Monday, May 7, 2012

Best rapper on the scene?

Buying Kurtis Blow albums has long since been a sort of inside joke to the VVers. We know they can't get any better (or worse) than the first full length, yet there still exists that morbid curiosity. Recent additions to nearly complete our Blow collection are Kingdom Blow and Ego Trip.  Did people consider these albums a joke when they were released?  More to the point, did he in any way take his music seriously?

Let's start with Kingdom Blow hailing from 1986.  Seriously, there were zero expectations for this album.  At first glance we notice a few major strikes against: (1) the name of the album, my god; (2) the front cover art (probably art is an overstatement here) where the oversized Mr. Blow is leaning against the NYC skyline; and (3) the never failing back cover picture as being totally ridiculous - Mr. Blow donned in silk matching speedo and unbuttoned button down shirt ensemble (both are metallic blue with little white fishies on them, hah!)  in full recline with white Keds on, surrounded by scantily clad 80's women.  It's even crappier than a Kurtis Blow fan would normally anticipate (Kurtis: Vinyl Vagabonds are your biggest fans!!!).  I can only imagine that he was thinking, "How can I make the lamest back cover ever?"  After recording what amounts to be his worst album (so far) I guess it made sense to match it up with a back cover that is totally atrocious.

Noticeably absent from the Kingdom of Blow is frequent collaborator, AJ Scratch; uh oh.  I've learned from previous Blow albums that if there's going to be anything laughable, it'll most certainly reside on the B-Side.  Starting off the risky side is "Magilla Gorilla" which credits George Clinton with vocals.  That seems like it will be at least interesting and funky; unfortunately this dumb and dull track is anything but.  I imagine the two got together for an important confab about crappy 70's television and then went ahead with a no idea recording session for laughs.  It is followed with the fun dance number "I'm Chillin". This unusual track's hook strongly features a distorted lift from the Transformers theme song.  Was Blow trying to sneak a track onto the soundtrack to the animated Transformers movie released the same year?  Hard to say, but you've got to watch this.  "I'm Chillin" is really the only track on Kingdon Blow with any go-go roots which are what makes KB's other later albums memorable.  "Kingdom Blow" is actually a semi-listenable track.  Not good, but semi-listenable.  Here Blow is the self-declared King: "We all know James the king of soul, Chuck Berry is the king of rock and roll, I've got to say the Duke is the king of the swing, and when it comes rap, Kurtis Blow is the King" accompanied with fan-faring trumpets a-la Flash Gordon, ooomph.  This track and "Street Rock", the opening track, have some collaboration/influence from Run-DMC witnessed by the electric guitar riffs incorporated into the mix.  The year prior, Blow and Run-DMC worked together on the film Krush Groove, so it stands to reason.  Strangely, Bob Dylan guests on "Street Rock", trading a few lines with Blow, to little positive effect.  "The Bronx" features bits from Looney Tunes and He-Man.  It's pure garbage and he should forever regret having ever recorded it. Any person involved in its recording should be shunned unmercifully. "Unity Party Jam" is horrible and lazy. It is basically just background noise sounding like it was recorded during a pool party.  The occasional sultry female voice over-dubbed saying "Kurtis Blowwwww" does nothing but elicit cringes.  Lastly, "Sunshine" continues the bad streak with Kurtis SINGING the hooks from "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain".  This one is nothing short of punishment.  Kurtis, haven't you already learned from your tracks on Side-B of your first album that you should stick to rapping and NEVER try to sing?!  This is easily the worst Kurtis Blow record out there.  Put simply; Kingom blows.

What happened to Blow over the two years between Kingdom and 1984's far superior Ego Trip? Concept album America happened.  It must have short circuited poor mister Blow.

The cover of Ego Trip is a picture of Kurtis Blow taking a nap.  This immediately makes me nervous.  Thoughts of concern race through my head "Is this a tired album?  I should not be buying this!"  Flip this one over and the back actually breaks the streak of bad Kurtis Blow back covers.  A simple, small picture of him playing keyboards - and it looks like he is having fun.  Starting to feel safe again.

Speaking of collabs with Run-DMC, Blow hams it up with these rappers and their guitar riffs on the opening track "8 Million Stories".  It works here.  It's corny, but fun and fast paced.  This is followed with the solid track "AJ Scratch" named after his aforementioned stellar DJ who he has worked with (and given much props to) on prior albums.  Continuing on, you will immediately recognize "Basketball", its popularity from the many samples of this incredibly catchy soprano hook "They're playin' basssskeeetballlll, we love that bassskeeetballl". That riff gets done to death and that's the only thing going on here other than some positively mind numbingly stupid lyrics. Side-B starts strongly with "Under Fire" featuring good beats and some sweet 80's synths.  "I Can't Take It No More" is serious social commentary about the dark side of the city.  Blow does the classic story telling of hard living on the streets for the wino, the prostitute, and of course, the kid shot in gang violence.  It's actually pretty convincingly pulled off.  The title track comes next and is probably the best complete track on the album.  "Ego Trip" is stark, echoey, and just self deprecating enough.  Lyrically Blow hits it just right "you can't dance to my ego, you dance to my beat."  All the smart production and fun direction on this record can in no way prepare you for what amounts to be the only total stinker on the album; closing cut "Fallin' Back in Love Again".  What can a person say here?  Blow has made it a career suicide tradition of putting out at least one absolutely awful song on the B-Side.  He croons in such an earnest manor though.  He can't be kidding... which just makes it all the more sad.  Kurtis had no friend to tell him "No Kurtis, no."

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