Live in Concert, Montreux 1995

Title: Live in Concert, Montreux 1995

Artist:  Ice-T/Body Count
Label:  Charly; distributed by MVD
Format:  DVD (2 discs, 192 min.)
Catalog no.: MVDV4807D2
Release date:  October 28, 2008

Just when we thought Ice-T was forever relegated to corny and overly ghetto-ized Fin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit, Charly Records takes us back to the roots of ‘the original gangster of rap’ with a live concert DVD filmed in Montreux, Switzerland on July 10, 1995.  An added bonus is a second disc featuring almost two hours of additional footage of Ice-T in concert and in the studio with Body Count.

Born February 16, 1958, Tracy Lauren Marrow (Ice-T) was no stranger to worldly woes, even at a young age. His parents both died when he was still a boy, tragedies that brought him from East coast New Jersey to West coast L.A. to live with an aunt. Grief stricken and now living in South Central Los Angeles, Ice found it difficult to cope with the death of his parents and cruel persecution for “yellow skin.” He ultimately affiliated with gang life to escape these tribulations and identify with a family. Though he admits he was never a “hardcore” Crip, he was highly influenced by this brief and powerful association with the gang, explaining in an article from The Source (April 1996) that “I was the one who would go into the party and it’d be a perfectly cool one, and I’d just be wanting to knock over people’s aquariums and be out in front shooting. I just wanted to be known.”

Soon enough, Ice-T’s dream became reality, and at the height of his musical success (after the controversial “Cop Killer” and “OG” singles, and a Grammy Award for a collaborative track with Ray Charles), fate brought him to the ‘95 Montreux Jazz Festival. On stage Ice boasts the rewards of being professional in a rapidly growing musical market, amusedly awakening memories of hip hop glory days complete with Fila jackets and original high-tops. He reminds us that at a time just before the deaths of Biggie and 2Pac, kids from the block still dreamed big and were happily ignorant of the dangerous lifestyle and loss of integrity in marketed street subculture. Much of his message is directed to kids still struggling in impoverished communities, and while his songs are entertainment first, Ice has always been an advocate of human rights, spreading an uplifting message to those in need.

The concert opens with a highly energized crowd, a spewing bottle of champagne, and a free-style from Ice-T that sounds like he may have spit it before. He introduces himself and fellow performers by asserting that the show  “…is different than Onyx and Public Enemy… Ice -T’s show is smooth.” The songs move quickly from one to another, ensuring vitality both on stage and off. In “I’m Your Pusher” (based on and sampling Curtis Mayfield’s hit “Pusherman”), Ice argues against drug/thug life by advocating music as an alternative—”you wanna get high? Let the record play.” By the time Ice, DJ Easy-E, and back-up rappers Shawny Shawn and Shawny Mac get to “I Ain’t New Ta This,” the performers are beginning to vibe really well with the audience; Ice even breaks into a genuine smile when the crowd answers back his rhymes, acknowledging his act and fans. A couple tracks later, he solidifies his bond with the audience even further, requesting fans to join him on stage to try their hand at free-style. Proud of himself for his benevolence to common man, he proclaims “virtual reality-one minute you’re watching the show, the next minute you’re in the show!” Surprisingly, there is some real talent on stage and as the foreign kids rap with heavy accents and in different languages, Ice-T nods his head in approval. He then invites ladies onto the stage for a dance-off  to the 69 Boyz “Tootsie Roll” track. Very classy.  Here’s a brief promotional clip:

The bonus DVD is a bit more sporadic, beginning with an entirely separate Body Count concert at the 2005 Smoke Out Festival in San Bernardino, California during the band’s revival tour, with a line-up that includes Ice T, Ernie-C (Lead Guitar), D-Roc (Rhythm Guitar), Vincent Price (Bass) and O T (Drums).  Filmed in hi-def with stereo and 5.1 surround sound that places you in the midst of the 60,000 screaming fans, the DVD captures a blazing performance of the band’s greatest hits, including “There Goes the Neighborhood,” “Cop Killer” and “KKK B***h” (this concert was previously released by Eaglevision as The Smoke Out Festival Presents Body Count) . Other bonus materials include an Ice-T and Body Count studio video shoot (date unknown), and the making of the “Relationships” video featuring Ice’s wife, Coco (Nicole Austin). Though this part of the DVD was less coherent and less entertaining, the fusion of hip hop and metal elements is quite a feat to behold as black musicians assault the eardrums of an almost all white audience while Ice-T raps, though barely audibly, above the noise.

