruth Brown. The complete discussion can be downloaded or streamed here.

One last note for now: Sweat the Technique is also available as an audiobook narrated by none other than the author, Rakim. The writing is truly masterful, but part of me wishes the hardcover came with a link for the audiobook version, if only because, well ... "it's been a long time."

1/27/20

"I had to give the audience more than just words. I had to give them an experience."



The title for today's post comes from Rakim's memoir/writing guide, Sweat the Technique, specifically the chapter "From High School to Rap Star," in which Rakim talks about going on tour for the first time. We'll continue to discuss the book later this week, but in the meantime check out these concert flyers, which span nearly two decades, from what must be one of Rakim's earliest NYC shows in 1986 all the way up to an ill-fated 2004 date. While you browse, here are some "thoughts to guide."
  • Between the first and second flyer above, Eric B. & Rakim's debut album, Paid In Full, dropped on July 7, 1987. What the posters won't show you is that Rakim would've still been in high school when he and Eric B. set off on the Def Jam Tour. There's a great passage in the book where Rakim talks about getting the blessing from his parents to leave school to hit the road.
  • The October 4, 1987 show featured a then-21-year-old Too Short in an early slot on the bill.
  • The November 21, 1987 bill is for Rakim's first show in Toronto, Canada (more on this later in the week).
  • The series of July 1988 concert flyers shows how stacked Eric B. & Rakim's schedule was at the time; it appears on July 24 they were either double-booked or did shows in both Stockton, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • July 24, 1988 also happens to be the eve of the Follow the Leader album release, which along with the rising sales of Paid In Full, helps explain how Eric B. & Rakim jump from second or third billing to the headline slot around this time.
  • The August 4, 1988 concert flyer for Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas shows that Rakim was swinging through the Lone Star State when DJ Screw was coming up, as suggested earlier, though we can only speculate as to whether Screw made it to one of the Dope Jam Tour dates.
  • The lack of any posters between 1992 and 1998 is perhaps not insignificant; listeners will remember that The 18th Letter dropped in November 1997 following a five-year hiatus during which time Rakim was entangled in a legal battle over his and Eric B.'s contract with MCA.

1/26/20

Erick S. & Rakim

Rakim with Erick Sermon, Parish Smith and Slick Rick; it
seems whatever tensions might have once existed between Ra
and EPMD have long since eased, and the acts now frequently
perform on the same bills as one another. 
Long Island Rap's sixth (!!!!!!) annual Rakim week starts now, with a look at a topic that we've never really touched on, but which, despite being long settled, continues to get attention even today. I'm talking, of course, about the on-wax "beef" between Rakim (then of Eric B. & Rakim) and EPMD's Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith. For those who don't already know the story, EPMD gave a pretty thorough recap during a 2017 appearance on Nore's Drink Champs podcast.

***

Erick Sermon: We’re two towns away. Rakim’s my mentor. When I heard him, I thought his name was Rock Wind. All of a sudden, the record came out so me and Parish were like, “Yo, this the illest shit we ever heard.” …Rakim had, “You could get a smack for this, I ain’t no joke.” Parish came back and said, “It’s like a Dig’em Smack, you smack me and I’ll smack you back,” not knowing—

Parrish Smith: Just a rhyme about the cereal, you know, the frog. I was just writing rhymes.

Nore: Time out, I never caught that.

Erick Sermon: But the two towns did because it’s Long Island! Then Rakim made this shit called “Follow the Leader” and said, “A brother said dig 'em I never dug 'em/ He couldn’t follow the leader enough so I drug him into the danger zone,” so he went! And we’re not fucking with him! Let’s keep it real, Parish was incredible but we’re not fucking with him though. There used to be a club in Manhattan called The Building, so him and Parrish were at the bar talking and P said, “E, let me talk with you real quick,” so P called me over and we squashed the beef right there in the bar.

***

The records Sermon's talking about here are Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke," EPMD's "You're A Customer," and Eric B. & Rakim's "Follow the Leader." The misunderstanding that sparked the beef was over a line referring to Dig 'Em, the cartoon frog mascot of Kellogg's Sugar Smacks cereal. Check out the commercial below, which contains the jingle Smith was referencing on "You're A Customer."


Cereal catchphrase miscommunications aside, with EPMD coming out after Eric B. & Rakim, with both groups selling well right out the gate, and with Sermon's laid back vocals drawing immediate comparison to Rakim, it's not surprising that many Long Islanders who knew both camps may have been looking for reasons to pit them against one another. In fact, the rap rivalry between Brentwood and Wyandanch can be traced back even further, and if those who were around for it are to be believed, "Follow the Leader" wasn't Rakim's introduction to it.

In a 2009 interiew, DJ Belal (an early DJ for Rakim and later of Groove B Chill) recalled "being in Brentwood at a little house party and Smitty’s group, the Rock Squad came down." Parrish Smith was actually in that group, but back then went by the name D.J. Eazzy "P." Belal continued, "From Wyandanch, it was just me and Ra and some people who weren’t MCs. And Ra tore them up by himself. He did the whole 'Seven MCs in a line' routine then. The look on they face was priceless because it was 7 of them."

