Wednesday, February 16, 2005

UGK 'Chopped & Screwed' Album Review

'Chopped & Screwed'
Jay-Z’s adoration for Bun B is well documented, not least in his nabbing of the poet of Port Arthur’s lines and inserting them into his own parables, and that alone should ensure that UGK releases resonate strongly on the post-Jigga rap map. The inclusion of the deliciously affecting ‘One Day’ on this Chop Shop screwed take on their greatest moments is another, not least when Pimp C talks of a friend losing their baby in a house fire and asks someone up above “Why you let these killers live and take my homeboy’s son away?” Damn. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

Trick Daddy 'Thug Matrimony' Album Review

Trick Daddy
'Thug Matrimony'
Few pull off the balancing act of textures and moods required throughout an album like Miami’s main man. And here the rambunctious nature of songs like the TI featuring ‘Fuckin’ Around’ and the monstrous Lil’ Jon enhanced and Twista co-crunking ‘Let’s Go’ are balanced astutely with ‘I Wanna Sang’ and ‘The Children’s Song’, tracks which brim with a humble positivity. Mr Daddy Dollars also makes a path for the ladies by claiming to have “originated pussy sucking” on the freak-fest ‘Menage A Trois’, a ditty that also contains the Jazze Pha-assisted chorus “Let’s have a ménage a trios/Just you and I.” Inspired. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

Lumberjacks 'Livin' Life Like Lumerbjacks' Album Review

'Livin' Life Like Lumberjacks'
Everybody forgets about that crew telling all that the good die mostly over bullshit. Holding down their own distinctive sound in the ATL long before the days when Outkast and TI competed for magazine covers, Goodie Mob’s T-Mo and Khujo have downsized to a duo – the name involves some story about wearing thick flannel shirts during the cold season – and produced a set of sumptuously earthy hip-hop (peep ‘SuperFriends’ or ‘Black History’), with enough pep where needed (‘Turn Your Whip’ and ‘Y’all Boywees’), no skits, and bonus bells that bring back memories of ‘Player’s Ball’ on ‘Lock’N’Load’. A down-low pleasure. Phillip Mlynar

Mannie Fresh 'The Mind Of...' Album Review

Mannie Fresh
'The Mind Of Mannie Fresh'
(Cash Money/Universal)

Suddenly, every smirk and snicker at a lurid Cash Money Records album cover over the last decade is looking more and more like the grossest folly of hip-hop judgement to ever afflict British shores. Far from being Master P wack, the records masterminded by Baby on the business side and Mannie Fresh from behind the boards are proving to be remarkably resilient and ‘new’ old gems are emerging on the daily for those prepared to search. And now it’s Mannie Fresh, the man normally cast as an in-house producer for the Cash Money stable (his back catalogue must surely total close to half a thousand tracks), who gets his chance to step up to bat and get his shine on.

As with others who’ve stepped from behind the decks to man the mic, his rhymes lean on charisma more than any attempts at a triple metaphor with backwards allegorical twist. But rather than, say, chuckling at Pete Rock managing to get away with some awful lines (Grand Puba penned or not, the mouth of Peter Phillips has come out with some right cringe-inducing codswallop), here you’re laughing with Mannie, almost in the manner of playing along with Biz’s buffoonery. So on ‘Real Big’ he takes the trend of flagrant materialism to its natural parody-heavy home, boasting of ridiculous vehicular accessorises before bringing a producer’s dimension to the dialogue by screeching the track to a stop and declaring, “This is the part where I give my phone number out to all the girls that’s hot.” Likewise, on ‘Tell It Like It Is’ he indulges in some of Slick Rick’s penchant for relaying tales that are heavy on female caricature (although it’s altogether more Psycho Les requesting a post-coital sandwich than the sophisticated art of story telling practised by The Ruler).

Throughout ‘The Mind Of Mannie Fresh’ guests are worked into the fabric effectively and not just for the marketing appeal: Lil’ Wayne appears solo on two tracks where he hijacks Mannie’s studio and proceeds to show the kind of accomplished placing of syllables that’s encouraged Jay-Z to put the former Hot Boy under his tutelage at Def Jam (“I gargle gumbo and spit jambalaya,” he brags in a fresh mode), and David Banner re-works ‘Rubberband Man’ for the Big Tymers on the Baby featuring ‘Go With Me’ (giving a sly nod to Mannie’s use of video game noises along the way).

However, this album is really all about the music of Mannie Fresh and in many ways is but an extended ode to the potential of hip-hop drum sounds and the deejay’s infatuation with them, from the fills of the ‘Intro’ to the mouthed “boom-bap” of ‘Tell It Like It Is’. And on ‘The DJ’ (effectively a scratch heavy update of UNLV’s ‘Mannie Fresh’) he drops a tribute to hip-hop’s backbone. And there’s no way you can hate on that. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

TI 'Urban Legend'/Ludacris 'The Red Light District' Album Reviews

'The Red Light District'
(Def Jam South)

'Urban Legend'

The title king of the south may now be the most humble of rap mantles. Rather than regional tokenism - a southern concession to the holy grail of anointment that is New York royalty - now that southern hip-hop has taken over east coast radio quotas, the likes of Ludacris, TI, Lil’ Flip and Lil Wayne are effectively playing for the highest - or most regal - of stakes. In other words, they’re out to become the next Jay-Z.

Nestled within the same corporate Def Jam machine as S dot Carter’s plush new office, Atlanta’s Ludacris is the most visible candidate for succession. He has the sales, versatility and an ability to appeal across the board: when ‘Move Bitch’ drops in a club even the feminists succeed to shouting along. It’s the same type of crossover that allowed Jay-Z to crassly talk of not loving them hoes on ‘Big Pimpin’’ while the girls kept jiggling. Pole position in Luda’s package of appeal though is his voice; a quite wonderful, dominating tone that hits the right notes and resonates with an endearing authority, as forced home from even the intro to ‘The Red Light District’. “The last album, they don’t want me to tell this/Debuted at number one and sold more records than Elvis,” he begins over Timbaland’s heavy guitar twang before continuing with his spiel of documenting sales figures: “I’m over ten million sold, every album is crack/And for now I’m ‘bout to carry Def Jam on my back.”

Along with one of the finest bare voices in modern rap, Luda’s propensity for grabbing a cheap laugh also serves him well. ‘Number One Spot’ may officially sample Quincy Jones, but for the purposes of the be-afroed one the loop might as well have been lifted straight from one of Jigga’s Austin Powers DVDs. “I make music for Mini Mes, models and fat bastards!” he exclaims, somewhere between Mike Myers and Hova’s “Oh behave!” impression. (The vision of the two rappers holed up in a Def Jam office literally rolling around the floor as looped footage of the ‘car stuck in a narrow corridor’ scene from the film plays is not beyond the realms of sensible conception.) Indeed, the image of Chris Luva as the latest incarnation of hip-hop’s infatuation with Benny Hill isn’t too far off when he decrees “The Ludameister got ‘em feeling so randy!” And it’s all great fun as he spits forth with punchline after punchline after corny punchline after punchline.

Unfortunately, the whole album’s largely punchline after punchline after corny punchline after punchline. Not that it’s affecting his career so far, and here tracks like ‘Get Back’ and Timbaland’s exquisite beat on ‘The Potion’, which drums up a backing of a march around an African campfire, will continue to see Luda dropping hits that turn out clubs. It’s just that when it comes to albums there’s little beneath the initial surface with the chicken and beer man. ‘Child Of The Night’ is hardly the stuff of life-changing affirmations (“I’m battling with myself and everyday it’s a war/Curiosity killed the cat, why am I Curious George?”) and on ‘Hopeless’, the most obvious attempt to bring some substance to the table, Luda’s ruminations amble while guest Trick Daddy takes the listener on a walk down the road of life. Like a Thirstin Howl III album for the masses then, ‘The Red Light District’ is basically a succession of quick hits that soon turn one dimensional.

While he concedes years to Ludacris on one hand, the young contender from ATL’s Bankhead region, TI, trumps him on maturity in the album game. Sure, the motif of being Atlanta’s king dominates much of ‘Urban Legend’ (his semi-serious beef with Luda saw him dropped from a Young Buck cut in favour of The Game and his antagonism with Lil’ Flip has seen him mock the Leprechaun’s green garb), but local issues are soon traded up for the bigger view. “Down in Miami, up to Louisiana, homes/From the Carolinas, Virginia to David Banner’s home,” he maps out of his regional reach before soon asserting loftier ambitions: “I’m 24 today, give me ‘till I’m 28/I’ll be ruler of all that I survey and not just in the States.”

This expansionist thinking translates to the topics throughout Tip’s third album, and, ultimately, offers the depth that keeps a long player in rotation. ‘Freak Though’, for instance, begins as a sleazy Neptunes club track with Pharrell fooling around with that falsetto of his before dropping down a key for TI to deduce (rather reasonably for an on-the-verge-of-stardom young rapper), “It’s true that you can’t turn a hoe into a housewife/But listen shorty, maybe I don’t want a housewife.” He then continues, “The main thing making niggas judge you/Is the same thing that make me wanna love you.” Sure, it’s not a radical feminist treatise that’s going to change rap’s predilection for hoe talking, but it is a fresh spin on a trad rap topic. ‘My Life’ features Daz Dillinger and, with its sombre tones and reflective sentiments, paints itself into the role of one of the tracks Ice Cube used to close albums with as TI vows “You trying to stack Presidents – I’m trying to set precedents.” ‘Prayin For Help’ is self-explanatory but the key is how it presents the self-knowing tension – the dichotomy even – at the heart of coming on up from the street, much in the manner that Jay-Z did so personally on ‘Reasonable Doubt’. Again, no one’s re-writing the parameters of rap’s ambit here, but it’s twists like these that flesh albums out beyond being just a collection of club singles.

Not that ‘Urban Legend’ is devoid of danceteria appeal though. The reunion with David Banner on ‘Countdown’ sees a clattering swarm of percussion marched out for TI to roll over. “You ain’t representing the south, you just embarrassing/See you on TV in New York, them niggas laugh at us,” he warns others, his southern styled terminal consonants allowing him to pick a rhyme a New York representer might miss. The production files of Lil Jon offer ‘Stand Up’, a haunting track that cracks with venom as TI, Trick and Lil Wayne spit fire (the latter evoking phrasing similarities with the new boss of Def Jam as he enthuses, “Weezy F, middle finger to life/So nothing seems critical, in the hood I’m typical…”).

