One of the MCs in this fantastic duo is named Phantasm the Tall Man. 'Nuff said!
These guys also wrote (probably) the only rap song that describes the entire plot of the 1979 Walter Hill film "The Warriors":
One of the MCs in this fantastic duo is named Phantasm the Tall Man. 'Nuff said!
In the world of late-1990s rap music, few figures could boast the success and popularity of Percy Miller, a.k.a. Master P. The New Orleans native began small, running his fledgling No Limit Records label out of a San Francisco suburb. Soon afterwards he formed a group called Tru with his brothers Silkk the Shocker and C-Murder, and behold, a new force in urban music began to crystallize. After a move back to the Big Easy his empire began to enjoy amazing success that was no doubt helped by a sweet distribution deal with Priority Records (home of N.W.A. and the Geto Boys, among others). By the end of the millennium, Miller and his stable of No Limit soldiers were on top of the rap world, with multiple gold and platinum records and Billboard #1 hits to their credit. The label also moved into the film world, with theatrical releases such as 1998‘s “I Got the Hook Up” and 1999's “Foolish” starring Eddie Griffin. This success led Master P to focus his attentions on many non-label related pursuits, including an attempt to play in the NBA and appearances in professional wrestling shows. Perhaps due to these larks and a great many lawsuits brought against the label by former artists, No Limit began a precipitous decline that ended in bankruptcy in 2003.
During Master P's heyday, I was employed at a small used cd store that had a pretty lackluster rap section. Unless you were a fan of No Limit Records, that is. The label was very well represented in the dusty old bins; everything from The West Coast Bad Boyz "High fo Xmas" to Snoop Dogg’s “No Limit Top Dogg” came and went through the shop. Now, anyone familiar with these records can attest that most were pretty much by-the-numbers gang-banger jamz that stuck to a rigid formula of chintzy beats, thug posturing, and hooks you‘d swear you've heard before. Not exactly ground-breaking, but pretty indicative of the state of rap music at the time. But the sounds on the disc were secondary to the mind-melting packaging (courtesy of Houston-based design company Pen & Pixel), which, along with the similarly packaged Cash Money Records, blurred the distinction between rap music-as-art-form to rap music-as-product.
You see, each No Limit release burst forth in a cardboard and plastic digipak that featured some of the most comically garish and over the top photoshopping you could possibly imagine, each using a combination of any number of gangsta cliches haphazardly layered all over the package. These themes involved, mainly: 1. bling (gold, diamonds, cash, often adorning giant hands reaching out to you); 2. tricked out rides with gold rims (from Lexuses to Hummers to tanks); 3. mansions/mausoleums; 4. rappers making their most menacing thug faces; 5. booty babes, and 6. long lists of guest stars. But the fun didn’t stop at the covers, no sir! The innards were bursting with advertisements for upcoming No Limit product, and these ads oftentimes one-upped the cover art in terms of diamond-crusted ghetto ridiculousness. For a while, these albums were being churned out at a fantastic pace, as the bargain basement productions (by the aptly named in-house team Beats By The Pound) guaranteed that Master P’s “quantity over quality” ethos would result in maximum profits for him, if not necessarily for his artists.
Now, back in my record store days, I was appalled by the rampant glamorization of thug life that I saw reflected in these album covers. But with the benefit of hindsight, I believe the folks at Pen & Pixel were actually completely aware of what they were doing, and were just having fun with the whole operation. I imagine there were in-house competitions between the designers, each trying to outdo the others in terms of sheer orgiastic excess. I can’t say the same for many of the rappers themselves, as they seemed to be completely incapable of self-parody and were probably stone cold serious about how “thug” they were (witness C-Murder’s not so shocking 2002 c-murder of a 16-year-old fan).
Following is a compendium of some of my favorite No Limit album covers, and some brief thoughts on each. Enjoy!
