Collectors Corner: UGK – Too Hard To Swallow (2017 Vinyl Reissue)

by Rajin

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Last year marked the 25th anniversary of UGK’s debut album Too Hard To Swallow. To celebrate, Get On Down Records released a special reissue for Record Store Day, limited to 1,000 copies. Previously only released on CD and cassette, this was the first time the seminal Dirty South album was pressed on vinyl (aside from a 1992 promotional only pressing which wasn’t for public sale).

This was one of the first records I bought after getting into vinyl at the top of this year. On my first trip to the record store I saw it while flipping through hip hop records, but for some reason I didn’t think to pick it up. No more than a few days later I was idly reflecting on that visit, and decided to look this album up on Discogs. Upon doing so, I read details about it that made me realize the mistake I had made in passing it up. About a week later I went back trusting that if it had stayed on the shelf for 8 months, it would still be there. Sure enough, it was, and I went home with what remains to be the coolest vinyl I own as of now.

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The first thing that you’ll notice about the record is the way the cover art has been altered. Pimp C, Bun B, and the lettering are all gold, and essentially everything else is dark blue. I’m not entirely sure why the cover has been altered the way it has, and I don’t really know how I feel about it. While I don’t remember if it was the only reason I didn’t pick it up at first, the changes were definitely part of why I was apprehensive. I imagine I thought I would find an earlier pressing with the original cover, only to find out that this is the first vinyl pressing. I will say, it gives the cover a sleeker look than the original. It looks more like an actual album cover, and less like a picture with word art on it; however, it does eliminate the charming simplicity and overall “Dirty South” vibe that the original album art had.

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The record sleeve is a little thinner than I personally prefer for a 2xLP. There are no inserts or anything to speak of; the credits are all listed on the back cover, which follows the same color scheme as the front cover. There really isn’t anything else to the packaging. The actual vinyl is where the release gets more impressive to me. It was pressed on clear vinyl, which makes it one of the more aesthetically pleasing records that I own. I really like how you have a view of the grooves that you don’t get on other colors. Not only does it look extremely cool, it makes it much easier to see whether the record is dirty or not. The colors used on the sleeve are also used on the vinyl labels, which actually serves as a gorgeous contrast to the clear vinyl.

The pressing itself is a pretty good one. I’m no audiophile, so perhaps others who have listened to it would dispute me on this, but I love how full the funky, syrupy bass on this record sounds. Tracks with slower and more detailed production like “Feel Like I’m The One Doing Dope” become infinitely more immersive than the digital version is. The vocals also sound great, and honestly better mixed than they were on the original release. Bun B’s booming voice in particular sounds great on this pressing.

Ultimately, the best thing about this is that a classic album has finally gotten the vinyl pressing it always deserved. Too Hard To Swallow was already an album that anyone who considers themselves a fan of hip hop should own, but this pressing is special. If anyone sees it hanging out at your record store, pick it up. Don’t even think about it.

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A History of UTFO and the Roxanne Wars

by Dustin

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The 1980s were an interesting decade for hip-hop as a genre that had just begun to find its footing. The classic artists of this era are often remembered for one of two things: infectiously bouncy party music, or gritty socially rooted rap. Yet, aside from the big names – N.W.A, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Run D.M.C., The Beastie Boys, and a few others – rap from this particular point in history seems have found itself overshadowed by the behemoth that is 90s rap. Yet, if one is up to doing a little digging, there are a ton of very interesting artists to be discovered. One such group was Untouchable Force Organization, or as they were more commonly called, UTFO. An east coast rap group that brought a unique flavor to the sounds of the 80s.

UTFO formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1984 when two of Whodini’s regular break-dancers, Doctor Ice and Kangol Kid, made the decision to pursue a music career of their own. The two enlisted the talents of The Educated Rapper and Mixmaster Ice to round out a quartet. Thanks to the group’s pre-existing connections to the music industry it didn’t take them long to find a label to call home. In this case, it was Fred Munao’s Select Records that decided to take a chance with the group. The slightly more experienced R&B outfit Full Force was brought into the fold to assist the newer UTFO, tasked with overseeing the production of their debut studio album. Full Force took this job to heart, and sought the help of sampling and sound design expert Gary Pozner to assist with the instrumental portion of the record. Armed with some of the best in the industry, UTFO was primed to make a splash in hip-hop with their self-titled debut album. Which, is exactly what they did; in fact, the group probably got a bigger response than they bargained for.

Their freshman release is regarded by many hip-hop enthusiasts as a slept on classic, with its unique beats and flows for the era; however, UTFO as an album is still mainly known for setting off a massive string of diss tracks known as the Roxanne Wars. During the promotional run of the album, a track tilted “Hanging Out” was released and performed relatively terribly in terms of pure numbers. The b-side of the single, however, would go on to receive huge amounts of airplay. This song was titled “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a comical track about a hypothetical girl who had ignored the advances of the various UTFO members. Around this same time, UTFO missed a scheduled performance, much to the dismay of venue promoters Marley Marl and Mr. Magic. A 14-year old Lolita Gooden (known by her stage name Roxanne Shante) heard the men discussing the problem, and offered to write a song to fire back at UTFO. Surprisingly they took her up on this offer, and Marley Marl opted to handle the track’s production.