Then there’s ‘Bring ‘Em Out’, an anthem in the truest sense. Cleverly opening with an a capella line from Jay-Z’s ‘What More Can I Say?’ that’s so clean most could be hoodwinked into thinking Sean actually guests on the track, whistles blurt out, beatbox noises fight for mic time and dissonant horns parp away to infectiously hype effect as TI rouses, “What other rap nigga hooder than this?/I got rich and I’m still on some hooligan shit!” It’ll be mocked as sacrilegious to even suggest such a comparison, but the overall cacophony of noise is not too far off from the idea of the Bomb Squad actively trying to craft a modern club hit.

Ultimately though, listening to a TI album leaves you with the feeling that you’ve had a conversation with the youngster. Just like Jay-Z’s various tomes were like street stories and secrets whispered to the listener in hushed tones during a private moment, there’s a bond formed with the listener throughout ‘Urban Legend’. Sure, there’s boasting (‘ASAP’ is braggadocio par excellence) and partying, but there’s a closeness to it all. In contrast, a listen to Ludacris is too often akin to being shouted at by the loud attention seeking party drunk. It’s a laugh for a moment but it’s far from behaviour befitting true royalty. Phillip Mlynar

Baby 'Shyne On' Single Review

Baby feat. Lil' Wayne
'Shyne On'
(Cash Money/Universal)
A follow-up to Lil Weezy’s ‘Shine’ in name only, here Mannie may be on the beats and Baby may grab top billing but it’s all about presenting yet more evidence that Jay-Z knows just what he’s doing courting the ex-Hot Boy for Def Jam. “Oh he so arrogant, the cocky kind,” mocks Wayne about himself in wonderfully conceited tones that could equally be Sean’s. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

TTC Interview


By Phillip Mlynar

They may prefer to kick it in Cantona as opposed to getting numb in a Nolia brogue and, slick and metallic as the packaging to their latest long player may be, there are no images of extemporaneous quadruple watch wearing, but the 2004 sound of French rap executioners TTC is cut far more from a flossed-up Cash Money cloth than the smoky garms of Guru’s jazz patriot MC Solaar. The future sound template employed this time out is filtered through the machinations of video games to emerge processed as a slick and snappy but determinedly edgy embracing of electronics, just as Mannie Fresh’s keyboards have long been talking with Galaxian game sounds to form a bed for Lil Wayne to wax on and off about Magnolia life. So when Weezy F Baby brags of how he’s got, “A blue and black Ferrari/With Nintendo and Atari/Man I swear the car is awesome/Vroom! Sorry we lost ‘em,” all you need do is trade up the Italian whip for a French, well, something Henry would actually drive, and you’ve got a similar keep-up-or-get-left-at-the-starting-line sentiment, despite the difference in continent and content. But all that’s just the context before the conversation.

“We did make a decision to really go down the electronic path on this album,” confirms Teki Latex, talking on the telephone after introductory banter about the video gaming habits of the group runs its course. “But what you’ll also find with this album, ‘Batards Sensibles’, is that while the sounds are very harsh and electronic and edgy, there’s also a warm touch to them – and not just in the raps – that means you can enjoy that at home in a different style. So there’s something like ‘Codeine’…”

At this point an interruption is enforced in a bid to confirm the H-Town influence that the track’s title suggests.

“Yes, it was inspired by DJ Screw,” affirms Teki Latex, “and the whole screwed up sound he invented.

“When you listen to what we’ve done with the track though,” he continues, offering up a guided tour of how to listen to his music, “you have to take it a step further and actually play around with the tempo of the song on your turntable to experience it how it is meant to be listened to. You have to change up and down between 33rpm and 45 rpm at different points in the record to understand what we were trying to do. You physically have to change the song. There’s almost a formula to it.”

Like a secret code in a video game?

“Yes!” he laughs. “Just like in a video game. You can play it and enjoy it as you want, but there’s another level there – a bonus extra – if you want to search for it.

“What’s really interesting about the whole screwed up music though is how it’s an extension of an embracing of the changing of tempo in hip-hop,” he hypothesises, “which has always really been looked down on. With something like house or dance music you can have deejays playing records really out of tempo at the ‘wrong’ speed, but because of how it’s mixed it comes out sounding fine and is accepted like that. You’ll have drum and bass deejays pitching a record down completely to just use a section of it and it can sound great. We haven’t really seen that in hip-hop before, that changing of the tempo. It’s always been about the scratching and the cutting. But what DJ Screw – and now others like Swisha House – are doing is completely playing with time within a record. That concept is amazing and something that’s fascinating.”

Fascinating, but not without its fun factor, as proved by the growing number of screwed, chopped, thowed or downright distorted tempo-tricked tracks that are seeping across the internet. Earlier in the year Big Dada stable mate Diplo mentioned a guy in Switzerland who’s more southern boy than most down in the Delta. Teki Latex expands the map.

“We’ve started to hear a lot of tracks from people like Madonna where somebody in France has made a screwed version of it. I can see it really catching on – the fact that something that started in Houston is now having an influence on kids in France is proof of that. Of course, some screwed songs sound good and some sound not so good, but like most things it really depends on the talent behind it. It’s not just a case of playing the songs slower though and leaving them like that – there’s much more thought behind it.”

Despite their lofty status over on the continent (TTC are far more superstars than most United Kingdom resident rappers could dream of – their vinyl comes complete with a tiny TTC logo reprinted at length on the inside of the jacket, almost in the manner of Louis Vuitton showboating), they aren’t going quite the same way as their more profiled southern contemporaries and sanctioning an official screwed take on their latest work. (“Well, not unless someone out there does one on the internet!” chuckles Teki Latex.) Rather, they’ve managed to join the gaps on that big ol’ ever expansionist rap map by embracing a sound that not only synergises with their tongues, but also places proud in today’s newly expanded hip-hop library. And that’s at whatever speed you chose to listen at.

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

Speak Like Mannie Fresh Article

He Speaks So Fresh

By Phillip Mlynar

How to emulate Mannie Fresh's mouth of the south...

First impressions count, and Mannie Fresh, the in-house production supremo for Cash Money Records, knows this only too well. While Baby can add teaching the entire western world how to stunt long before Fiddy and friends got hold of the concept to his history, and ex-Hot Boy BG can claim the coining of ‘bling’ on his CV, Mannie deserves acknowledgement for taking the producer’s tick of talking over the introductions to their tracks to a whole new level. Forget the crass self-promotion of Puff or Pete Rock’s whispered tones; in Mannie’s mind there’s a whole social etiquette to this lark. Allow us to enlighten you…

The Salutation
Like a retired country gent still holding on to ideas of decorum forged in the past, Mannie is mindful of always starting an introduction with the vintage “Ladies and gentlemen.” Of course, this being hip-hop, he can’t resist adding on to the initial humble words. So on Juvenile’s ‘In My Life’ he proceeds with “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, lil’ children, dogs and cats…” while on Lil Wayne’s ‘Bring It Back’ he rolls out a socio-economic list that includes, “people with jobs, people without jobs, middle class, upper class, high class, all that, cats, snakes, chickens, ducks, elderly people and twerkers…”

Then, fusing his zoological bent with the sexual politics of the day, he trots out perhaps his most wide-ranging list to date on the ‘Intro’ to his latest album, taking in “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and inbetweens and all that kind of shit, dykes, fags, straight motherfuckers and all that…” Charming.

The Name
Of course, after such exuberant salutations it’s important to make his own name stand out with equal aplomb and to do the trick Mannie goes back to his deejay roots and verbally scratches up his moniker. So, again using Juve’s ‘In My Life’ as a jump-off, Mannie follows up his “Ladies and gentlemen” opening comments with “Right about now you are listening to the incredible drum patterns of deejay Mannie…” At this point he launches into a Rahzel impression to announce, “Fre-Fre-Fre-uh-uh-Fresh!”

Then on the newer TI track ‘Greatest’ he switches up the baby scratching to include stabs and orbits and other things that John Carluccio hasn’t even thought to transcribed yet, before going full circle and scratching up his own vocal etchings on the tribute track ‘The DJ’.

However, all this vocal scratching doesn’t preclude being humble when in the company of other collaborators. So on Tank’s ‘Let Me Live’ the Chubby Boy appropriates the slanguage of his co-collaborator, Jazze Pha, to announce that “This is a Mannie Frizzle Producshizzle!”

Now go ‘head and make a lasting first impression at that next job interview…

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, January 2005)

Young Buck & D-Tay Album Review

Young Buck & D-Tay
'Da Underground Vol 1'
Recorded before the Memphis man made moves with Fiddy and friends, this dual-shock with D-Tay sees Young Buck sounding resolutely at home and spitting a brand of rhymes that may surprise those used to painting him into the corner as G-Unit’s weak link. The southern swamp bounce on offer allows Buck’s natural accent to flow unfettered and soak up into the drums as opposed to sitting slightly uncomfortably and at odds with the G-Unit signature sound, and there’s more than just a hint of a potent Cash Money Records appreciation at work (peep the percussion on ‘Ya Know’ or the keyboard plucks of ‘Don’t Play’) as the duo spit about “surviving off this honesty” and add a depth to their agenda on outings like the almost Goodie Mob-esque ‘Lord Knows’ and the frank dead-end admissions of ‘Don’t Know Where I’m Heading’. For once then, a valuable addition from the rap vaults. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, December 2004)

Slim Thug 'Already Platinum' Album Review

Slim Thug
'Already Platinum'
(Star Trak/Geffen)
The latest southern rapper to be signed to a major has virtually the same history as all the others. Been on the grind for years, honed their craft and built up a solid fan base – therefore a no-brainer for any label with sense. Now he’s caught the eye of Pharrell and Chad and allowed them to ‘do a Clipse’ with him, and under their beats his commanding baritone makes even more sense. ‘Chicken Strip’ brings more of the live feel that the Neptunes have been running with recently, with Slim flowing effortlessly as a compliment to Pharell’s increasingly camp hooks, and slow-flow cuts like ‘Love This Game’ and ‘Put Ya Up’ remind you just how simple and infectious hip-hop can be. Throw in well chosen guests – TI and Bun B together on ‘3 Kings’ – and you’ve got another set that will do nothing but preserve The Neptunes’ reputation while hopefully bringing Slim Thug to the masses. Job well done. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, December 2004)

Juvenile 'Greatest Hits' Album Review

'Greatest Hits'
(Cash Money/Universal)
Juvenile has been a latter day Too Short in that, despite being a huge star in the States, he’d have trouble filling your local student union on these shores. But this is certainly our loss, for in Mannie Fresh he’s had one of the 90s most creative producers behind almost all his hit tracks, most of which are contained here, from ‘Back That Azz Up’ to ‘Ha’ (cuts that have kept strip clubs in beats for years). Juve’s an incredibly basic rapper at times, a trait that perhaps explains why he’s been overlooked by those fiending for lyrical nutrition, but Mannie’s intricate productions carry him through where he gets sloppy. Unfortunately, there’s a little flab on this round-up and you’re reminded why Cash Money have mainly specialised in singles and wearing gold in their mouths, but as an introduction to Juve it’s a tidy stocking filler. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, December 2004)

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz 'Crunk Juice' Album Review

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz
'Crunk Juice'

The statement of intent is in. No longer can the south play the role of the humble, unassuming country cousins, secretly winning over hoards of listeners whilst New York struggles in the straightjacket of it’s own legacy and the west coast spreads itself far too thinly to mount any sort of industry takeover. Sharply in focus as the slew of Christmas LPs jostle for space behind the Eminem behemoth are three of Atlanta’s favourite sons dropping the most anticipated - and crucial - LPs of their careers. TI and Ludacris will have their turn to take a shot at Jay-Z’s old mantle, but first out of the box is America’s current favourite celebrity catchphrase coiner, the unassuming Jonathan Smith who becomes the fire-starting Lil Jon when behind a production board.