I don't know what the fuck is going on here, what with the the huge hands and the desecration of the graves in front of the American flag, but his face is telling me in no uncertain terms that he's pretty disgusted with the whole situation.
This one is an all-time favorite: camouflage-clad tykes busting out through a wall of toys and fire. It's notable as one of the very few (perhaps only) No Limit titles that did not feature a parental advisory sticker. Just a seven-and-nine year old telling tales of 'hood survival in their adorable widdle voices.
Here's the impresario himself, showing off his sweet cell phone and gold rims, and offering YOU a little taste of his fabulous... ice cream?
Another favorite, this one dispenses with all the bullshit and shows you that this guy not only has heaps of cash, a huge chateau, and a sweet ride, but ACTUALLY OWNS THE WORLD, which he keeps safe in a giant golden chalice in his driveway.
I like the fact that their names are written over their ski masks, so you can tell who's who. Also notice the "Best Buy! More For Your Money!" disclaimer. I wonder how many filler tracks and guest rappers that pallet of money behind them could buy?
Even Snoop got in on the action, and it looks like he was amply rewarded with a castle called "Snoop World" and a diamond studded muzzle for one of his rottweilers.
The No Limit packaging also inspired many parodies, the most well-known being Kool Keith alter-ego Dr. Dooom's "First Come, First Served":
Thanks for joining me on my journey through the fantabulous world of No Limit album art!
P.S. - This one isn't a No Limit record, but it is quite possibly the single finest piece of work Pen & Pixel has ever produced:
Also, check out this inside look at Pen & Pixel Studios by British comedian Louis Theroux:
The current musical landscape is littered with bands, duos, etc that are sucking on the shriveled up teats of the 80s/90s goth crossover/shoegaze-craze, as if they were the first to discover the Jesus & Mary Chain and reverb. Unfortunately, most of the original wave of these frumpy downcasts produced the same boring turds over and over again until the NME found something else to rub their dicks all over. Now I'm not saying that these bands weren't doing something cool and artistically viable, it's just that the course was run when it was run and rehashing the same fucking Cocteau Twins cliches over and over and over became stale and predictable. That's what happens in the world of popular music; that's why musicians are forced to try to reinvent the rock and roll wheel every half decade or so. See, in 2006, everybody was into this guy named Neil Young (ever heard of him?) and cranking out mushy meandering guitar pabulum at a fantastic clip. Each review I read cited "Harvest," and the "hypnotic krautrock rhythms," and other such hogwash. But fuck, that was like a million years ago! Wooden Shjips? Who?
Well, it's time to move ahead! By going backwards! The eighties/nineties are the new sixties/seventies; now it's all echoey percussion, nonexistent songwriting, and vocals awash in reverb (better to disguise vocalists who didn't bother to learn how to sing). This stuff cannot even be considered in the style/substance debate; most of it contains neither. And for fuck's sake, don't get me started on the cover "art"... I'm old enough remember the eighties, and they weren't that great. All this fetishization of New Wave (cold wave, Cold Cave) is rather disturbing. I know rock music has never really been a bastion of originality, but c'mon, it doesn't seem like anyone's even trying anymore. But what's this? Here to rescue me from this white (brown?) water rafting trip down the river of turds is a lady named Chelsea Wolfe, whose underexposed Ἀποκάλυψις (Apocalypse) serves as a reminder that not all music that looks to the past has to be shamelessly derivative and numbingly dull. It's like Ms. Wolfe actually paid some heed to carving her own unique niche among her lesser-inspired peer group, and in the process crafted a record that outstrips all of these floor-looking echo-happy posers. It's rather refreshing to hear some guts splayed all over a recording as opposed to the bloodless douchebaggery that so often these days passes for music.