Which brings us back to a larger point about battling and friendly competition. Rakim didn't write the seven MCs line for the Rock Squad — it was part of a routine he did before it was ever recorded — but when rapping on others' turf or in any competive setting (and really, what isn't), it could and certainly would be used as lyrical artillery. The same might be said for Parish Smith's "It's like a Dig 'Em Smack, you smack me and I’ll smack you back." Whether it was originally directed at Rakim, as he thought — or not, as Smith contends — it certainly could've been taken that way. Regardless of the artists' true targets or lack thereof, the competitve spirit they shared made for some of the best records in history; and their listeners' equally passionate fandom, which drove them to analyze their favorite artists' lyics and often prescribe new meanings, only fueled the artists' fire.

***

While we're considering Rakim's early brushes with EPMD and how listeners' interpretations can allow for records to be heard in new ways, here's something far doper: a blend of the vocals from Eric B. & Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke" with the instrumental for EPMD's "The Big Payback." The blend comes from an episode of the Club Krush radio program, which aired on WPRB 103.3 FM in either Augst or July of 1990. The show was hosted by DJs Eazy M and G, and it seems like the latter was behind the boards for this blend. You can read more about the program and listen to the full episode via RawDealRadio.com and the Internet Archive.
 

1/20/20

Samfl3 (Pronounced sUM-FLaa or SUN-FLer)

Listening to Nortey "Samfl3" Dowuona, one gets the feeling that the music he makes couldn't possibly have been taught or passed on, that it must be entirely and exclusively a product of the artist's own ingenuity. The beats sound more like videogame soundtracks than instrumentals somebody made to rap over, yet he insists (at least on his debut) that there's sampling involved; the vocals somehow recall both nursery rhymes and the early '00s cram-a-million-words-into-each-line style, yet they remain strangely in the pocket no matter how wild the keyboard arrangements backing them get.

Samfl3's debut album is called Notice the Cat; its followup, Window Dressing, also features cats on the cover. The biography he sent me a year ago begins: "Nortey Dowuona first started rapping after watching several tv shows and, wanting to be a voice actor, started recording his voice on his iPod Touch in 2012, then recording a Spiderman tune he remembered from the 1992 tv show. After finding the instrumental for Martians and Goblins by the Game, a song he enjoyed, he started free styling about an actual war between martians and humans, with goblins helping to defeat them." It goes on from there, explaining in detail his artistic development leading up to the release of said debut. Samfl3 grew up in Accra, Ghana, then moved to Garden City. Eight of the album's 10 songs were recorded on holiday in La, Ghana.

Dig a little deeper and you'll find All American Opera, "an electronica album influenced by hip-hop and R&B," which Samfl3 put out in 2013, with song titles including "Spiders Eating Maggots out of the Dead Breasts of Chichidodos," "A Lack of Video Games and an Abundance of Internet," "It's Not Paranoia..." and "...If They're Actually After You." It's lit. So is Notice the Cat, though it took me all of a year to finally cover it here. In the interim, Samfl3 has uploaded three more albums to Bandcamp, one of which has the amazing title, I Had No Keyboard, So I Made Raps. Like I said, this is not so much rap as an oral tradition but more rap as a purely personal expression. It's its own thing.

1/18/20

De La Soul Doing Awesome Things in Europe 89-90

Above, De La Soul appear on the Dutch television program Fa. Unst on the VPRO network. The group performs "The Magic Number," "Plug Tunin'" and "Me, Myself & I" then get interviewed by host Sylvia Pool and finally compete against UK rock group the Mute Drivers in a trivia face-off. Below, one year later De La Soul appear on the UK's Capital Rap Show with Tim Westwood for an interview and freestyle. This 1990 appearance is not to be confused with their freestyle with Nas on Tim Westwood's show in 1996. Their interview begins at 21:16 and their freestyle at 25:16.

1/11/20

Lil Tecca - "Bossanova"

Lil Tecca may have unseated Lil Nas X from atop the Billboard charts, but clearly the Lawrence rapper's biggest accomplishment to date has been inspiring a rewrite of this site's Submissions page copy, which had remained virtually untouched since 2014. Now that's a legacy.

Theravada - Clarity of Escape

New music from Theravada, mostly instrumental including axe murder anthem "cadett5," but the title cut sees him continuing to vocally undress a hologram. Hear more Theravada beats and rhymes on fellow 2000 flag-bearer Rbchmbrs' Old Man Soon.

Roc Marciano - "Tom Chambers"

Roc Marciano taps Marci Beaucoup cover artist and "Emeralds" video director Justin "Unjust" Herman to bring the action-packed Marcielago cover to life in this Speed Racer-style animation for "Tom Chambers."