So steeped in the history of southern bass, soul and hip-hop music is Lil Jon, however, that he obviously realised he had no choice but to make this LP the rallying cry of his region. It’s pressure – but pressure that he apparently doesn’t feel. For rather than put the incredible guest list of Pharrell, Rick Rubin, Nas, Ice Cube, Chris Rock, Snoop, Ludacris or Jadakiss at the front of his LP to welcome unsure new listeners, he simply delivers 15 minutes of brutal, militant riot music charged up with his true crunk allies, Bo Hagon and Lil Scrappy. The opener ‘Get Crunk’ (yeah, really) splices an insane Bo Hagon verse between what amounts to about four minutes of the most focused, relentless and well produced shouting that you’re ever likely to hear. Or as he proclaims himself, “Just ‘cos we went platinum and shit/That don’t mean we gon’ change!”

By the time Rick Rubin combines for nothing short of the expected ferocity on ‘Stop Fuckin With Me’ and Usher and Luda accompany on the showcase for Lil Jon’s exceptional soul production talents, you realise that your head is close to drowning from the onslaught. Sequenced almost like a crunk ‘Doggystyle’, it’s only with the second, third or even fourth listen to cuts like the ridiculously ill ‘Da Blow’ or the go-go throwback of ‘Aaw Skeet Skeet’ that you realise you’ll only truly understand this album in time.

With ‘Crunk Juice’ Lil Jon has made his claim to a fully certified ‘movement’; it’s the sound of rap’s new speaker bussin’ era and his place in Webster’s awaits. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, December 2004)

Love Thy Neighbour: Singles Reviews

Love Thy Neighbour

Carl Noble plays the tracks, his neighbour Susie tries to state the facts…

After two years of subjecting his next door neighbour to the latest releases from BME records on repeat, Carl has extended the olive branch and given Susie who lives in the next flat her chance to at least rate what resonates through the frighteningly thin walls of his two-bedroom des res in south-east London. His invitation, however, didn’t extend to her actually leaving her flat. Instead Susie had to form her judgements from what basstones and muffled lyrics were discernible through the wall.

Carl is keen to point out though that whilst he explained to Susie that he wanted her to actually rate these records in some sort of order of preference, it instead slightly degenerated into her attempting to guess what each release was. As Carl informs us that she in fact wakes him up by playing Magic FM, the chances of her nailing the titles and artists when played through bricks and plaster was pretty slim.

‘Killer Bees/Narcotic Zombie’
(Download only –

Susie “I can’t really pick it out, it sounds really fast and loud though, like devil music or something. Is it a woman singing like that?”

Carl “Wow – right in line with the press release straight away, through the clear mention of the word devil and/or music! However, whilst Susie has picked up on the clear rock-punk energy on offer, her ignorance of the clearly discernible song when witnessed from the same room lets down her appraisal. It’s corniness and catchiness are it’s clear selling points when delivered at such a pace and ferocity.”

Mannie Fresh
‘Real Big’
(Cash Money/Universal)

S “Oh no – this is just a noise. You play loads of this stuff don’t you? I just don’t understand it. Are these actual songs? This is like that other noisy one, but it has more beat. I know they swear on this type of stuff.”

C “Susie’s negative response is a sure-fire guarantee that this is a total winner in the hip-hop stakes, as her ears now have a built in defence mechanism to 808 beats. Determined to finally push himself to the forefront after supplying years of bottom heavy bangers for Baby, Juvenile and the rest of his Cash Money mates, Mannie comes out hard! ‘Real Big’ is a lesson in hip-hop production for those still caught up on sampling obscure jazz loops and is the best bit of ridiculous, unashamed bragging in ages.”

Devendra Banhart
‘Little Yellow Spider’

S “I’ve heard you play this stuff at the weekends –it’s Simon and Garfunkel. I’ve got this, I think? (Told it’s new…) Oh what is it then – I don’t know what he’s singing about. I can hear the guitar – is that a guitar? I actually don’t mind if you play this.”

C “To be fair it’s probably best that Susie didn’t pick up much of the lyrical content, especially the bit about the sexual union between a man and a pig. To say XL has found their new Badly Drawn Boy would be unfair, but we won’t be the last to do it. Similarly gets under your skin however, and the correct name pronunciation is only a Popworld away.”

‘Wasn’t Even Looking’
(Twisted Nerve)

S “Is it a woman wailing, or like a monk or something? Sounds like the song hasn’t really started. This isn’t loud though so I like this better, but I don’t think it’s really started. I don’t understand what you’re really listening to though.”

C “Whilst there is a chant like quality to the harmony on ‘Wasn’t Even Looking’ there is a definite percussive groove working, despite this escaping Susie’s attention. Fans of Twisted Nerve’s output are going to be on safe territory here, as it falls in that perfect place between off the wall and straightforward that they specialise in. Shame in fact that Susie asked us to move on before ‘Dark Sky’ which is the true highlight of the EP with its great simple guitar play out.”

Devin The Dude

S “I reckon this could be that whale music. Anita had lots of this when she was pregnant. It’s good for the baby or something. There’s someone saying something though. Anita didn’t have that on hers. Now there’s someone singing… this isn’t whale music is it? What are they talking about?”

C “Well Susie, they’re lyrics that paint a melancholy, yet hopeful picture of the problematic world we live in – unusual for hip-hop, but highly typical of Devin. The fact that this is the single that Rap-A-Lot choose to release shows the artistic control that Devin must be afforded, as I can’t see this getting airplay next to Chingy. Which, as anyone knows is a massive shame as Devin’s music gets ever more focused and addictive as the years go by.”

Thee Unstrung
‘Contrary Mary’/’You’

S “Are they still doing rock’n’roll? Have you seen that program Happy Days – it sounds like that to me. I might have liked this when I was about your age. It’s a lot happier than most of the other stuff you’ve been playing, I think. Oh… this next one’s a bit more noisy – you should have taken it off before that one.”

C “Not surprisingly, Susie was seemingly unaware of how much the drums and guitar riff sounded like The Strokes, who in turn sound like most things anyway. To be fair, however, they do quote The Who and The Jam as influences and the marriage of everyday cockney-esque banter and a jaunty groove is going to do them no harm whatsoever. Especially now that the generation who could be most cynical about this are no longer paying attention and are spending their time down Homebase.”

Crime Mob
‘Knuck If You Buck’
(BME/Crunk Incorporated)

S “All I can hear is bass and a xylophone or something? Is that just people shouting? Does your girlfriend like you playing this sort of stuff? Not really sure what’s going on here, or if this actually a song. The bass is what annoys me a lot though, Amy’s (her niece) always asking me what’s going on when you play stuff like this. Does it have to do that noise?”

C “Crime Mob represent the purest crunk sounds on the market today, making even their mentor Lil Jon sound less one-dimensional in comparison. Like all music coming from this camp though, they know exactly how to create hooks that you find yourself chanting when you least expect it, coupled with the sparest, yet most hypnotic production.”

(Originally appeared in Kings, autumn 2004)

Screwed Up Clit Album Review

Screwed Up Clit
‘Mix CD 1’

Due only to its very conceit – a mixing of hip-hop oriented tracks like Twista over other forms of music – like Guns’N’Roses – this selection from Big Dada associate Etienne should warrant little more than a disparaging raising of the eyes before moving on to less conceited pastures. Yet somehow it works; and works very well indeed.

Maybe it’s because it’s structured in a very slick quick mix fashion so that accusations of a trendy bastardisation of music don’t have time to settle in, but this is enjoyable and (blend-wise) thoughtful fare. Dizzee Rascal’s boisterous ‘I Luv U’ laments into Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Bring Us Together’ with the most perfect of sense, as if the two were always meant to be mix-tape bedfellows, Diplo’s fusing with another Dip Set anthem that uses the most excellent phrase “diddy bop” is accomplished stuff, Usher and Lil Jon’s ‘Yeah’ takes a melancholy step in a subterranean direction, while the decision to leave a chunk of the Soft Pink Truth mix of Bjork’s ‘It’s In Our Hands’ shows mature restraint and a consideration of context often missing from those who’d prefer to present themselves as ‘quirky’ via their thoughts on what an eclectic selection means. Conversely, the songs here may range from Britney to Trina via The Rapture, but their commonality sourced and played up.

Damn, even Ludacris bragging about his “six million sold” over MC Hammer makes sense in this context. But then Luda has the voice to sound dope over pretty much anything, screwed, chopped, blended or otherwise. Vanessa Schneider

(Originally appeared in Kings, autumn 2004)

History Of The Word: Crunk

History Of The Word

2. Crunk

Validated as a worthy addition to the rap lexicon by Lil Jon on 1996’s ‘Who U Wit’ (although used in the southern states of America long before that by groups like UGK and recent Bad Boy signings 8-Ball & MJG), it was the summer of 2004 that saw crunk being used and misused across the board to describe anything from genuine crunk classics (‘Throw Yo Hood Up’) to any ol’ southern rap song that’s not actually crunk (Lil’ Flip’s ‘Game Over’). As Flippa has stated of himself and David Banner, “You’ve got Mr Crunk and Mr Laidback/And if you hated ‘Like A Pimp’, bitch, this the payback!” The next Britney comeback single will likely be ‘crunk’, Crunk’n’B will become a buzz word for around two months when Ciara’s US number one single gets released in the UK, and Garth Crooks may soon start talking about Fabregas being “crunk in the tackle”.