So first off, Wolfe can sing. Wow! She's got many of the same influences as her peers: some yearning Elizabeth Fraser /Hope Sandoval-y vocalese, and an oft-doomy backing group that at times mines the spare, visceral "Dry" era rhythm section of PJ Harvey. But unlike many of the bands that follow a similar path, Wolfe's got a heck of a talent for composition. These tracks don't simply ape their influences; they take the basic framework and re-kajigger them into something that sounds fresh and thrilling ("Movie Screen", "Pale on Pale"). I suppose you could compare her to contemporaries such as Zola Jesus and Marissa Nadler (both of whom, for the record, I like just fine) but I frankly don't think they're in the same league. This is mostly due to the arrangements and playing, which are fucking ace. Ace! It's slow and sludgy at times, a terrifically desolate glacier of impending dread, and at others lilting and uplifting in a bleary-eyed kind of way that makes you want to stare at the sun until your eyes burn out of your head, loving every second of the sweet searing pain. Some people call her "goth" but those people are dicks. This shit may be prime depresso-snowdrift music, but calling it goth is doing it a horrible disservice. The bloodcurdling screams she lets loose at the end of "Pale on Pale" would scare the pantaloons off of all the jerks who are boringly recreating Siouxsie for the new uninformed generation (what's with these fucking kids these days?!)
OK, so the record drags in places ("The Wasteland," "Mer" ) but even these not-so-awesome tracks contain some interesting instrumentation, and you forget all that when songs such as "Moses" and "Friedrichshain" jump up and rip your face off. She's got another album I haven't heard, but rest assured I'll be hearing it as soon as fucking possible. "Apocalypse" is prime winter headphone fare, perfect for this unceasingly snowy winter Fan-fucking-tastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And an awesome album cover to boot.
Labels: Chelsea Wolfe
I liked all the previous Tyvek stuff a lot, but when I put this platter on the turntable a bunch of exclamation points appeared over my head and I hollered “Gadzooks!” I didn’t even know what side I was listening to because the record didn’t have a sticker on it. "4312” kicks off side 1 and it’s sick, the first chord hits and it's a brushback pitch so pay attention. The guitars sound like crummy magnetized metal hulks grinding together; I'm guessing that someone took a soldering iron and circuitbent Detroit’s municipal power grid to get this tone. Unlike some of today's rickety garage/punk/moustachekrieg/etcetera breed that use noise and shitty recording techniques to obscure what's going on, the lo-res sonic maelstrom on Nothing Fits is on-point and ecstatic, catchy without being poppy or pedantic or anything.
Tyvek writes brilliant songs that don’t go where I think they’re going to, except sometimes they do which is weirdly comforting. Have you ever had really strong déjà vu and felt creepy but in a good way? “Kid Tut” and “This One or That One” offa side 2 sound really familiar, like I’ve heard them before but I know that I haven’t because if I had I would have taken out a post-it note and borrowed a pen and said “what band is playing this song, let me write it down and stick it to my refrigerator or somewhere that I’m bound to see it tomorrow morning when I wake up, this way I can go to the record shoppe and throw some cash down on the counter and say ‘sirs please provide me with the newest record by the band written on this post-it note I have taken out of my pocket and handed to you, I need to change my life and start doing things differently right now.’” Finally someone put the first couple Meat Puppets records in the cyclotron along with the Swell Maps' Jane From Occupied Europe and hit the button that will make them smash together. Now we're in the future.
These are tunes that aren't going away, like that fucking monolith in 2001. Frankly, this album crushes heads with a human femur. It's a step forward for the human race.
(Also, “Frustration Rock” is still the jam.)
There are a lot of people out there, living in the periphery, who make it their lifetime goal to hype mediocre garage-and-psych-era albums. I've heard countless records that have been touted as "mind blowing", "fuzz monsters", or "lost/undiscovered classics", only to discover that in actuality they are nothing more than a third-tier Jefferson Airplane knockoff or some such. It seems psych collectors fall into two categories when it comes to overrating these "legendary" slabs of rare wax; the first is the collector who found a completely unremarkable record that just so happens to be rather rare, so he will hype it up in hopes of jacking up the price among other collectors; and there are those who automatically love anything that is obscure, regardless of any musical merit. The latter I can forgive, because genuine enthusiasm, even in the service of God-awful music, is still genuine. The former, on the other hand, are the scum of the earth, and should have their records confiscated and be forced to listen to the most bombastic Broadway show tunes for the rest of their miserable days.