Formed in L.A. in 1990, Body Count was Ice-T’s side project—a band combining elements of hip-hop and heavy metal, with hard raps from Ice-T mixed over hard riffs reminiscent of Slayer. Body Count melds dichotomies of black and white music, paralleling Ice’s personality perfectly. Everything about him is in contrasting balance—”a collage of paradoxes: the booty-crazed pimp-daddy who’s stood by the same woman for 10 years, the high-rollin’ hustla who spins moralistic tales of the ‘hood, the gangbanger who tries to increase the peace, the Black militant who comes off color blind, the gangsta rapper who plays to white kids in a heavy metal band…” (The Source, April 1996). With the addition of the Body Count bonus disc, viewers are able to gain an appreciation for the many sides of Ice-T.

Overall, Live in Concert, Montreux 1995 hits all the right bases, combining hip hop’s triumph in popular culture with Ice’s personal victory as a rapper and performer. The contagious energy on and off stage draws viewers out of their living rooms and into the alternate dimensions of 1995, where in the words of Ice himself, we sit back thinking, “yea, that’s some fly sh** right there.”

Posted by Rachel Weidner

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of black rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus.

Somebody Scream!

Title: Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power
Author: Marcus Reeves
Publisher: Faber & Faber, Inc.
ISBN: 0571211402
Date: 2008

While hip hop music is known for many things, some good and some bad, often overlooked is its politics. Like other forms of Black music, hip hop has always reflected socio-political issues and the ideas of Black Americans. In Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power, Marcus Reeves explores hip hop’s political nature over the course of 300 pages.

A native of New Jersey, Reeves is a journalist who has followed hip hop since its early days and has professionally covered the music for over fifteen years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and Vibe, among others. He was also deputy music editor at The Source and a columnist for Russell Simmons’ One World magazine.

Reeves features a number of major hip hop artists in his effort to demonstrate how rap music was “a unifying expression for the post-Black Power generation and, eventually, the world” (xi). Artists such as Run-DMC, N.W.A., Tupac, and Eminem are the means by which Reeves discusses hip hop’s political nature. Particularly compelling is the chapter on Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Death Row Records titled “Gangsta Chic.” In it, Reeves discusses how Death Row crafted the atmosphere and attitudes of the post-1992 L.A. Riots era into commercial music that revolutionized the hip hop market. Reeves does an excellent job of presenting how Death Row records was situated within the context of a volatile, urban Los Angeles.

While context is definitely one of the strong points of the book, it is also of the problems. In many of the chapters, Reeves provides unnecessary historical information regarding the artists he features. For example, the founding of N.W.A. has already been rehashed numerous times, so the inclusion of these details seems redundant and somewhat unimportant to the overall scope of the book. This is a minor distraction, however, and takes little away from the book. Reeves is very successful in presenting hip hop as an artistic manifestation of the political ideals of the post-Black Power generation.

Overall, Somebody Scream! is very informative and engaging, and provides a different lens through which one can view this often maligned and misunderstood culture. This book is recommended to both scholars and fans of hip hop music and culture.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

Dead Letter Perfect


Title: Dead Letter Perfect
Artist: SoulStice
Label: Wandering Soul Records
Catalog No: WNSOUL009
Date: 2007


SoulStice is one of the more talented hip hop artists native to Chicago. His knowledge of both the books and the street is evident in his meaningful lyrics, but in case you had any doubts, he also earned both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois in Electrical and Computer Engineering. By utilizing his skills behind the microphone and the mixing board, SoulStice has written and recorded his own music, driven by his passion for hip hop.

After generating a significant following in Chicago and the Midwest, SoulStice moved to the Washington, D.C. area where he has given many performances and made several appearances on mix-tapes. He has since earned a large following on the East Coast, and has had the opportunity to work with Oddisee (a producer who has worked with several hip hop artists including Talib Kweli and Jazzy Jeff) and Bring It Back, a production team out of Virginia. SoulStice has also given several performances in the UK, where he has a respectable fan base, and has shared the stage with several prominent artists, including Wu-Tang Clan and John Legend. His sound has frequently been described as a blend of Chicago soul and East Coast boom-bap.

SoulStice hit the top of both college radio and club charts in 2003 with his first single, “the Melody,” from his debut album, North by Northwest: Solid Ground, which he publicized, marketed and distributed all on his own. He followed up this banger with the double-single, “Always / The Quickening,” which topped both college radio and club charts in 2005. Although SoulStice has spent some time away from the Windy City, there is no doubt of his Chicago roots in his latest album, Dead Letter Perfect, which was released in 2007.