See also: Crooked Lettaz feat. Pimp C ‘Get Crunk’

(Originally appeared in Kings, autumn 2004)

Devin The Dude Profile

By Phillip Mlynar

Brer Rabbit never wanted to be a rapper’s muse. Not once did it cross his mind that he could inspire rappers from Houston to rhyme words and verbs together into the glorious form of a whole song. Sure, he’d had vague visions of maybe someday becoming a footnote in one of Ice Cube’s ‘Gangsta Fairy Tale’ parables, although his recent recalcitrant attitude towards music had dimmed his hopes of ever sharing a cute couplet with Little Miss Muffet eating her grits on that tuffet of hers or Humpty Dumpty on the wall with his big ol’ bottle of 8-Ball. No, he was largely content to sit back and go about his daily business with a moral undertone to it all and impart on the next generation of fluffy-tailed carrot-munchers wise advise, such as the value of pretending to show great caution towards the briar patch.

So instead of being around a recording booth, you can find Brer Rabbit spending his time atop a dry mud pulpit, preaching down to the next generation of inquisitive young things. “If ever caught by a fox you must say loud and proud, ‘Please, hang me up or drown me, but don’t ever put me in the briar patch’,” is his usual pitch. “Tell the fox, ‘You can cut off all my toes but don’t put me in the briar patch! You can season and cook me but don’t throw me in the briar patch!’”

The advice is simple but clear – let the foe think you want to avoid the briar patch at all costs, even though as a rabbit it may be a second home of sorts (or at least an unruly-looking place that, with the right rabbit experience, is easily manageable).

And with that he continues to hop, skip and jump - lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity - through the rubble of life and into the pages of many a children’s book.

A few decades ago in Florida, a young Devin The Dude was getting ready to realise that he could very easily graduate from the mere pastime of warbling in the local gospel choir to that of playing at being a professional rapper as a career. The key catalyst to this transformation? His unique ability to harness a talent of being able to sing his own hooks as well as write and rhyme his own couplets.

“I was always singing from an early age,” he recalls. “I was in the choir when I was in third or fourth grade at school and from that I went to a church gospel choir. What I liked about it was that it was a different activity to what all the others were doing, plus you’d get to chill with your friends there. I remember there was even a choir field trip with swimming and relays and everything.

“Also, from that I soon learnt about controlling your voice and that how it sounds when recorded isn’t how you think it’s going to sound. I learnt that from recording myself on these little cassette players. It all comes from that.”

This pre-teen revelation was to stand him in good stead, but first he had to move west from the sunshine state where Tony Montana’s Scarface touched down to the place where the Geto Boys’ Scarface was cementing his reputation as the rap king of the southern universe.

“I came from St Peter’s Bay In Florida to the south east side of Houston. It was difficult at first because I moved at an early age and I had to leave all my friends behind, but I soon I realised that I wasn’t losing friends but adding friends on,” he says of the potentially tumultuous time. “I didn’t really say much at school, although I used to do the boo-boo eyes at girls and pass a few notes to them. Really though, I was more concerned with why we were actually there in school, like, ‘So where are the babysitters?!’”

The image summoned up is that of an accepting and strangely melancholy kid forming life lessons from the social situations he sees around him (and maybe then tacking on a humourous aside, possibly as a defence mechanism to avert too much attention from seeking him out). It’s a curious mixture, but one that would soon serve Devin well in his future oratory career.

While Brer Rabbit certainly never envisioned being a rap muse, he always had one eye on cornering the lucrative children’s market. And, as every good little capitalist rabbit knows, to corner the children’s market you also have to appeal to the adults who’ll be opening their Louis Vuitton purses to pay for that vital spin-off merchandise. So to this day Brer Rabbit’s composes his tales in a worldly way that appeals to an adult sense of reasoning and morality. And this approach paid off for him long before the BBC discovered Teletubbies and Nintendo bet the ranch on Pokemon.

“I heard the story of the briar patch as a child and then I read again it a few years ago,” compliments a grown-up Devin of Brer Rabbit And The Tar-Baby. “I was really struck by the dialogue they used and the phrasing of the words and just how they pronounced and used certain individual phrases.

“I had to read some lines twice to get the real meaning of the story,” he tails off, thinking back to the moment when he decided to turn Brer Rabbit’s story into the most exceptional of rap tales. Before he could do that though, he’d have to graduate through the ranks of rap’s grand game.

Collaborations on hip-hop records used to be a sign of mutual respect between artists and serve as delectable combinations for fevered fans to get delirious over. Now they’re so commonplace as to be just another notch on a marketing bulletin (indeed, several rappers have made profitable careers from guesting on the work of others, arguably at the artistic expense of their own). Yet in the case of Devin The Dude, his smooth and languid vocals have managed to buck the theory. Head-hunted by an array of A-list talent, starting with Jay-Z, Nas, The Roots, Snoop, De La Soul, and Dilated Peoples – not to mention providing DJ Premier with the inspiration to produce his most vivrant production of recent years in ‘Doobie Ashtray’ – Devin has become very much the rapper’s rapper, even if his name on a single doesn’t guarantee a top ten placing. He also has a long-time admirer in Dr Dre.

“I was informed that Dre had called me and that he’d be calling back in 30 minutes,” Devin remembers of the call that didn’t change his life but did etch his name in the memory banks of a few more million listeners. “Of course I was like, ‘Nah, you’re joking’. So an hour went by, then another, and there was still no call. Then the phone rang, I answered and on the other end is Dre singing one of my old songs, ‘What the fuck you wanna doooo!’ So I was like, ‘Yo, Dre, kick it in the Bay!’ He said he wanted me on his project (‘Chronic 2001’) and that opened a lot of doors for me.

Dre and Snoop and Eminem were all listening to the Odd Squad record I did on Rap-A-Lot (1994’s ‘Fadanuff Fa Er’ybody’). Most of the people I’ve worked with have come looking for me and know my work, and so now people have almost expected me to drop an all-star album, but that’s just not me. I like to keep things to myself and keep it nonchalant.

“I’m old fashioned like that,” he concludes with a shrug, again setting himself if not apart then at least two tables over from the others plying their trade in today’s modern rap cafeteria.

Brer Rabbit may have managed to etch out an existence for himself in a fantasy world populated largely by other animals of all shapes and sizes, but his day to day runnings weren’t without their very own trials, tribulations and fur-raising moments, not least from his old foe Brer Fox (along with Brer Bear, the muscle of the enemy). But Brer Rabbit understood the briar patch.

“That’s like some over-grown, unruly, rough, thorny ground,” confirms Devin of the thicket thick terrain. “For an outsider there are very fierce things that go on in there and the thorns in the bushes that you will find in there can cause some very real pain. But if you’ve grown up there and are used to it then I believe that on the other side of this unkempt terrain there is a lot of smooth ground where things in life aren’t as hard and you can just have your time to yourself to just chill. But first there’s the briar patch.

“You don’t want to get thrown in the briar patch,” he reiterates with convincing fear in his voice. “Or, at least, you want people to think that.”

Despite striving for the sort of financial excellence that will allow them to out-grow and move on from their immediate environments, most nascent rap scenes (and their leaders) inevitably end up cherishing a symbolic place unique to their location. New York’s Bronx borough had Bambaataa and its Bronx River Jams held in an old school room. The anti-gangsta faction of early 90s Los Angeles had the Good Life Café, a health food shack where Project Blowed cats would spar poetical. Detroit had the Hip-Hop Shop, later to be held up in videos by Eminen and D12. Houston, it seems, had its parks.

“We always had the rappers, from Scarface to Gangsta Nip, and people are starting to become aware of that history but when people talk about Scarface being in the community they really mean the parks. There was a main place called McGregor Park,” explains Devin with local, if adopted, pride before going on to namecheck Herman Park and the almost Christopher Robin sounding Acre Wood.

“People would go there to hang out and there would be football and basketball and dominos and people freestyling and food on offer. They started to shut the parks down in 1994 though. They ended up taking horses and police into them just to shut them down. You can still find occasional places where people just hang out though now, but it’s not the same and there aren’t nearly as many. They’re not a focus anymore.

“I still enjoy being outdoors though, and going to new parks and seeing new neighbourhoods is a joy,” he finishes at his own pace.

Brer Rabbit may have secured top billing on his award tour of the world’s playgrounds and nurseries, but there was a far bigger player at large behind the scenes. Standing tall with broad, world-weary shoulders, Uncle Remus was an orator for the common people. Brer Rabbit, it seems, may have been just his foil, his front-person or even his muse.

“There’s this guy called Uncle Remus who reads the story,” reveals Devin. “He sits out on the porch in front of the slave-master’s house and he talks and tells stories to the kids – all the kids, the black ones and the white ones – while their parents are out working. What Uncle Remus does is relate all the people inside the house who control things to the animals in the stories. So all the grown-ups are like rabbits and foxes and bears to the kids.”

Not once does Devin decree to draw a direct analogy between Uncle Remus and the modern rapper, for that would be quite childish.

Despite his latest LP claiming the rather uninspired title of ‘To The X-Treme’ (it was a remnant from the days of it being a double album offering), the tracks on offer border on a sublime application of the art of melancholy story-telling and hint at a maturity in Devin’s work. There’s ‘Anything’, a curious choice for a lead single as, despite it’s ‘uplifting’ empathy of “Really ain’t no need for self-pity/Crying when you’re the only one around”, it manages to muster up a woe-is-me vibe thanks to the most soul-searching of loops. There’s the title song itself, a majestic piece of music as Devin’s lazy and languid attitude bathes under a shimmering synth line while a bassline gently caresses some mystical shore. Indeed, the whole set brims with the aura of a modern day tribute to the mellower moments of Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg’s ‘The Chronic’ (an album which, for all its hazy weed-imbued insignia, had many punchier moments). Then there’s the artwork, which includes pictures of Devin breakdancing in Nike Air Jordans while cardboard cut-outs of a Stormtrooper and Yoda look on, which is certainly deserving of a wide audience (if not a George Lucas litigious one).

