Monday, November 24, 2008

MC BREED: 1972 - 2008

Flint, Michigan-bred hip-hop performer MC Breed has died. Just this past weekend, public statements confirmed his death in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

In the summer of 1991, “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin’” became a regional, then national, hip-hop hit, especially in clubs and for underground rap enthusiasts. The song remixed Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” and the Ohio Players “Funky Worm” for its rhythm track. The original music-video shot for the single included a now-prescient hanging of a Saddam Hussein stand-in (the 1990-91 Gulf War had only recently ended; a second video was filmed once the single went national). Detroit figured greatly in the promotion of the single, as urban station WJLB and a few others added the song to playlists. Breed soon found himself in the company of hip-hop’s major stars of the 1990s before his career cooled off toward the end of the decade.

Lyrically, Breed’s style earned him respect from East coast, Southern and West coast fans alike. He spent most of his recording career on Atlanta-based independent label Ichiban Recordings, and relocated to Atlanta’s growing hip-hop scene not long after “No Future” became an established hit.

Breed’s success helped to increase hip-hop’s geographic diversity, helping Midwestern rappers to have a national platform. His backing crew, the DFC, was spun-off and recorded two albums of their own. His Atlanta sojourn found him aligned with local producers including future standout Jazze Pha. Other collaborators would include Warren G. and Too Short, who had also adopted Atlanta as his home base. Outside of “No Future”, Breed’s most enduring hit was 1993’s “Gotta Get Mine”, featuring Tupac Shakur.

In recent years, Breed’s fortunes began to wane. He separated from Ichiban in the late 90’s but subsequent albums failed to get much attention. He ended up moving from Atlanta back to Flint, and as recently as early 2008 was arrested for child support arrears. In October of 2008 he was reportedly playing a game of pick-up basketball when he collapsed. A physician’s diagnosis identified kidney instability as a factor. As recently as November 3, 2008 he did a radio interview with Detroit’s WJLB, and announced plans of a comeback album, planning to collaborate with Scarface, Jazze Pha and the D.O.C. among others.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hype's Retro Reviews: Public Enemy, Greatest Misses, 1992

"Greatest Misses" was the first `anti-concept LP' (according to an interview with bandleader Chuck D) from hip-hop group Public Enemy. Originally released in August of 1992, it hit stores just following the Los Angeles riots of that year as well as being in the midst of the U.S. Presidential campaign that year as well. Perhaps for the first time, the group reaches outside its traditional Bomb Squad production team for remixing select album cuts and singles from previous albums. Those remixes comprise the second half of this release, the first half containing all-new recordings.
1. "Tie Goes to the Runner" - Some wah-wah guitar samples anchor the rhythm track, where Chuck goes off on recent events: "Not surprised at all about the riot zone... This was predicted not self-inflicted By the rap outta the 'hood.."
2. "Hit Da Road Jack" - The group gives a middle finger to racists but also lament the apathy for some in the black community "When I come they all run and hide and they quit, and yell loud, here comes Chuck with that black..."
3. "Gett Off My Back" - Flavor Flav's solo opus (previously heard on the Mo' Money soundtrack) finds the rapper warning people about substance abuse, ("monkey, get off my back!"), with a nice Parliament-inspired hook.
4. "Gotta do What I Gotta Do" - Congas percolate on this track where Chuck explains his role as an activist and agitator- "They come & try to get some They had the nerve to call the president/ An' I wasn't hesitant, To scream I was a resident"
5. "Air Hoodlum" - Rhyming over a deceptively smooth jazz-based rhythm track, Chuck tells the sobering tale of a basketball prodigy whose dreams go terribly wrong. "The fall began When Mickey Mack fell; Hell ripped his knee, Drafted last by personnel."
6. "Hazy Shade of Criminal" - For the first single on the album, Chuck re-interprets the title of an old Simon & Garfunkel tune to indict the imbalances on how the American justice system deals with minorities- includes a timely swipe at the serial killer "Jeffrey Dahmer, enters the room without cuffs, how the hell do we get stuffed in the back of a cell on an isle..."
7. "Megablast" - Horns blast away on this remix of a Bum Rush the Show album cut, Chuck and Flav trade verses about the ills of dope addiction: "An antique fork, how long would it last.. we'll see in 12 minutes when he wants that blast.."
8. "Louder Than a Bomb" - Run DMC's Jam Master Jay helms a relentless heavy-bass uptempo remix of this Nation of Millions album cut, and the second single from Misses.
9. "You're Gonna Get Yours" - A scratch-heavy tweaking of the group's first single from their first LP.
10. "How to Kill a Radio Consultant" - New York pioneer DJ Chuck Chillout remixes this Apocalypse 91 album cut, with a special message for anti-hip-hop radio programmers. 11. "Who Stole the Soul?" - Ice Cube producer Sir Jinx gives PE a left-coast flair for this Black Planet album cut remix, including a hilarious audio clip of Eddie Murphy.
12. "Party for Your Right to Fight" - Live bass & guitar make for an engaging re-interpretation of the Nation of Millions album cut.
13. "Shut Em Down" - a live performance on UK television of the Pete Rock-produced remix. Note: liner notes include an art piece from comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz..