The fruit of their labor would be released not long afterward. It borrowed the original beat from “Roxanne, Roxanne” and was named “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Local radio stations adored the song, thrusting it into instant hit territory with continuous airplay. UTFO and Full Force saw the humor in the situation, and promptly contacted Elease Jack to perform vocals on their own answer track, “The Real Roxanne.” On this song, Elease claimed to be the actual Roxanne originally dissed by UTFO, and took jabs at all four members. This sparked Roxanne fever in the New York hip-hop scene, and artists entirely unrelated to the original incident began releasing Roxanne songs. Topics ranged from claiming to be Roxanne, claiming to know Roxanne, or in one particularly outlandish case, claiming that Roxanne was a man all along. It was such a craze that close to a hundred Roxanne songs were estimated to have seen release in the span of a few years. Though this seems highly likely to be exaggeration, there is no doubt that UTFO made their biggest splash with “Roxanne, Roxanne” and the time period around their debut album.

Perhaps unexpectedly, this was basically where UTFO’s career peaked. The Educated Rapper wasn’t on the group’s sophomore effort, Skeezer Pleezer. And the album itself didn’t garner much attention, apart from the song “Split Personality.” Their next three albums would also fail to meet expectations even though the group experimented with other sounds such as rock, swingbeat and reggae. Ultimately, the hypersexual Bag It & Bone It released in 1991 served as the endpoint for UTFO. The four men parted ways on good terms, and stayed active within the music industry in more subdue roles. They knew when it was time to call it quits, and that never impacted the lifelong respect they had for each other. A true testament to this was in 2017, when all of UTFO were reportedly by Educated Rapper’s bedside as he lost his battle to cancer.

Though they faded out of rap in an unspectacular manner, UTFO’s legacy should probably be spoken about more than it is. As ridiculous as they may have been, the Roxanne Wars were one of the first instances of beef extending beyond a one off diss and response. Their influence on modern artists was also far greater than one would expect, as evidenced by the outpouring of respect and love over the internet following The Educated Rapper’s death. UTFO helped paved the way for individuals that didn’t fit perfectly with the sound of their time. In most respects they were absolute eccentric oddballs compared to their contemporaries, but the group’s genuity left a lasting impression on the hip-hop scene. In retrospect, the present day alternative artist may not have even existed without the lane UTFO began to carve. While they may appear to have been a one hit wonder on the surface, it goes much deeper than that. Doctor Ice, Kangol Kid, The Educated Rapper, and Mixmaster Ice were four of the most important, but least spoken about individuals in the support structure of hip-hop.

Rajin Rambles: I Am Not a Dusthead!

by Rajin

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I love Snoop Dogg’s new “Mount Kushmore” single (which features Redman, B-Real, and Method Man). The production is in a beautiful throwback G-funk style that is impossible to not bob your head to. Each emcee laces his verse with witty rhymes and a slick, grin-inducing vocal performance. It gives you essentially everything that you’d want out of a collaboration with these ’90’s legends.

Now as I was listening to the song earlier and thinking all of that, something occurred to me. I think I tend to give off a vibe where I’m exclusively about ’90’s hip hop/rappers who are currently in their mid-40s. I started to feel a lot like a stereotype – like a nostalgia-hunting “real” hip hop head. In the year and two months of my piss-poor pieces on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed younger rappers. I go back and notice that at most I’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar a couple of times, and maybe Danny Brown a few times. Well, to be fair my first article is about Prof, who’s basically the soundtrack to the weekend of a guy in his mid-twenties running around getting drunk and fucking anything that moves. However, most of my pieces tend to talk about and gush over guys who tend to come be from the ’90’s era of hip hop (and primarily from the east coast, at that).

I want to make it abundantly clear right now, in case I haven’t done so yet: I’m not someone who acts as though this generation of rappers isn’t as good as rappers from the ‘90s. My tendency to generally talk about older hip hop artists rather than new ones stems from me listening to them longer and knowing them a lot more in-depth than newer rappers coming out. I also have a habit of being turned onto artists late; I’ve mentioned before how it happened with Run The Jewels.

After all of this, I started thinking about something that comes to mind all the time when thinking about the current state of rap music…although, thankfully it seems like less of an issue as time goes on, so this piece may be rendered pointless in a few years’ time. Regardless, I feel like this fetishization of the ’90’s is pretty counterproductive to the development of the genre. I’ve sort of discussed this in the past, but I want to get a little more specific with it for a moment. People tend to use the stereotypical modern styles of trap and mumble rap that get pushed by hip hop publications for easy clicks as a scapegoat for why they refuse to listen to anyone who came out past the early ’00’s. Not to take anything away from those styles of music, but there’s a whole lot more that my generation has to offer than just that. Demonizing those styles gives them overblown and unwarranted levels of hatred, and it neglects and dismisses the music that other young rappers come with, which is completely unfair.