“The Stormtrooper!” laughs Devin. “I wanted to do some studio shots for the album, but I didn’t just want the usual ones with the guy in the headphones. So I saw this cardboard Stormtrooper and I was like, ‘Mic them up! Put a mic in their hands!’ They just happened to be in a side somewhere. They had a nice essence to them.”

“I wasn’t the biggest Star Wars fan or anything though,” he offers as a caveat. “The guy I liked was Chewbacca. He was the big hairy motherfucker, looked odd and he looked like he couldn’t see you but he peeked you; he was always watching. No one understood a word he spoke but they still knew not to fuck with him and what he wanted.”

Han Solo’s mate, you suspect, understood about the briar patch.

The conundrum with Devin is how he’s not a superstar on a par with the ones he collaborates with. Not to be naïve enough to suggest that natural talent is the complete key to success in the music business, but Devin’s more equipped – and more marketable – than most, from charisma down through musicality and radio-friendly outings.

What you suspect is that in many ways Devin’s found the key to his own personal oasis; a place away from the limelight where he’s content to just sit in the peace and the quiet and the isolation of it all and enjoy his thoughts. It’s a quite contrary approach when placed in the relentless press and promotion canon of today, but it’s not to be mistaken for a lack of ambition, effort, work rate or willingness to supplicate to the machinery of modern music. (As Devin notes of his sometimes perceived persona as a lazy lounger, “I can’t just sit and not do too much or nothing – I get bored and my mind gets restless and starts to wander.”)

So out of all this context comes a record like ‘The Briar Patch’, a record that may be talking metaphorically of the problems and ills in American society (and, more specifically, how those burdened with said problems deal with life), but coats it all with a child’s music box refrain to produce the one true moment of rap genius so far this year. It’s one of those records that you want to badger people into listening to.

The new picture painted then becomes Devin as an Uncle Remus figure – almost a southern rap take on the old African griot line – content with his lot of sitting on his hard-but-comfortably-worn-in stoop telling parables that will make a difference to those in his municipality. At this though Devin chuckles.

“Who would I be in the story? I’d be the rabbit.”

(Originally appeared in Kings, autumn 2004)

Lil' Wayne 'Go DJ' Single Review

Lil’ Wayne
‘Go DJ’
(Cash Money/Universal)
“Grown ups, in-betweens, children and babies,” announces the magical Mannie Fresh on the intro to this, astutely cornering all markets for a song that harks back to tribute times gone by where the disc jock was key while throwing down a resolutely cutting edge lesson in modern beat making for Lil’ Weezy to wax lyrical over in that patented Cash Money Records sing song style that’s so slept on. Even those sipping on Haterade down in Boogie Down Bromley can feel the surging power of the south with potent brews like this, and that’s word to all number one stunnas. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, November 2004)

Radio Clit 'Screwed Up Clit' Album Review

'Screwed Up Clit: Mix CD One'
My scepticism on fused styles under the banner ‘eclectic’ is generally second to none. However, in the case of Screwed Up Clit, their ability to bring the more electronic end of hip-hop and pretty much anything else they feel like into the mix, without it seeming pointlessly trendy, have provided me with one of the most convincing arguments for embracing this. The key here is their confident ear for sounds that compliment each other and an overall sonic vision that is both skilfully applied and, more importantly, downright entertaining. At no time do you feel like they’re trying to be too smart as they begin with a perfectly executed Sweet Child O’ Mine medley that brings in everyone’s fave guest Twista before blending Dizzee Rascal effortlessly with Joy Division. These guys are clearly on their own thing, but we’re sure other converts will be joining them soon. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, October 2004)

I-20 'Self Explanatory' Album Review

'Self Explanatory'
Whilst Chingy dances around relentlessly on MTV Base in front of that huge fruit machine every five minutes, Luda is clearly banking on I-20 to give Disturbing Tha Peace their street angle back. With surprising Salaam Remi production on cuts like ‘Fighting In The Club’ and ‘The Realest’, you get a sound somewhere between tough east coast thug music and southern crunk. ‘Break Bread’, however, makes no such concession and can be filed alongside the other ridiculous riot starters coming from below that ol’ line called Mason Dixie. The appearance of Three 6 Mafia on the almost ‘slowed’ sounding ‘Hennessy And Hydro’ and Juvenile on the drum machines of ‘Point Her Out’ shows his connections are tight as the hook-ups work naturally. In fact, I-20’s missteps are only really made when he attempts to take things too RnB and his gruffness puts him slightly into Ja-Rule territory. All is forgiven, however, by rounding off the LP with a typically inspired Devin The Dude guest appearance. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, October 2004)

Mannie Fresh 'Real Big' Single Review

Mannie Fresh
'Real Big'
Effectively updating the concept of the Sugarhill Gang’s big screen television (on which they used to watch the basketball), here Cash Money’s producer extraordinaire runs through a literal catalogue of living large that includes a ride with a fishtank in the middle of the dashboard, syncopated clap-on/off lights and an eventual disbandoning of the chorus to simply holler “I’m rich, bitch! I’m a fuckin’ Big Tymer!” When his album drops we’ll all be talking about a new best producer on the mic. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, October 2004)

Sad Billionaire 'Cake Mix' Album Review

'Cake Mix'
(Old Boy Entertainment)
More often than not mixtapes inform you of a time and place. Sometimes though they give you a glimpse of an oasis that maybe you haven’t discovered yet. Furthermore, they can crystallise a movement into a unique context, as here when the Sad Billionaire’s ‘Cake Mix’ set brings together the future sounds of Beezel’s ‘Giant’ with vintage stock like Run DMC’s ‘Dumb Girl’ and The 2 Live Crew into a most natural whole. Its charged run through the musical innovation coming from the south and beyond is underpinned with the feel of those explosive radio stations that only truly exist in your mind – until now. Already hype tracks are afforded even more impact by the interweaving of punched-in Lil Jon yelps, and when Chuck D bellows “And you thought the beat slowed down, come on!” before Trick Daddy busts in, you realise that rap has rarely made this much sense. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, September 2004)

Pitbull 'M.I.A.M.I.' Album Review

Thanks to an affiliation with the self-certified King of Crunk Lil Jon (not that anyone’s disputing his crown claim for rowdiness), Pitbull has been making much noise across certain areas of the United States. Taking the filthiest dirty-dancehall club sounds to a completely different level, the standout tracks here pulsate with real life and energy while the man on the mic pulls out some memorable one liners, such as his lady snaring on ‘Shake It Up’: “I’ll print ya some pretty pictures/I just wanna get in those jeans and just like a robbery lick ya!”. With Quad production capabilities having advanced ten-fold since the Magic Mike and 2 Live Crew days, ‘M.I.A.M.I’ is essentially a banger of an album with an updated Miami Bass tempo pulling the reigns. So don’t sleep on a minor club classic. Craig Leckie

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, September 2004)

Baby Gangsta

'Life After Cash Money'
(Chopper City)
At their peak, the Hot Boys (Juvenile, Turk, Lil Wayne and BG) seemed to be of little interest to a UK then infatuated with the sounds of Rawkus, but hindsight has been kind to the Cash Money sound, not least with this particular New Orleans native’s latest. ‘My World (I Want It)’ is the put-ya-hands-up-anthem, with B Geezy’s minor-key flow proving exceptionally infectious as he exorcises the past with lines like “For Souljah Slim won’t you do that Noila clap for me” and “I ain’t going back to Baby – stop asking me!”. What holds ‘Life After…’ back from a greater status though are the moments when the beats just don’t quite snap and thump as they should. ‘Don’t Talk To Me’ in particular is begging for a Dre figure to take it up to ‘The Watcher’ level of broodiness. Still though, there’s much to recommend down Chopper City way. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, September 2004)

Young Buck Interview

Youngest In Charge

By Phillip Mlynar

By rights the camp clustered around Shady Records – look up and you’ll peep Aftermath; dip down and you’ll land at a G-Unit Records – should have destroyed itself long ago from the feuding, snake-like snides, side-swipes and desertions that so defined the last set of talent Dr Dre ultimately sat behind, Death Row Records. Instead, they seem to have cracked the conundrum of the rap ego. So where others bitch, snitch and squabble within their own posse walls, the Dre to Em to Fiddy to G-Unit to Stat Quo and now The Game machine continues to show solidarity and solidify their rampant commercial domination of the rap arena as each release slowly extends their reach and influence across hip-hop’s topography. Lloyd Banks was never going to match 50’s 872,500 first week sales, and Young Buck may not reach the heights of Banks’ 300,000 debut week sales, but his southern stamp is no less underappreciated by those he rolls with.

“People want to talk shit but they need to know that I had signed up as part of G-Unit before Tony Yayo was taken to jail,” says Buck of the constant rap rumour-mongering that so often paints him as a hasty last moment replacement for the Talk Of New York, almost in a bid to make up the numbers. “G-Unit goes about its business as one, there’s no divide shit going on here. We’re all in this together. There’s no time for that ego shit.”

By now the industry story of Buck’s ascension to the G-Unit ranks is familiar fare: after making tentative moves with Cash Money Records long before they pick-pocketed the suits at Universal out of a cool $30 million, the Nashville native got tired of being put on Baby’s back burner and dropped an independent album (‘Thuggin’ Til’ The End’) which shifted little over 4,000 units. But back came Baby and, after being ignored in the Cash Money offices for the better part of a week, a chance meeting with Juvenile, who was about to head out and do his own label thing repping Uptown Projects, resulted in Buck joining the UTP clan on the road. When they hit New York which, at the time, was being assaulted on the underground by a young and hungry rapper named 50 Cent, state-to-state connects were made. Not that initial talks between Buck and Fiddy were all about punchlines and song structures.

“When I first Yayo, 50 and Banks the music wasn’t even on the table,” he clarifies in a confident tone. “The first time I saw Tony Yayo he had a pack of crack on him and Banks was there packing two guns. We were all active in the streets. Sure, I’d been trying to make music, but my money wasn’t coming from rhyming at the time and I guess it was the same with them at the time. I’ll put it this way: We weren’t sitting around talking about rap music between ourselves.”

Of course, soon the talk of the crack game would flip, Jigga style, into talk of the rap game, but for the moment Buck was still performing in the street, and it’s a grounding that stays with him to this day.

“Me, 50, Banks and Yayo, we still sit back whenever we get the chance and reminisce about the old street days,” he says. “We call it telling war stories. We look back on how the bad times – and they were horrible bad times – are now good times.”