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

HOPE IS HERE AND NOW

"Although it seems heaven sent, we ain't ready to see a black president"
2Pac, "Changes", 1998.

Had he lived, the late Tupac Shakur would likely have been glad to eat his words in light of the events of November 4, 2008. Illinois Senator Barack Obama is now the President-Elect of the United States of America. Besting his opponent Senator John McCain of Arizona, Senator Obama has cleared over 300 electoral votes, nearly doubling the count of Senator McCain. Key to this were reputed battleground states of Ohio and Florida, both of which went to Obama. Other developments included Obama making strong stands in normally Republican strongholds like Montana and Indiana. Footage has been shown of not only American celebrations in many communities but in communities around the globe: Japan, Kenya, France, Haiti, Indonesia. People are rightfully celebrating a man whose vision, sophistication and determination clearly resonated with a global audience.

Despite my own enthusiastic support, up until Tuesday, I had to fight off a lingering skepticism, wondering if most of America could ‘go there’ and vote for a black presidential candidate (on either side of the party coin). Bless me, most of America did. Black Americans who lived through Jim Crow and the tumult of the 20th century Civil Rights Movement (including many family members of mine) are seeing what was once thought to be an abstract dream finally made manifest.

A black woman will soon become the First Lady. Two black children will spend a good portion of their childhoods in the White House. America’s armed forces now have a black Commander-in-Chief. In a bit of nice turnaround, predominately African-American Washington D.C.’s status as a ‘Chocolate City’ now has reached its full potential, to have black faces residing both inside and outside the White House.

As far as the issue of America being ‘post-racial’ goes, this is certainly a big door to kick down. Still, the challenge now becomes for people to continue to work on their personal and family goals as well learning to work together with people from different backgrounds to achieve change locally, which feeds into what communities need regionally and nationally.

Despite the unassailably progressive step that was made in most of the electorate voting for Barack Obama, many of America’s individual cities and towns still suffer from racialized tensions which plays out in varying ways depending on the ethnic population of a given region. In Detroit, the biggest political controversy in its history has only recently begun to wane—former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is currently in the second week of a four-month stint in county jail, relating to guilty pleas on four felony charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Even in jail, Kilpatrick is still a polarizing figure—supporters who appeared at his formal sentencing called for him to be freed and Kilpatrick’s father called it a railroading. Bernard Kilpatrick and several others (including staff on the current city council) are currently under an FBI probe into possible corruption involving city-contractor grants and whether Kilpatrick’s non-profit civic & political committees (officially he has five) were being used for private purposes (including paying his criminal defense attorneys) . Meanwhile, Christine Beatty, the former chief of staff (and former mistress) of the ex-mayor still awaiting her trial on perjury charges, not set to begin until January. Meanwhile, there are still thousands in the metro area who are culturally allergic to urban Detroit, who take every opportunity (especially online) to bash it on principle, assuming the worst of the local electorate, who will loyally wear sports gear from local teams but are quick to tell anyone from out of town that they are not from Detroit, per se’.

Now that there is a President-to-be who is genuinely from an urban background who has worked to improve conditions for urban districts, hopefully most if not all his planned urban initiatives will have traction, especially working with sympathetic local and regional officials. Implement mass transit. Push for progressive educational reforms. Radically rethink the war on drugs.

I credit Senator Obama with reaching out to those who did not vote for him at his acceptance speech. Just the same, I can’t feel sorry for any of those people who were in the McCain-is-Superman camp, who carped that Obama was a closet Muslim and therefore terrorist in disguise, among other canards. As the right-wing cranks like to say, “why don’t you just get over it?” Oh, before I forget: Barack. Hussein. Obama.

Here’s to at least four years of some truly revolutionary change.