Dead Letter Perfect kicks off with an old-school vibe on “Southside Ride,” clearly representing SoulStice’s Chi-town origins in the track’s title. If his cunning wordplay and rhymes aren’t impressive enough, the excellent production and soulful sounds certainly seal the deal. As the name implies, the song is smooth and excellent for chilling or taking a drive. When track two arrives SoulStice rhymes, “Hey! You can take it high as you wanna go, I can see us rise with the vibe and it’s wonderful,” in the appropriately named “High as You Wanna.” The faster tempo and brilliant imagery of this track makes you feel like you are right there, face-to-face with SoulStice, listening to his story, proving the claim of his rhyme to be true – it is wonderful.

SoulStice then progressively slows it down a little bit with the tracks “Be Perfect” and “Book Of Days,” in which his lyrics draw a picture of his experiences in your mind. Accordingly, in “Be Perfect” SoulStice rhymes, “I gotta vendetta, and a story to tell; it’s a little bit of heaven if you’re going through hell,” and “I am just getting started, got no time for spittin’ garbage,” in “Book Of Days.” The dark beat and sound of the fifth track perfectly matches the insightful lyrics of “World’s On Fire,” which features Haysoos.

In the next two tracks, “Not Perfect” and “Be Strong,” SoulStice goes back to rhyming about life and hardships, with lyrics that should really hit home with most listeners. In “Dreamer,” the eighth track, he rhymes, “They say that I’m a dreamer, I gotta rhyming fever; I keep speaking through the speaker so these lines will reach-ya.” SoulStice continues to lay it out as he sees it in “Like This, The Time and Get It Right,” with each line leaving you gripped to his story. “Still Love,” the twelfth track, includes several cleverly worded rhymes about life in Chicago such as: “I’m from the Chi’ where the basements at, where it’s so hot and so cold the pavement cracks.” The next track, “No Chance,” at first seems to be a typical boasting track declaring SoulStice’s elite status and permanent residence in the hip hop world, but a close listen to the lyrics reveals a motivational message as well: “It’s not about where you start, it’s what you choose to become.”

The album concludes with an upbeat finale on the tracks “Recognize” and “The Quickening.” SoulStice declares this is the perfect album, but that is up to the world of hip hop listeners to decide. There is no doubt, however, that this album is well written, recorded and produced and that SoulStice is a very talented lyricist.

Listening to Dead Letter Perfect leaves you with a lot to think about. The complex rhymes and wordplay are filled with imagery and tell the listener a story through SoulStice’s socially aware, world-conscious lyrics. His choruses stick in your head without being too catchy, and you’ll want to listen to these tracks over and over again to capture all the complexities in the verses. If you like socially conscientious hip hop and creative word-play, you will really enjoy this album, but if you’re looking for a generic club-banger type production, this may not be for you. Dead Letter Perfect is an album for thinkers, but if you’re in the mood for dancing, throw on some top 40.

Track Listing:

1. Southside Ride (produced by Oddisee)
2. High As You Wanna (produced by Analogic)
3. Be Perfect (produced by K-Salaam & Beatnick)
4. Book of Days (produced by Oddisee)
5. World’s On Fire featuring Haysoos (produced by Oddisee)
6. Not Perfect featuring Olivier Daysoul (produced by M-phazes)
7. Be Strong (produced by SBe Audiologist)
8. Dreamer (produced by SBe Audiologist)
9. Like This (produced by Oddisee)
10. The Time featuring Stef (produced by SBe Audiologist)
11. Get It Right featuring Oddisee and Olivier Daysoul (produced by Oddisee)
12. Still Love (produced by M-phazes)
13. No Chance featuring Wordsworth (produced by Analogic)
14. Recognize (produced by Bring it Back)
15. The Quickening” (produced by Oddisee)

Posted by David Goldberg

Born in the Bronx

born.jpegTitle: Born in the Bronx
Editor: Johan Kugelberg
Publisher: Rizzoli (New York)
Format: Book (208 p.)
Date: 2007

In an unusual twist on the “coffee-table book”, Born In The Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop tells the story of the origins of hip hop through page after page of vivid, expressive images displayed as oversized two-page spreads. Editor Johan Kugelberg brings the scene of the 1970s Bronx to life with a combination of photographs (by Joe Conzo), flyers and posters (by Buddy Esquire), and album art and other memorabilia-rarely-seen images depicting the raw energy of the music, community, culture, styles, and attitudes that gave birth to one of the biggest musical and cultural phenomena of the twentieth century. While light on text, the few written sections scattered through the book highlight the first-person voices and testimonials of hip hop pioneers and early participants, and a helpful four-page timeline situates the Bronx scene in historical context- starting with the completion of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1963 which ushered in hard times for the neighborhood, and ending with Run DMC taking their Raising Hell album platinum in 1986. But the photographs and posters are the true storytellers, and this collection is a must-have for the hip hop enthusiast on your gift list this year.

Posted by Sunni Fass