As with most of the G-Unit roster, when asked about the bad times, the nefarious scrapes and run ins with Jakes and the shoot-outs that involve metal thangs, Young Buck is remarkably candid about his past adventures running buckwild in the concrete jungle. Rather than being rappers who peeped things from their pad, you suspect that this is a collective that not only talks about it but lived it.

“My father was a drug fiend,” he opens, before dropping the white lines punchline. “I sold to him. To see him like that really affected me and I didn’t want to ever see him like that, but he was going to buy elsewhere anyway. At least this was we kept the money. He wasn’t really around too much.”

If his biological didn’t bother though (or was otherwise incapacitated), Buck managed to forge out a father figure from his second home in the Nashville sidewalks. (For those imagining a region filled with gallon hats and country and western music strumming through the air, Buck clarifies, “Yeah, we had that but that was miles away from us; we had the streets and it was rough there. You can’t stereotype an entire place with just one image.”)

“Preeze was my man,” he snaps proudly when asked about mentors in his life. “In fact, he was the one who named me. I was a real young dude at the time when I met him and he was older so it was definitely a case of looking up to him. He had that knowledge to impart on me the fact that street shit doesn’t pay off for too long. It’s appealing at first, and it’s so immediate, but you can’t do this forever so you better keep it short. To hear that from someone like him, someone who was basically a father figure to me, that was a real eye-opener and he always encouraged me to make music He could see a bigger picture than a lot of other people.”

If his surrogate father helped to shape the mindstate of Buck the hustler, then it was another type of pop that made things a whole lot more vivid.

“Boom!” he recalls of the opening siren from the night when he picked up his deepest war wound. “It was a home invasion situation. It was about 3am in the morning and I just heard the front door being kicked in. It may have been a burglary situation, but I just jumped up and, next thing I knew, I’d been shot. You can try and analyse the situation and think about what happened but it’s all instinct when that happens.”

Instinct (and needing a blood transfusion) then begat the intuition that it may be time for Buck to move on. Yet once the hook-up with his G-Unit brothers had taken place, he still had stronger ties to his old life than just the words that would become rap verse.

“It really took my mom a minute to leave the hood,” he reflects of his first offer to upgrade her living status. “She’d lived there all her life so naturally she was like, ‘Well why should I leave?’ But around the time of the ‘P.I.M.P.’ video she really started to get a lot of people calling at the house. I’m talking about people she didn’t know asking for all sorts of stuff, dropping off demos and everything.”

And asking for money?

“It’s always asking for money,” he sighs. “Always.”

Just as he’s moved on from his nascent Nashville locality to the worldwide Cashville plaza, on this side of the Atlantic ocean at least Young Buck’s southern heritage has too easily been bumped up to assumptions of him being just another New York type rapper thanks his G-Unit association. But while Buck doesn’t have the broadest of southern accepts (check his vowels), declarations of “cooking chickens in the kitchen” are close cousins to Banner’s “we still eat chicken in the club, trick”. And while his album, ‘Welcome To Ca$hville’, isn’t as wood-grain tight a southern set as it could have been (and it’s this element that perhaps takes some attraction, verve and individuality off it), it’s still added another chapter to rap’s new history thanks to some LL Cool J and Canibus style same verse dissing courtesy of Ludacris and the sometimes incarcerated T.I.

“Yeah!” laughs Buck in a playful tone when asked about acting as an unwitting conduit to this latest tiff. “Well T.I. heard the track first so he went away, wrote his verse and sent if back in. And that was cool. Me and Luda though, we’ve always been cool. I’ve jumped on tracks with DTP [Luda’s Disturbing The Peace collective]. So anyway, Luda hears it and says, ‘Oh, well now we’ve got a little problem!’ So he sat down and started to put it down; started to talk about T.I.

“At this point I was just watching it all unfold, not really nervously, but just interested in what was going on between them. But soon after they both told me there weren’t trying to kill each other or anything – they were just keeping it competitive. They pre-emptively squashed any beef that was going to spill over from it. It’s cool.

“Besides,” he adds by way of cheeky coda. “The streets crown the real king and we all know that’s Scarface.”

In many ways his reaction is typical of his place in the regiment of those he rolls with: You could easily place Young Buck as a bridge between the south and the north of the east coast, offering an easy facilitation between the two territories. So he can jump on a track with Juvenile, invite David Banner, Lil’ Flip and T.I. onto his album and then make moves on a Kay Slay mix CD up north. And while Buck puts in work and pays dues to pull off this bridging and balancing act, all the while the stranglehold of his parent label gets tighter and continues to expand. You can imagine those above him in the pecking order are more than just proud of him.

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, September 2004)

Great Rap Misconceptions: That Slip-N-Slide and TVT records deserve to be in our bargain bins

By Rob Pursey

Everyone’s seen them and everyone’s flicked past them - the visual characteristics of both being frighteningly similar: ‘Lurid’ was perhaps the key word at both marketing meetings, although TVT do in actuality claim this title with the most distinctive colour you’re ever likely to find in the record racks. However, whether it’s this bright lime green or the logo heavy yellow company sleeve of Slip-N-Slide, both house a slew of classic, individual records going ignored – well at least in this country anyway.

Trick Daddy, who’s more than a minor star in America for example, has a back catalogue of 12s to rival most. From the sing-along call to arms of ‘I’m A Thug’ to the Tuff Crew nod of ‘Get On Up’, the skilled and distinctive production of Righteous Funk Boogie is unfortunately never likely to come up during beat-making nerd-outs. A true shame when on ‘Take It To Da House’ that old Grand Puba sample is made ten times hyper (and I’m a big Puba fan) than ever thought possible.

The first lady of the label, Trina, has her own batch of bangers too, despite her albeit limited vocal skills and the perennial focus on her visibly finer quality. None more so than ‘B R Right’ which found Kanye West in one of his more creative moods post-‘Blueprint’ and pre-‘College Dropout’ build up.

TVT, in turn has it’s marquee artist in Lil Jon, but the quality of releases such as ‘Saltshaker’ and ‘Georgia Dome’ from The Ying Yang Twins and the recent R’n’B class of Teedra Moses should do more than simply bolster the racks of every Record & Tape Exchange. Confirmation of its already massive financial success in the US can be found in the union of Snoop, Nate Dogg and Warren G finding a home here – however, whether it will draw people over here to the label is another question entirely.

It seems a shame, but maybe myself and other converts should be glad. After all, whilst they remain about as popular as Fred West on these shores, we get to pay those nice, cheap American style prices for them.

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, September 2004)

Devin The Dude 'To Tha X-Treme' Album Review

Devin The Dude
'To Tha X-Treme'

It would be easy to focus on Devin The Dude as the guy whose show stealing performances on Dre’s ‘Chronic 2001’ have since lead him to become the cameo of choice for discerning groups everywhere, particularly those wishing to throw a little curveball (see Dilated, De La and now The Roots) into their careers. However, when it comes to Devin the focus should always be him. His time with the frighteningly underrated Odd Squad and his solo development on each album brought us last time to ‘Just Trying Ta Live’, an album of such ridiculous quality that its fans actually felt offended when it slipped through the commercial net. Not that Devin cares as with his new LP he’s released his second minor classic. We say minor only because when listening to a Devin LP you are truly entering into his own private, small population world: and what a beautiful world it is.

From the opening strains of the title cut and its incredible bassline, the true quality of the production is apparent. Each cut has more hooks than most LPs can muster over the full length and tracks like ‘Anything’ and ‘She’s Gone’ are the greatest examples you could find of hip-hop that you could both soothe a child off to sleep with and bump in your jeep at the same time. In fact though, perhaps the closet thing to a rap lullaby is the swoonsome ‘The Briar Patch’. Initial concern that this is a reference to the Richard Briers cabbage patch featured so prominently in The Good Life are soon alleviated when Devin’s request of “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch/You can cut off all my toes but not the briar patch,” announces that he’s simply a fan of the Brer Rabbit stories.

Throughout, the narrative and feel - as with so much of Devin’s work - verges on the melancholy and his plea for ‘Unity For You And Me’ at the end is the most heartfelt since ‘Hey Young World’. Yeah, there’s a few dope guests and dope producers on here, but without the wonder of Devin it would all mean so little. Embrace a true rap individual. Rob Pursey

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, August 2004)

Young Buck 'Welcome To Ca$hville' Album Review

Young Buck
'Welcome To Ca$hville'

Whilst there was always the least pressure on last-minute draft pick Young Buck to come with the G-Unit goods, on hearing ‘Welcome To Cashville’ you get the feeling that his first solo outing is somewhat of a missed opportunity to take 50 Cent’s boys somewhere new. Maybe it’s because the album starts with ‘I’m A Soldier’ and the first voice you hear is that of Fiddy ‘singing’ another pedestrian hook that him and Em have come to specialise in over the last few months (see Marshall’s evidence on Jadakiss’s ‘Welcome To D Block’). We all knew after ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’ that we’d had our fill of these now signature tunes and that to keep progressing the crew needed to elevate, which seemed to be the implication with Young Buck’s lead single ‘Let Me In’ - definitely the hardest thing yet to come out of the G-Unit/Shady monopoly and sure to be one of this single’s of the year. Fortunately the tune’s here, as is ‘Welcome To The South’, which sees the Buckster teaming up with the region’s number one guest duo David Banner and Lil’ Flip to provide some quickly needed solidity after the shaky openers, but unfortunately ‘Welcome To Cashville’ then goes back to being plagued by the earlier heard-it-all-before frustrations on virtually all the other tracks. As an example, ‘Shorty Wanna Ride’ showcases Young Buck in a great light over a Lil Jon styling, and you feel that with a similar southern focus the whole LP could have been the artistic statement of intent that Lloyd Banks predictably failed to be.

Luckily for Buck, however, his album has a genuine talking point in the form of ‘Stomp’. Well known for not being good mates, T.I. and Ludacris both appear on the track, taking not even thinly veiled shots at each other. Luda’s baiting of his lack of sales and all round insignificance, culminating in “Get off the T.I.P. of my dick” is countered with the obligatory ‘you have no hood respect’ type lines from T.I. As ever, it’s difficult to tell how calculated these ‘wars’ are, but it will probably do T.I.’s profile more good than Luda’s, just like it did Canibus temporarily - not to mention the big favour Jay-Z did Nas. Meanwhile Young Buck is probably breathing a sigh of relief, as his album gains some significance after allowing himself to be so compromised elsewhere on the LP. Which is all such a shame, as it seems yet another talented emcee has simply got lost in the relentless G-Unit machine. Rob Pursey

(Note: At the time of going go press rumours persist that ‘Stomp’ may be dropped from the album.)