Rarely, though, the raves turn out to be justified. Index, the 1967 self-titled debut from a group of young Michiganders, is one such album. Opening with a strange intro about flying over the plaza de toro in a helicopter, complete with cries of "ole!", the band proceed to ease into a fantastically dark surf rock rendition of the Byrds' Eight Miles High. The whole album continues in a similar vein, seething with a sick desperation, cavernous reverb, snaky guitar lines and sad-sack lyrical content. It's fantastically minimalist, starkly atmospheric, and sprinkled with some truly ferocious guitar work (see the storming surf workout "Shock Wave" and the frenetic closer "Feedback"). I see similarities between this record and the legendary Gandalf album on Capitol, in that both contain a bunch of covers that take the originals and stamp them indelibly with a whole new personality. The lack of major label resources actually benefits the Index recordings greatly, giving them a gritty sound that has the feel of being produced in a dungeon. Anyone interested in garage rock should be forced to listen to this, as should every skinny-jeans wearing Pitchfork.com devotee out there. There are a million bands in Brooklyn today that would trade in their beards to be able to sound like this, which makes it even more astonishing that this record was recorded over forty years ago.
Check it out here, as the limited vinyl reissue on Valord is already becoming pretty scarce.
"There Are No Rules!" was an early catchphrase of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. At the core a misguided attempt to hook into the "Faces of Death" crowd, the founders of the UFC could never have envisioned the media juggernaut that the sport would eventually become. Originally a real-life Bloodsport, the first few events featured an 8-man single elimination tournament, pitting practitioners of many different styles against each other to see which martial arts was the "best of the best!" This was also before weight classes were introduced, best illustrated by a UFC 3 matchup between 600-lb Emmanuel Yarborough and 200-lb Keith Hackney. The similarities to Jean-Claude Van Damme's "underground death fight" genre flicks (Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Lionheart, etc.) were particularly "striking". But let's put the joking aside. We're here to talk about Jon Hess.
Hess first became interested in the budding world of mixed martial arts after witnessing UFC 4, which he "thought was a joke". He took aim specifically at legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Royce Gracie, whom he said he "could defeat very easily."
Mr Hess came to UFC 5 billed as a practitioner AND co-founder of a martial art called S.A.F.T.A., a wonderful acronym for "Scientific Aggressive Fighting Technologies of America." Now anyone who has seen either of Jon Hess's two professional fights can attest that there is nothing Scientific about S.A.F.T.A., nor does Technology play any part in said style. Take a look-see at Lew Hicks, co-founder, in action:
Hess's first fight was a true battle of the titans, as he took on Andy "The Hammer" Anderson, who, in addition to owning a string of totally nude steak houses in Texas, is also remembered as wearing the most memorable outfit in UFC history, complete with spaghetti straps and vertical striped pants. He was billed as being 86-0 in "bare knuckle challenges", with ALL 86 WINS BY KNOCKOUT! What a fearsome competitor!
In the end, though, Andy Anderson and his moustache were no match for the 6'7" 295 pound Hess and his inimitable fighting style, which included head stomping, eye gouging, and various other Aggressive techniques that resulted in many fines for our hero. After this fight, Big Jon withdrew from the tournament due to a fractured hand, which, combined with his unspeakable savagery, landed him on the UFC's blacklist. Sadly, this would be the last time we would see S.A.F.T.A. in action. Or would it?