Take Joey Bada$$ for example. He’s a couple of months younger than I am, only 22 years old. He’s probably somebody that most fans of old school hip hop would love to listen to, since he started his career making rugged boom bap music reminiscent of guys like Nas or Black Moon. Doing this awakened the nostalgia in people, and got people interested in what he had in store to “bring hip hop back” (I don’t know if anyone actually said that, I’m just assuming).

Now, I’ve actually seen criticisms, by fans, thrown at Joey’s new All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ album because people are talking about how he’s going pop on it. The thing is, he’s not. He’s just setting the more hardcore boom bap style aside to grow into his own artist with the message he wants to spread. He’s maturing. He’s certainly not abandoning that style; he’s just putting a new style to the forefront, and toying with more modern styles at places. But when you mess with the nostalgia factor that attracted people to your music, you risk upsetting them.

You start off with boom-bap. Over time, that changes a bit, and people get upset. They cling onto what they are familiar with, and decry what starts coming out afterwards, as opposed to looking to see what will come next. This is what is happening to Joey Bada$$ (on a small scale, overall his album has been received pretty well. I certainly liked it), and it’s what has happened to hip hop as a whole.

Speaking of younger rappers who may incite some feelings of nostalgia, let’s talk about Oddisee. Oddisee is essentially the spiritual successor to groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with some Black Milk thrown in for good measure. He has clearly studied their styles and adapted them for his own, making music that is similarly jazzy and positive. However, he doesn’t make music that emulates the music that he grew up listening to, but rather, it sounds like the next logical step that those groups would/should take. His music is probably what those groups would sound like if they debuted in 2012. He’s innovating in that style, for better or worse. And that’s not to mention his actual emceeing ability, which is arguably at a higher level than anyone in Tribe or De La, due to the natural progression of hip hop pushing the requirements for being an exceptional emcee further (Important: Please note that I am not saying that he is more iconic or is a better act than Tribe or De La).

Another one who you could look at is Jonwayne, who brings to mind Biggie as far as his charisma and vocal delivery go (not to mention his physique). However, he’s got a totally different lyrical style and vibe, speaking on problems that many of us in our twenties can relate to, such as alcohol abuse when things feel like they’re going too fast and you’re falling into a pit (I can personally attest to that). He frames it in a way that no rapper that I’ve heard from the ’90’s has been able to, because that sort of vulnerability in hip hop didn’t fly in that time period.

And then there are guys who don’t necessarily bring to mind older acts. Flatbush Zombies are from the same area that Joey Bada$$ is from (surprisingly, Flatbush), yet they sound nothing like him. They have some NY flavor in their music, but they sprinkle in some trip hop and trap. They have taken influence from tried and true styles and mixed it with what is going on nowadays to create really unique music that could not have existed in the past, while remaining something that I think any old school hip hop fan who doesn’t write off modern music could enjoy. Or there’s Milo, who goes even more into an alternative and abstract direction, with distorted and synthesized keyboards and a laid back yet still slightly aggressive method of rapping.

This list, honestly, could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my point by now. There is a plethora of music still coming out these days by newer, young artists, who are either pushing forward with older styles and innovating in those lanes, or are trying completely new styles entirely. You just need to know where to look, and put in the work rather than dismiss hip hop today entirely. Thankfully I have Dustin, who does the work for me and forces artists onto me.

I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is really repetitive. Maybe I’m just a sensitive, triggered millennial snowflake. I certainly don’t want to sound preachy or anything. I just wanted to voice the opinion that this generation has rappers who are truly worth listening to, beyond the obvious picks such as Kendrick Lamar. Most people know this, but all too often I will go onto a webpage talking about an older rapper and will see a discouraging amount of people disparaging current-day hip hop. I don’t think it’s a healthy mindset.

While I’m not at all fan of Lil Yachty in even the slightest, I think he’s well within his rights to say some of the things he says when he gets criticized incessantly. It’s the same as when parents tell their kids “oh you kids have it so easy, in my day…” (I normally tune out after I hear the beginning of that sentence). It seems like people constantly need to be reminded that like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has a plenty for everyone. And like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has plenty of bad music as well. People just don’t like remember the bad music that was released in the past.

I primarily wanted to write this up really quickly today to assuage my fears of being someone who’s musically stuck in the past (that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that! Like what you like and don’t be ashamed about it – just don’t be close-minded), but the overarching message I guess I want to get across is that disregarding the new because you think you don’t like it without doing some digging makes no sense. It’s certainly not something that I would want to do, as it would work against me as a contributor to this site, and as a person. By nature I’m a very stubborn, stuck-in-my-ways person, but I try my hardest to be as open as I can be. I think if everyone who says hip hop died in the mid-‘00’s tried too, they could find some stuff that they really like.