Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 1- A Guide By Mark 563

Here's another article I have written for - check the link or read below.

All the best,

Mark 563

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 1 - A Guide By Mark 563

Anyone with even the slightest interest in Hip-Hop will be familiar with the Wu-Tang Clan. Their catalogue is deep but not all of it is indispensable. Certainly, their better material ranks up there as some of the best of the genre, but other releases can be quite forgettable. The crew is currently on their Rebirth tour with dates announced to include Australia, so in preparation for their local shows, we’re breaking down the essential Wu-Tang releases.

For the first installment, we’re taking it back to the essence and focusing on the early material.

Back in 1993, the Staten Island super-group exploded onto the Hip-Hop scene with the release of their certified classic debut group album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Prior to the LP, they dropped the 12” single, Protect Ya Neck, an underground smash featuring hot verses from no less than 8 fresh emcees.

The Protect Ya Neck single had initially been released in 1992 on an independent tip through Rza’s own Wu-Tang Records. This release had an orange and yellow centre label and different tracklist to the more familiar Loud Records release from 1993. Limited to a pressing of only 500 units, the original Wu-Tang Records pressing is a fairly sought after record and attracts a hefty price tag. The main difference between the 2 versions is the B-side cut, which on the Loud pressing was Method Man’s eponymously titled solo track, whereas on the earlier release you get After The Laughter Comes Tears, a rougher, slightly different version of the track Tearz. It was the underground success of the original Protect Ya Neck 12” that really got the Wu noticed and secured their group deal to Steve Rifkind’s Loud, which prompted the re-release of the single.

But even before that, members of the Wu had already experienced dealings within the recording industry.

It’s common knowledge that the Gza had previously had a record deal alongside the legendary Juice Crew at Fly Ty’s Cold Chillin’ Records. In 1991 the label released his debut album, under the stage-name The Genius, entitled Words From The Genius. The majority of the albums production was handled by Easy Mo Bee (who would later rise to fame for his work on Notorious BIG’s Ready To Die LP), but musically it sounded dated, even at the time. To the Gza’s credit his vocals don’t sound terrible on the album, but with such uninspired beats backing him, this makes the album only worth checking as a curiosity.

Before the deal turned sour, Cold Chillin’ released handful of 12” singles from the album. The instantly forgettable Who’s Your Rhymin’ Hero, Come Do Me, a horrible New Jack Swing type track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bel Biv Devoe album and finds the Genius dropping some sex-style lyrics that are a million miles away from the deep style he’s now known for, and Words From A Genius, one of the stronger cuts from the album, which gets the remix treatment at the hands the Rza and is well worth checking out.

The Genius Come Do Me

Capitalizing on the huge success of the Wu-Tang’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Cold Chillin’ re-released the Genius LP in 1994, albeit with the addition of Pass The Bone, a Prince Rakeem (Rza) produced track from ’91 that never made the original album. Not wanting to miss a dollar, the label also put the track out as a single, but without any added tracks, it’s only worth copping if you didn’t already grab the LP.

Prior to Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) dropping, the Rza, also had a brief solo career. Signed to Tommy Boy Records under the name Prince Rakeem, he released the 12” single, Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem. The record has 3 different tracks plus a couple of remixes, and all warrant a listen. Rakeem adopts a Loverman steez throughout the record that bares no resemblance to the Rzarector persona most Wu heads are more familiar with, but it works on a goofy tip. The title track flexes some sleazy horns as a posse of women provide a chanted chorus, while the Rza roll-calls all those special ladies that he loves. It’s is a personal favourite of mine and a track still gets regular burn, but I may be alone with that sentiment. Also worth noting is the cut, Sexcapades, which features a remix credited as ‘Wu-Tang Mix’.

Prince Rakeem Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem

Back in the day, before Myspace and Youtube, rappers had to actually record demo-tapes and shop them around to record labels before they released any material. Yeah, I know, judging by today’s scene, the whole process sounds archaic, but it was the standard process. As a result, there’s a plethora of rough, unfinished and original versions of tracks from most of your favourite established acts. A quick search online will find you links to various versions of the Wu-Tang Clan Demos. These include tracks from the original Wu demo-tape that was shopped around labels for a deal, as well as freestyles, outtakes and alternate versions of more recognizable songs. With almost all of the original members featuring throughout the various cuts, the sound quality tends to be pretty poor, but that’s to be expected.

Back before the Wu, the Rza, the Gza, and fellow cousin, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (then known as Ason Unique) were in a group known as All In Together Now. You may have seen the video floating around Youtube of the group performing at a talent show. If not, the live audio is included on the demo-tape, which features Ol’ Dirty ranting in his drunken style before laying down a beatbox for Rza to kick oral-sex based rhymes over.

All In Together Now Talent Show Freestyle

Bring Da Ruckus and After The Laughter are rough versions of the tracks that would eventually end up on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Both tracks are more relaxed than the final versions, but certainly have that gritty Wu-Tang feel that the album is known for.

Which Way Is Up and It’s Murdah are Rza solo joints that sound like they were recorded during the Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem session and are enjoyable, on that more lighthearted Prince Rakeem tip.

Method Man (known here as Shaquan) and U-God (Baby-U) Join the Rza on Your On. Meth is barely recognizable whereas U-God’s inimitable voice is instantly unmistakable, as are his robotic delivery and nursery rhyme lyrics. I Gets Down For My Crown sounds similar to Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance (recorded for the High School High soundtrack in 1996), with Meth, U-God and Rza joined by Inspectah Deck. Much like on the finished album proper, Meth also blesses a solo joint on the demo-tape, Ice Cream Man, which is much more of a nod to the charismatic style he’d go on to perfect.

Method Man Ice Cream Man

Ol’ Dirty Bastard pops up again on a number of tracks. The short freestyle, Take It Back To Brooklyn is an entertaining solo worth checking. Wu-Tang is a cracking track not dissimilar to Shame On A Nigga, featuring lyrics that Ol’ Dirty would eventually recycle on Funkmaster Flex’s Nuttin But Flavor single in ’95. He’s paired up with Gza on What Do You Say, where, again he spits verses that he would later reuse (this time for his hit single, Brooklyn Zoo).

Wu-Tang Clan (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) Wu-Tang

While none of this early material compares to the quality of the finished debut album, it’s all worth exploring. Some of it’s really good and some of it is really bad, but it’s out there for you to check.

Make sure you check out the Wu-Tang Clan show at your nearest venue – Wu-Tang Clan play Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Friday 5th August (tickets from Ticketek), Melbourne’s Festival Hall on Saturday 6th August (tickets from Ticketmaster) and Perth’s Metro City on Sunday 7th August (tickets from Moshtix).

Pre-Wu-Tang Clan Gza, Rza and Ol’ Dirty Bastard on Rhythm & Soul Public Access TV March 1991

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Essential Onyx - A Guide By Mark 563

What's good chaps? Here's an article I wrote for - check the link or read below.


Mark 563

The Essential Onyx - A Guide By Mark 563

Anyone who has seen or heard me DJ out over the years will know that I’m a mad Onyx fan. As a part of my play-out set, I regularly dedicate a section to the bald-headed crew from Queens, opening with their jump-up anthem, Slam, blending into the grimy Shifftee and closing the section with their call-to-arms, Throw Ya Gunz. All three cuts have received ridiculous spins at my hands and are guaranteed to get a party open, and all three tracks have remained firm favourites of mine since the day they dropped.

With Onyx embarking on their first ever Australian tour, we at saw fit to offer you a refresher course in all things Onyx.

As a trio consisting of Fredro Star, SuavĂ© and Big DS, Onyx got their start way back in 1990 with the release of the scarcely remembered 12” single Ah, And We Do It Like This on Profile Records. There’s a good reason why the record is little known, and that is simply because it really isn’t that good. It sounds nothing like the Onyx you’d expect and is only really worth peeping as an obscurity, or for tone-deaf completists.

The group linked with Run DMC’s, sadly now deceased, DJ, Jam Master Jay and signed to his JMJ Records, adding Fredro’s cousin, Sticky Fingaz to the mix along the way. They dropped the incredible Throw Ya Gunz 12” in late ’92 and blew up. The track was the first display of the groups new hardcore style, a mix of automatic weapons, army fatigues, bald heads and raspy-rasp vocals, and set the template for their following releases.

Onyx Throw Ya Gunz

They soon followed in 1993 with their full-length debut, the subtly titled Bacdafup. The album was a package of no nonsense grimy, hardcore joints with some of the rap-worlds most questionably spelled titles. Track titles such as Atak Of Da Bal-Hedz, Da Nex Niguz and Getdafucout kick-started a trend of terrible phonetic spelling that would plague the Hip Hop scene for years to come. Illiteracy aside, tracks such as Blac Vagina Finda and Bichasbootleguz left nothing to the imagination, but banged super hard and ensured that the LP was a success.

A few 12”s were released after the long-player and are certainly worth investigating. Slam was an absolute monster smash for the group and is essential in any Hip Hop heads’ collection, as is the equally incredible Shifftee. Of lesser importance are the group’s ventures into the Rock/Rap crossover genre. Slam got treated to a slew of unnecessary, unlistenable remixes including a re-recording of the song with Biohazard, who they would team-up with again for the title track to the movie Judgement Night.

Onyx Shifftee

Between recording Bacdafucup and their sophomore LP, Big DS left the group amid claims that he wasn’t getting enough mic time, which was a fair call, considering I couldn’t recollect a single contribution he made to the record and always wondered what his role was in the group. His solo career never materialized and sadly, in 2003 Big DS passed away after a battle with cancer.

Slimmed down to a trio, and with SuavĂ© changing his name to Sonee Seeza, in 1995 Onyx dropped the cut, Live!!! on the soundtrack to Russell Simmons’ movie, The Show, before returning with another cracking album, All We Got Iz Us. Far less testosterone fueled and much darker than its’ predecessor, the album was more mature and more convincing as a window into life in the United States Ghetto. A fan favourite, the album spawned a couple of singles, Last Dayz backed with album highlight All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets) and Walk In New York, which dropped on the B-side of the aforementioned Live!!! (renamed for the album, Live Niguz) 12”.

Onyx All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)

Around this time Fredro Star and Sticky Fingaz began to concentrate on their acting careers. Fredro starred in basketball movie, Sunset Park (1996), with Onyx providing an impressive soundtrack cut, Thangz Changed. Both Sticky and Fredro featured in the Spike Lee classic Clockers (1995) and the instantly forgettable, Ride (1998). More memorable than the movie itself was the track they delivered on the films soundtrack, The Worst,a banging collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Method Man and Killarmy’s Killa Sin. Sticky appeared in numerous roles on in TV and film, while Fredro bizarrely found success as a regular on R&B singer Brandy’s sitcom, Moesha.

Onyx & The Wu-Tang Clan The Worst

In 1998, Onyx returned with their 3rd album, Shut ‘Em Down. The album was a decent offering, but relied heavily on featured artists, with the likes of DMX, Big Pun, Norega, Lost Boyz and All City all passing through to lend vocals. The previously released Onyx/Wu link up, The Worst, was featured here, as was the single, React, most notable for featuring a fresh-faced 50 Cent.

Later releases, Bacdafucup Part II (2002) and Triggernometry (2003) are far from essential. The former claiming, in name at least, to be a sequel to their debut, but all comparisons should end there. Single, Slam Harder, bares no resemblance whatsoever to their 1993 smash 12” of a similar title, but does feature an enjoyable re-working of the ‘70s sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, theme tune courtesy of producer DR Period. Still, Slam it most certainly aint.

On a solo tip, Sticky Fingaz has been the most successful of the group, with his acclaimed Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones, while Fredro Star dropped Firestarr on Koch. Both have other records out, but they really aren’t worth bothering with.

As far as harder to find tracks go, both Da Nex Nigguz and Bacdafucup from the first album got put out on promo only 12”s but offer little of interest other than radio versions. There are a bunch of rarer Onyx tracks out there well worth tracking down, and most feature on the Cold Case Files album compiled from harder to find mid ‘90s cuts, released in 2008. A promo definitely worth investigating is the remix of Evil Streets, featuring Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man, backed with Purse Snatchers Pt. 2, which features Smoothe Da Hustler, Trigger Tha Gambler and DV Alias Khrist. Both tracks bang and can be found on the Cold Case Files compilation, as can the only release from relative unknowns, Gang Green (a group that featured Sticky Fingaz’ brother X1, who sadly died in 2007), I’ll Murder You, which features Onyx on the cracking remix and was originally put out by Tape Kingz in 1995.

Gang Green I’ll Murder You Remix Featuring Onyx

Guest spots are surprisingly slim pickings. The group featured on Run DMC’s Get Open from their Down With The King album, and on female emcee Boss’ Livin’ Loc’d from her LP Born Gangstaz, both released in 1993. In 1998 Onyx provided guest vocals on All City’s Xtreme from the Metropolis Gold full length, and Sticky Fingaz contributed rhymes to Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor project (the cracking Strange Fruit) and Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’ Make It Reign long player (Massive Heat).

If all that wasn’t enough, they dropped the incredible 15 Years of Videos History & Violence DVD in 2008, which is jam packed with all their videos, mad amounts of live footage and plenty of behind the scenes footage of the crazy bald headed crew.

Onyx play Melbourne’s Espy on Thursday 9th June, Perth’s Civic Hotel on Friday 10th June, Adelaide’s Rocket Bar on Saturday 11th June, Sydney’s The Gaelic on Sunday 12th June and Brisbane’s The Step Inn on Thursday 16th June. Grab your ticket and be prepared for some serious Slamming in the mosh pit.

Onyx Slam Live