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, August 2004)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lil' Flip Interview

By Phillip Mlynar

Yeah, we know, we’ve been repeating ourselves dropping gems on Flippa since time memorial now (time itself officially resetting itself after Banner’s ‘Mississippi: The Album’ dropped and re-formatted the rap map to validate those places nestled away in the southern states), but now he’s blowing up to the degree of having women’s lifestyle journals jocking him. As well as making connections with east coast luminaries like Cam’Ron, the Wu and Interscope’s treasured G-Unit boys. And launching his own alco-pop. And starring in the second instalment of the Def Jam Vendetta video games. And engaging in beef for the sport of it with T.I. over who’s running the south. And, well, just go buy his album – it’s already dropped – and watch the boy blow…

Is there a problem between T.I. and yourself?
“Oh yeah. It’s not really a problem for me though. I just found out that he was jealous of me. He tried to dis me at an Atlanta show. Basically, he’s running around saying that he’s the king of the south and everybody feels like that’s a big thing to say when Scarface is the king of the south. He tried to dis me, I dissed him back real good the next day when I had a show with G-Unit. He’s just jealous of me and jealously will get you nowhere in the United States.”

Is he still in jail at the moment?
“I don’t know. He got out, went back, got out again. I don’t understand how a person can keep getting out of jail. The real street cats know what I mean! I’m not really worried about him though as I’m a platinum artist and he’s a gold artist. It’s not going to help me to get too involved with him.”

You've started to make moves with east coast cats now, right?
“I’m cool with G-Unit. I’ve been down with Young Buck for three or four years and we’ve been doing tapes for a long time together. That’s why every Whoo Kid dis that comes out on G-Unit I’m on all of them. The newest one was 50’s ‘King Of New York’. We’re just family. Me and Cam’Ron and the Diplomats are family too. Kay Slay was one of the first deejays in New York to give me love and I’m cool with him.”

And how has touring with the Wu-Tang Clan been?
“It’s great as I love performing and I’ve also got to write three songs with them. They’ve been in the game for over ten years so you’ve gotta respect them. We’ve doing three tracks together and we’re going to use them on each other’s albums. Plus I’m doing some stuff for Ghostface and Raekwon for their next albums.”

Who were the local legends to you back in Houston when you were growing up?
“Well Scarface is from a neighbourhood right next to mine. He’s from South Acres and Cloverland, where I’m from, is right next to it. He’s the man in Houston. I met him all the time ‘cos in the neighbourhood there was only one park and he’d be there giving us money while we were playing basketball and shit. He always comes back.”

So who'd be on the ultimate H-Town posse cut?
“The complete ultimate would be Scarface, Lil’ Flip, Bun B of UGK and Z-Ro. I’d produce it myself though! Yeah, you all heard me, I’m messing with the beats now. All the rappers out there who want some two thousand dollar beats that’s jamming - holla at ya boy!”

So do you still charge $1,500 for every bar on a guest verse?
“Now it’s gone up. It’s gone up actually to like $10,000 a bar now, so if you want four bars that’s forty grand!”

Do you remember the first time you met DJ Screw?
“I met him through one of my friends named C Note, which had to be in 1999. He started letting me do tapes at his house. I wasn’t nervous though ‘cos I was prepared. It’s like the first day of school when you get ready, get your clothes out and you get your new pencils out ready - I was always prepared because I knew that if I met him I’d get to rap on the spot. He was like, ‘If you can freestyle you can rap now…’ And I rapped.”

What was he like as a person, beyond the music?
“As a person he was very caring. If he had ten dollars in his pocket and you needed it he’d give it to you. He’d always give away his last ten dollars. For a person to let a lot of people come in his house and record music and drink and shoot pool and sleep there if needed… There were mornings when I’d get up there and go to school from his house ‘cos we were up all night recording.”

So he was almost like a father figure to you?
“Yeah, a father figure, ‘cos everything he had me do I didn’t question it. If he wanted me to rap on this beat I didn’t ask why - I just trusted him. I’d just follow his guide. And we all put out chopped and screwed albums now in memory of him.”

Finally, do you still eat at Pappa Deaux's (the eaterie made legendary on 'Like A Pimp')?
“Of course, Pappa Deaux’s in Houston is the biggest restaurant where you get the shrimp. It’s great food. Everybody that comes to Houston go to the Pappa Deaux’s across the street from the Astro Dome and tell them Lil’ Flip sent you and you’ll be straight.”

And do you pay?
“If my bill is like $200 I’ll pay like $50. I get the discount and I get free drinks but I don’t mind paying for good food.”

(Originally appeared in Hip-Hop Connection, August 2004)

Lil' Flip 'U Gotta Feel Me' Album Review

Lil' Flip
'U Gotta Feel Me'

No one adlibs the word 'nigga' like Lil' Flip. He doesn't so much say the word as handle it like a very versatile tool, giving it a variety of meanings depending on how he pronounces it.

Sometimes he uses it to warn of soon-coming violence, separating the word in two so it resembles a frame-by-frame re-creation of a knockout punch. Other times he uses it to underline something, tacking it on at the end of a line as an exclamation point. On occasion he'll throw it in as an adlib, talking out a song via the repeated n-word route. He'll think nothing of playing with pronunciation and reciting it as 'nic-ah!' just for variety.

Sometimes he uses it to keep the rhyming momentum of a track in a very Norean manner, as when he uses it as the last rhyme of every line. (Not that he's beyond throwing in an occasional "homie", as on 'Bounce, just to keep kids on their toes.)

Refreshingly, Lil' Flip never tries to pretend that he's using the once so shocking word as an example of some sort of negative-to-positive reclaimation of language. Nah, he leaves that for the sociologists and just says it because he's Lil' Flip and he can do that and when he does that is sounds so dope.

And in doing so, Houston's Mr Laidback has managed to produce the archetypal exmaple of exactly how a vibrant rap album should sound in 2004. Phillip Mlynar

(Originally appeared in Kings, summer 2004)

Lil' Flip 'U Gotta Feel Me' Album Review

David Banner: Talk To Me

Mississippi’s rap talisman puts his blues in perspective...

“I’m from Mississippi and Mississippi is at the bottom of the barrel in America, just like the south is at the bottom of the barrel socially and economically in America. But the south is home of the blues, which is the foundation of all modern music.

You can have a blues player simply strumming his guitar and stomping his feet and you’ve got a record right there. And the fact that in the suoth we’ve been deprived of our music has come to become a blessing for those making songs now. In the 80s all we got to see was what was programmed on MTV, so it was the Police, Peter Gabriel, Billy Idol, A-Ha even, I’m aware of them all. And I like some of it but we were forced to listen to it because that was what was around.

Then rap came around and we heard about New York. T La Rock, Stetsasonic, Mantronix; they were my first lessons in hip-hop. Then the west coast came around. And I give so much love to the west coast because without them coming up then we wouldn’t have this modern southern movement by definition.

So the end result is you have a song like ‘Talk To Me’. I found the sound for that on one of Static’s drum machines. I just thought it was the most amazing sound. [Crickets and cicadas meeting up over an internet dial-up as a likeness is about the closest you could hope to muster up in mere words.] People don’t expect to hear that sort of a record with those sounds from southern music. It’s almost like our music has become seen as a stereotype of itself where one sound is seen as the entire south. But all music can be traced to the blues in the south, yet we never get love for that. We’re always called the dirty south or the third coast - it’s always terms with a negative connotation - but the synthesis of so much music in so many genres comes from the south.

It’s like the diamond mentality: A piece of black coal is the more worthless element but if you apply the pressue then it slowly starts to change and disintegrate into a valuable diamond. It’s the same with knowledge in life and its the same with music from the south. Think about the turbulent political history we’ve had, and how after all the years its weighed us down. But out of all that comes something speical which, from the blues to hip-hop now, we’re starting to see.

Someone said to me that they were surprised that there was so much guitar on my album, because it was a rap album. I had to tell them, ‘Look, I’m from Mississippi, I’m from the south, where the blues comes from. What did you think my record was going to sound like? How could someone from Mississippi make music and not have the essence of the blues running through it?’ I work with live instruments and have arrangements and violins and guitars and I want to be seen as a composer and I want to use harmonicas, and that all comes from being from the south, the home of the blues."

(David Banner was speaking to Phillip Mlynar.)

(Originally appeared in Kings, summer 2004)

Lil' Flip Profile

Why Lil’ Flip may be the southern 50 Cent…

By Rob Pursey

How do artists do it to themselves? Forever convincing themselves that today’s’ bloated hip-hop market is going to make room for their ‘seen it all before’ brand of rap. Armed with a hot single and not much else behind, it’s akin to the late 80s all over again, with the crucial difference being (alongside the fact that we’ve witnessed most things before), that the money doesn’t come from the local business dude or their ‘man’. Instead, majors are throwing money at anything that raps and moves, simply to see what will stick, desperate not to miss the next big thing. Harsh lessons are being learnt all over again; we all know that so few artists actually stick.

Some do though. Lil' Flip, from Houston, Texas, has stuck fast. However, it’s certainly not from going cap in hand to those who hold the purse strings. This time, they’ve come looking for him. Plus, if rumours are to be believed, despite his name being emblazoned below Columbia Record’s ‘walking eye’, they’re still looking for him. Maybe the folks at Eminem’s Shady Records will let us know their real intentions soon, but in the meantime Lil' Flippa can enjoy the fact that, regardless of the fevered attention, he has already elevated his status to something beyond that of most artist’s dreams.

‘Rap’s most wanted’ is a title that few have held, but all covet. It’s the type of situation where a rapper’s name virtually precedes the product. It’s the type of situation that 50 Cent and his label mined so successfully in early 2003. Contrary to what many labels think though, 50’s story hasn’t provided any real template in order to sketch a career of his proportion for their signed and hopeful; you can only manufacture these things so much. Instead for Flip, his career has naturally taken many of the same turns as the aforementioned megastar, leading to today’s chase for any kind of association with the DJ Screw-appointed ‘freestyle king’. (DJ Screw being effectively a gatekeeper to southern rap success before his untimely death due to sipping on cough-syrup enhanced alcohol.)