Fourteen months later, Hess received a challenge to fight in the Superbrawl 2 event from someone calling himself simply Victor, who claimed to be the brother of Royce Gracie. Despite being overweight and undertrained, Hess bravely accepted this challenge and was summarily destroyed in 12 seconds by one Vitor Belfort who, at the time, was one of the best fighters in the sport:
Hess suffered a concussion in the bout, and has not fought since. This has not stopped him from calling out superior fighters, though, as illustrated in this 2005 interview with Sherdog.com.
Thousands of people (including myself) are still awaiting Jon Hess's return to the fight world. Yet as each day goes by, the chances of seeing Mr. Hess and S.A.F.T.A. again grow slimmer as Hess the man grows fatter and more obscure. A true American Hero, let's do our part to put Jon Hess in the spotlight once again!
There is news that Big Jon has been surreptitiously slinking his way back into the world of professional fighting! It seems that the first posting of this article in 2007 stirred Hess into a comeback attempt, but he has been derailed multiple times by injuries. He has, however, become a successful cornerman for various Team Quest fighters (Randy Couture's camp), so there is further hope that S.A.F.T.A. will soon come roaring back with the same ferocity as the merciless pummeling of Andy Anderson!
You see, Nikolai Volkoff was one of pro wrestling's classic villains, a role he played with relish, especially when paired up with the equally notorious Iron Sheik. He could also claim to be of actual Russian heritage, unlike many of his contemporaries (i.e. Boris Zhukov, or as his mother knew him, Jim Nielson from Roanoke, Virginia). He loved mother Russia intensely, so much so that he pulled the plug on his own rendition of the Jay and the Americans’ hit “Cara Mia” in order to belt out the Russian national anthem. This certainly didn’t please Vince McMahon or “Mean” Gene Oakerlund any, but it stirred my order-craving inner socialist to an alarming degree. A small fragment of curiosity (любопытство) lodged itself deep within my subconscious, periodically resurfacing when certain stimuli (e.g. Tetris, Yakov Smirnov) were present. Years later, in my continuing exploration of the punk rock omniverse, I noticed a sorry lack of available product from the Communist hinterlands. You can find Clash and Ramones albums at any megastore, but where you gonna go for your Orgasm of Nostradamus or Salpetriere fix? I’ll tell you, pal: Eastern fucking Europe. [ Or the internet. —Ed.] The heavy gauntlet of Soviet oppression made sure that all underground music stayed underground, and the subsequent free fall into a capitalist vacuum ensured that chaotic pressing and distribution practices would doom Russian punk to obscurity. Fortunately, this didn’t stop the disaffected Red youth from strapping on guitars, risking Gulag and re-education in the name of all that is Rotten. The most prominent of these hairy kids was one Yegor Letov from Omsk in southern Siberia, and in his home country he is to rock n’ roll what Oscar Mayer is to wieners.
Letov formed Posev (Sowing) in 1982. It wasn’t long before songs such as “I Hate the Color Red” roused the attention of the Politburo, and soon the KGB persuaded Yegor to dissolve his band and commit himself to a mental institution. After his eventual release, Letov retreated to his modest apartment (GrOb Records & Studios) and unleashed a Krakatoa of low-fi musical magma upon the oppressed youth of Mother Russia. From writing and recording all of the music, designing his own album art, and handling distribution through a secretive network of peer-to-peer tape sharing known as magnitizdat (home recording, derived from samizdat, or underground publication of dissident literature), Letov created a self-sustaining entity with little outside assistance.
Sadly, Yegor Letov died On February 19th, 2008 at his home in Omsk, Siberia, at the age of 43. Fortunately for we adventurous amateur musicologists, he left a stunning legacy of recordings in his wake. Despite a language barrier and less than perfect fidelity, his songs resonate with emotion, brim with fiery invective, and most importantly, are relentlessly tuneful.
GrOb performing Все идет по плану in concert in 1994:
Все идет по плану as performed by a buncha Russian kids (there are about a million videos like this on YouTube):
An orchestra performing Все идет по плану: