By 1996, Hobo Junction was dirt hustlin’ their music on Bay Area street corners, part of the broader move towards independence that so many Bay artists were at the forefront of. At its heart, dirt hustlin’ was a profound rejection of the standard hip-hop narrative where groups just try to get signed and roll the dice from there. Hobo Junction had that moment already, back when Southpaw put out “Shot Callin’ and Big Ballin’” but now they joined alongside members of Hiero, Mystik Journeymen/Living Legends and you’d have to also think, in a broader sense, E-40, Master P and Too $hort, all of whom got their start selling tapes out of car trunks.
If I recall, this cassette EP was notable because it had a striking Hobo family cut, “Township,” plus one of the first new Saafir songs, “In A Vest,” anyone had heard in a while. Best line ever: “if you aim for my head and you miss then you dead.”
As for the Shigger Fragger Show…whoooo. This was a creation of DJ Billy Jam, inarguably, one of the Bay Area’s most important DJ/radio figures even if he doesn’t always get that credit. He was a massive fan of the nascent turntablism movement and the Shigger Fragger Shows reflected the creative madness and zaniness that so many of those DJs embodied. This was episode one and therefore, before they started videotaping the sessions (which took things to a whole other level of nutty) but the main point was that the SFS were always an open invitation to improvise and innovate.
One of the cooler items I came across in whilst #digginginthetapes is a demo tape I received from Ill Brothers circa 1994.
This was a Southern California crew, lead by Ill Bro Chat and Snizake. They hit my radar in ’94 with “Mescaline” and it’s possible that they sent me both the single and demo at the same time. The demo tape does feature one song that made the vinyl 12″ – “Valley of Broken Necks” but as far as I know, everything else on the tape only exists in that format.
My favorite song off here is a song that wasn’t titled on the cassette sleeve so I just call it “Quickly Disposed Of” (based on the scratched hook).
(From what I gather, the demo also includes a different demo on the B-side for Of Mexican Descent (OMD). It’s not credited as such but it would make sense since those two crews were friendly.)
Ill Brothers had two other official 12″s after “Mescaline,” including “Funkbreak,” a killer b-side off their “Olestra” single.
I also found another demo/single tape by an Orange County duo called Origin. I found next to nothing about these guys besides a single they put out in 1996 that features one of the songs off this 3-song EP (“Last Compound”). Other than that, a complete mystery!
The #digginginthetapes adventures continue. Since I already have Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 up, why not Vol. 2 too? Of the three, I spent the least effort on pitching this one around so even people who’ve heard my 1 or 2 probably haven’t heard this before.
On the other side of the tape, I created an early attempt at a “semi-obscure hip-hop b-sides and remixes” mix that, a few years later, would take fuller form as Incognitos Vol 1. (four songs are included on both).
I recently picked up one of these USB cassette players because I wanted a cheap solution to digitizing my old tapes (let’s just say this thing is cheap in all senses of the term). One of the first things I digitized with it was my third mixtape, made back in *gulp* 1995.1 This was perhaps my most “experimental” mixtape insofar as many of the songs were dubbed onto here from tape advances and demos and I also included some parts from the infamous KMEL Hiero vs. Hobo battle plus opened with a freestyle the Roots delivered on my old KALX radio show in 1994 (previously shared here).
For real, it doesn’t feel like I made it 21 years ago. F___, I’m old. ↩
2) If you order at least two items, take 20% off your total order (not including shipping) if you order through Discogs. 30% off if you order direct through me by emailing me your desired titles. Either way, make sure you mention that you’re ordering for the fire sale specifically.
(On the off chance you live in the L.A. area and want to shoot through for a direct sale, I have another 100 45s unlisted that you can look through.)
I decided, over the weekend, to open a time capsule to my 20s: my boxes of cassette tapes, most of which I recorded/collected over the course of the 1990s. I hadn’t bothered to touch any of these in at least six, possibly ten years, since I boxed them up to move down from the Bay Area in 2006.
It was a little overwhelming but I’m glad I held onto all this even if the idea of trying to sort through all of it fills me with a tiny bit of regret. I did, immediately, try to hunt down what I was looking for: my very first mixtape, aka O’s Dub Vol 1, recorded on a Tascam 424 Portastudio, back in 1994.1 All praise due to DJ Ajax whose Jax Trax Vol 1 tape was my introduction to multitrack mixing and the main reason I went to hunt down that Tascam.
Sadly, I also realized that I should have followed Nas’s advice and avoided using my old cassette deck because that shit eats tape. But before I managed to mangle O’s Dub Vol 3 (who’s got some splicing tape for me?), I did pull off a few extra joints for you to peep.