With Screw as his mentor, much like 50 had Jam Master Jay, Lil' Flip gained instant certification within his region. An integral part of the Screwed–Up Click, Flip admits that since Screw’s untimely death, “It’s been hard, for if you’re not already an established artist with a name then you're not going to be able to be part of the Screwed-Up Click or Swisha House [responsible for commercially released ‘Chopped And Screwed’ versions of David Banner’s LPs, amongst many others]”. Nonetheless, simply thanking a now deceased deejay mentor for your way into the game can only take you so far. The experience of surviving a shooting, however, does nothing to harm your profile in today’s drama and scandal obsessed media times.

Although far less publicised than Curtis Jackson’s, Flip’s shooting had similar effects on his motivation and focus. More importantly, it taught him to narrow his associates down to the strictly necessary. Or, as he puts it himself, “It made me look on rap as a job. Now it’s putting in work and I’m so careful about letting people get close to me.” Again echoing cuts like 50’s ‘Many Men’, this enforced rationality now extends to rhymes like, “I should have listened when you said you can't please everybody/Right now I'm finding out I don't need everybody."

The fact that Flip’s bullet slowed down on impacting the car door meant his time in hospital was spent dealing with just a fractured rib, and he was soon out hustling his music and pre-dating 50 Cent’s mix-CD revolution by shifting immense numbers of units of independently pressed and distributed albums. Sucka-Free Records, the banner under which said underground albums and mixtapes were pushed, now stands proudly alongside that of Sony Urban Music on today’s Lil' Flip releases. The same umbrella that saw the original 100,000 selling success of ‘The Leprechaun’ - where Flip infamously dressed up in full ‘Lucky Charms’ garb on the cover! - now holds weight in an industry that until recently has long ignored the southern states. Columbia’s release of ‘Undaground Legend’ in 2002, and in particular the ubiquitous rotation of its lead single ‘The Way We Ball’, moved the value of that ‘1’ along one place to the left, where it reads platinum. The same label that had 50 Cent’s ‘How To Rob’ at maximum buzz level, only to then bail out when the bullets and events that have since defined 50’s fame occurred, are seemingly seeing things all the way through with Lil' Flip.

Whilst it must have stuck in the throat to see Interscope clean up with ‘In Da Club’, the release of ‘Game Over’ as the lead single to Flip’s current LP, ‘U Gotta Feel Me’, must certainly soften the blow. Already being used as a soundtrack for US sports teams, including the first New Jersey Nets versus New York Knicks play off game, it’s the kind of record that has potential far beyond the typical rap release. It’s sub-level bass, video game samples and all round statement of intent makes it impossible to ignore, much, indeed, like ‘In Da Club’. Lil' Flip has made sure of his personal legacy, however, through its incessant hook of “Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip!”. His stature will be confirmed if the almost inevitable release of ‘Sunshine’ hits radios this summer and secures a follow-up single eerily reminiscent of the Queens native 50 Cent’s mainstream ingratiation arc with ‘21 Questions’. (Both songs contain inadvertently hilarious food-based lines, with 50’s much mocked “I love you like a fat kid loves cake” easily paired with Flip’s “Spaghetti, shrimp and steak and I’ll adore you/I’ll treat you like milk, I’ll do nothing but spoil you”.)

The fact that Lil' Flip is standing on the precipice armed with one of the simplest vocal deliveries in hip-hop speaks volumes about where the momentum of the music is right now. What he offers, rather than energy or gimmicks, is honesty and personality and a voice and expression that we can connect to. Just ask David Banner, who was more than happy to let him jump start the party and rap first on ‘Like A Pimp’, despite it being the lead single to his own album. It paid off for him and now Beyonce is comfortable in having Flip introduce her singles. Much of Flippa’s appeal revolves around his voice, which comes over addictive thanks to a vocally truncated and lazy but lucid flow - the closest examples being Eazy E or Too $hort. (Some have criticised him for ‘clumsy’ lines, but they’re ‘clumsy’ lines that nevertheless lodge in the brain.)

The new south is now firmly in the spotlight. Ten years ago it was the west coast’s turn to usurp New York as rap’s most vibrant region. Of course, those persistent New York cats brought things back, letting Nas solidify the state of play after the Wu-Tang Clan’s mini-revolution, and eventually allowing Biggie, DMX and Jay-Z to climb to the forefront. As the modern hip-hop world seems to be avoiding a stationary plateau in favour of continually steamrollering its way to new cultural and commercial peaks year after year, few pretenders to the throne may ever again attain what Dr Dre, Snoop and Tupac did (or, in turn, the mantles that Biggie, DMX and Jay-Z claimed). But if Ludacris has already positioned himself as the Jay-Z of the south, and Lil Jon is cut from the cloth of the manic, raspy-voiced party starter, then Lil’ Flip may just have created a category for himself as the southern 50 Cent, armed with respect and a buzz bigger than mere marketing money buy. And you suspect the man himself knows it.

So sing the chorus: “Who they want? Flip! Flip! Flip! Flip!”

(Originally appeared in Kings, summer 2004)

Talk: Chopped & Screwed

By Rob Pursey

Once the sort of ‘quirky’ regional news item for magazines like The Source and XXL, the legacy of DJ Screw (R.I.P.) is fast approaching true over-ground status. More pertinently, his legendary method of slowing down his mixtapes to narcoleptic levels provides the true antithesis of Kanye’s commercially dominant Pinky and Perky routine. His method of ‘screwing’ the tempo of his tapes down to crawling pace and ‘chopping’ them akin to a traditional deejay style was a revolution waiting to happen, before his tragic death left others to pick up the baton and run with it.

None more so than Lil’ Flip, ‘the freestyle king’ of Houston’s legendary Screwed Up Clik, whose rapidly advancing career has provided him with a greater platform to celebrate the mentor that he lost. As well as featuring fully screwed cuts on his commercial LP for Columbia, he is due to release his latest fully screwed LP. David Banner too, made sure he upped his yearly LP release count to four by seeking out Michael Watts of SwishaHouse to man the ‘Chopped & Screwed’ versions of ‘Mississippi:The Album’ and ‘MTA:2’, all released on another major, Universal. SwishaHouse in turn are white hot right now with artists like Paul Wall, Mike Jones and Chamillionaire as familiar at both vocal speeds. Mike Jones may spit at the world’s pace for his new Usher collabo, but his voice and lyrics take on a whole new resonance when screwed. With other artists like Slim Thug reportedly signing to Star Trak, the idea of hearing Neptunes beats slurred and cut up from their original crisp tempo isn’t too far fetched: Houston’s finest ever label Rap-A-Lot has already seen commercial smashes like Scarface’s ‘The Diary’ receive the treatment, home-made screwings of Eminem tracks liks ‘Superman’ have made an appearance and there’s even a screwed take on Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ floating around the internet.

Like all phenomenon though, the peripheries of the movement have a legend all of their own. In this case, the drinking of Codeine-infused cough syrup to induce a hallucinatory high and swirl of the senses whilst bumping original Screw Tapes like ‘Codein Fein’ or ‘Syrup Sippers’. This peculiarly southern drug scene hit mass appeal back in 2000 with Three 6 Mafia’s release ‘Sippin On Some Syrup’, and the soon to follow death of DJ Screw aged 30 was confirmation of the legend.

Now the uninitiated need to prepare themselves for something unlike most sub-genres of hip-hop, particularly as mainstream hip-hop has its feet firmly planted back in the clubs. However, with so many screwed CDs flooding the web and soon the shops (it’s already sneakily begun over here), our advice is to stock up on the Venos now.

(Originally appeared in Kings, summer 2004)

Diplo Interview


By Phillip Mlynar

Despite making an album that will likely get lumped in the ‘trip-hop’ section of most music stores, Big Dada’s Diplo is quite the southern rap authority, having lived all around the states below the Mason-Dixie Line and made somewhat of a reputation for himself via his Hollertronix parties (where the likes of T.I. and Beezel share airplay with New Order). So, after he told us the fantastic news that David Banner and Lil’ Flip had received sample clearance for their soon-to-dominate ‘Bout Our Money’ collaboration, we put him up on Fresh’s ‘Hey Cake Boy’ record (aka one of the finest slices of slinky downlow hip-hop for years), and engaged in southern speech…

How accurate is it to say that certain crunk shows area like punk rock gigs?
“There are definitely parallels with a metal show and something like Lil Jon. You go to a Trillville or a Lil’ Scrappy show and it’s so rowdy. Then you’ll also have a Three 6 Mafia record like ‘Mosh Pit’ which is talking about bringing your sword and your baseball bat along to the most pit! I definitely don’t want to be at any shows like that. Part of that may come from the fact the everywhere in the south isn’t really big enough to have a scene as such, so you get all these different people coming together for music.”

From your experience how does southern rap go down overseas?
“Well I was over in Switzerland and there’s this guy who’s heavily into chopped and screwed music and southern rap in general and he was putting me up on records! And that’s chopped and screwed! But really, Michael Watts and SwishaHouse are so cutting-edge at the moment. What they’re doing is incredible, especially the way they chop the snares up.”

Babu from Dilated Peoples was saying a similar thing, that southern rap is keeping deejays alive and that he couldn’t remember when he heard as much scratching on a rap record as with the last Devin The Dude album...
“Completely. Other than Just Blaze none of the deejays from up north are making records with scratching, yet if you go to Memphis and hear a Three 6 Mafia record then there’s scratching all over it. People don’t give them enough respect for that.”

Is chopped and screwed as big in the US as we’re led to believe?
“Definitely. You can go to towns and see sorority girls driving around in a Volkswagen with the top down drinking cough syrup and listening to screwed music. It’s everywhere down south.”

Have you ever attempted to chop and screw a record yourself?
“I did a mix with some new wave records, stuff like Depeche Mode, New Order, and then things like The Pixies. It won’t come out but it was fun to do. I was using a lot of very long flange filters on it.”

It almost changes the order of the percussion, so that on something like Three 6 Mafia’s ‘Testify My Gangsta’ the hi-hats become so loud and prominent.
“Yeah, the hi-hat is the new snare drum!”

Have you played southern sets in London?
“Yeah, and when I first played in London it was on the same night as Spinbad and he dropped ‘Get Low’ and the dancefloor almost cleared. Last time I was over though I saw Semtex play the song and everyone went crazy, so perhaps the people just need time to acclimatise to it. It’s weird, because at the Hollertronix parties we get a range of people and a lot of the scenester kids seem to really get into it when you play a Trick Daddy or a Lil’ Flip or a Three 6 Mafia record. Something like T.I’s ‘Rubber Band Man’ is such a great record though that you want everyone to hear it.”

(Originally appeared in Kings, Summer 2004)