Maybe I’ve told this story before but back in ’94, I had a show on KALX that began at noon on Sundays. The Sunday Morning Show was a long-standing hip-hop show at the station and on this morning, The Roots were supposed to shoot through – they had just played their first gig in San Francisco one or two nights before – but they were running late and so I accidentally inherited them on my show instead. I had been to that show at Bimbo’s the night before and it still ranks as one of my top 3 live shows ever. As you might imagine, I was hyped to have The Roots on as a guest, especially since Rahzel and Black Thought were kind enough to hit me with a freestyle, live on air, plus tape a drop for me.
One of the first things I tried to learn how to do with multitrack mixing was to create a “beat suite” remix of Nas’s “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.” It’s on O’s Dub Vol. 1 above, if you scroll to around 4:17. All said, I thought it turned out pretty decent and that gave me confidence to try it again on a later mixtape by thematically remixing Common’s “I Used to Love Her.” I can’t remember if I had already heard DJ Spinbad’s insane-o remix of KRS-One’s “Hip-Hop vs. Rap” at that point but I have to imagine that was the inspiration.
I, however, am no Spinbad. The Nas remix worked ok because it was relatively simple but with the Common remix, I tried to up my game and instead, it came off rather sloppy and, in hindsight, far less ambitious than what I could have done with a 4-track. Whatever though.
The reason I even went looking for my tapes was because, on the spur of the moment the other day, I decided to try doing another beat-suite remix of the same song, but this time, using Reaper and a bunch of favorite funk 45s. Straight up: this doesn’t sound lined up properly at times. I have nil experience with producing so even something as using software to create a loop and tempo map it is all new for me. I might make another run at fixing the small problems here but as this is what launched me down memory lane to begin with, I figured I’d share it regardless of its current state of imperfection.
I was trying to remember when I bought the thing and in the course of looking through my email archives, I remembered that it was DJ Vlad (yeah, that one) who suggested I look for the 424 specifically. I can’t recall how Vlad and I crossed paths back then but I do remember he was the first guy to hep me to the Idris Muhammed LP with “Loran’s Dance.” ↩
Five years ago, I was trained in a digital humanities platform known as Scalar. Among the things you can do with it is to annotate media files so that the annotations effectively pop-up during the playback. I thought this was an incredibly cool tool and at the time, I used it to create three “breakdown” posts and invited some friends to comment:
And then, like many new tools I get into, I ramp up quick…and then end up ghosting away from it. With Scalar though, I recently decided that such a fun and useful tool is revisiting and as I’ve been listening the ____ out of The Impressions lately, what better way to try to dissect that obsession by dissecting one of their songs.
At random times, I’ll just start singing to myself, “I’ve been trying…lord knows that I’ve been trying.” Don’t ask me why; that’s how ear worms work sometimes but it reminds me of how The Impressions could craft these simple but incredibly memorable lyrics out of just a few words, especially in the mid’60s with hits like “People Get Ready,” “Keep On Pushing,” and of course, “I’ve Been Trying.”
Every time I listen to this, I marvel at how unadorned it is. The guitar and horns are kept to a minimum and the drums are so subtle, they’re practically invisible. Even the vocals are relatively restrained, almost matter-of-factly in tone. I’d like to think it’s because the singers are trying to capture an emotion somewhere between despair and hope and in order to resolve that, you end up in the flat middle. Whichever way, the affect is haunting.
(I think the sparseness of the original is one reason I have a hard time getting into most of the covers of the song. Most of them sound overproduced to me, including versions by The Notations, Jerry Butler and Clarence Reid. Better would be Archie Bell’s flip, which adds some heavier brass but otherwise keeps it faithful. Likewise, my friend Sam turned me onto the Mayfield Singers’ version which, as you might expect, is also very loyal.)
The first 30 seconds of this song are damn near perfect.
There are some songs which ostensibly claim “I don’t need you anymore” but really, it’s all a fake out. Those singers are lying to themselves – they still do need the inconstant object of their affection, they just can’t bring themselves to fully admit it so they sing us the lie instead.
But Willie? He is done. Gone. Vamoose. 5000.
His first two lines – the inflection in his tone, the bottomless pit of pathos they suggest – leave little room for confusion. You almost don’t even need the rest of the song because nothing else in it will convey Harper’s sentiments as effectively. This love affair is over.
(Shout out to the great Wardell Quezergue, aka “Big Q” for the magnificent production on this)