Saturday, February 11, 2017

'97 Retrospective, Celebrating 20 Years --> "The Mix Tape Volume II"

Man, it certainly has been a while since I've talked in depth about Funkmaster Flex on the blog hasn't it, lol? Instead of going back to a previous post and doing it verbatim style, I'm going to tell a particular story again as it relates to Flex. Back in late '95, I remember my cousin Andre copping Flex's "Mix Tape Volume 1" on tape. Prior to that, I didn't know that Flex was dropping a mixtape (the first official one of its kind), however, when I checked this out the first time, I thought it was incredible. In addition to having 1-2 minute editions/snippets of classics that were very familiar to these ears, the freestyles were the highlights of the mixtape, including memorable showcases from the likes of Erick Sermon, Keith Murray, Redman, Method Man, Busta Rhymes, Rampage, Fat Joe, Big Pun, Q-Tip, Kaotic Style and a closing "speech" from KRS-One. If you haven't heard "Volume 1" before (and I'm not sure why you wouldn't have at this point in time), I strongly recommend you add it to your collection and to those who already own it, revisit it sometime, I'm sure it's going to take you back.

All of this brings us to the follow up, "Volume II" and yes, the story continues, lol. My aunt Denise knew a local guy in our area who used to come through with CDs, tapes, movies, etc, the "hookups", lol. Previously, she already got me the movie "Rhyme & Reason" when it was just hitting the theaters (in a limited fashion). So, in either late February or early-mid March of '97, the guy came by and in addition to a few other joints, he had a brand new copy of "Volume II" on cassette, and once I was able to look at the tracklist, a whopping 44 tracks, I happily asked Denise if she could buy it for me and she did! You know I was happy as hell. I would hold onto the cassette until I got the CD several weeks later. Also, I was in the 7th grade at the time and in Art class, I remember tracing the following picture for an assignment:

As you can see, this mixtape holds such a STRONG nostalgic vibe with me and that'll be felt all through this retrospective.

I'll mostly focus on the freestyles and other "exclusives" throughout the mixtape. I'll list the other classic songs that Flex included, but I won't talk in depth about those, respectively. So, without further delay, let's get right to it!!!!!!

Release date: February 11, 1997

"Freestyle breakbeats" courtesy of Mark The 45 King & Slammin' Records (Cracker Beats - Hip Hop Elements & Hard Rock Gangsta - East Coastin' Vol. 1)

"One time for your mind, volume two, Funk Flex. 60 minutes of funk, you know how we do, back for the '97!!" -Flex

1. Veronica Webb And Jermaine Dupri
"Talkin' Shit"

Clocking in at 3:29, when I first heard this, I wasn't too crazy about it, leading to me skipping it a few times, however, it eventually grew on me at a certain point. Backed by somewhat of a modified version of Showbiz & AG's "Party Groove" and a well timed sampled courtesy of Wu-Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck", simply put, Veronica and JD do nothing but talk shit the entire time, lol, mostly on Veronica's end, who comes with lines such as, "I am..... premium pussy" (lol) and asking "where the ghetto booty at?", lol. JD doesn't say much of note, but his presence is not a distraction. A fun way to start the mixtape. I wouldn't consider this an actual song, so therefore no rating for it.

2. DJ Kool
"Clear My Throat"

3. Yvette Michele
"I'm Not Feeling You"
Produced by Flex, Co-Produced by Michelob

Ms. Michele started off "Volume 1" with the very good "Everyday & Everynight" and she comes through with another equally very good song for "Volume II." Featuring a nice sample of Sylvester's "Was It Something I Said", most notably used by Lil Kim for "Big Momma Thang", this was a winner, mixing hip hop and R&B elements successfully. Ms. Michele was underrated in my view, should've been bigger than she was on the R&B side.
*4 out of 5*

4. Jay-Z

The first of multiple DOPE freestyles comes from Jay and he works the instrumental of Sadat X's "Stages & Lights" oh so well. He drops so many quotable lines here and it was only a slice of what was to come post-Reasonable Doubt. ILL stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

5. M.O.P.
"How About Some Hardcore"

6. Lil Kim

Ms. Kim comes through with a 1:57 second freestyle, which was good, but the most notable quote here is when she said, "I lick dick sometimes for the hell of it." Trust me when I say this line had some fellas I knew buggin' out at the time, lol.
*4 out of 5*

7. Capleton

8. Lady Saw

"Last night, I drive a bulldozer....." I remember my cousin Amp used to love this freestyle from Ms. Saw, complete with a reggae twist.
*4 out of 5*

9. DJ Kool
"Clear My Throat"

10. Nas

In full Nas Escobar mode, the man himself drops an ILL freestyle. Basically, the same things I said about Jay's freestyle can be applied here. The only differences were the length of both freestyles and the beats used. He also wrote this particular freestyle in the studio.
*5 out of 5*

11. Foxy Brown (and Pretty Boy)

Over Mobb Deep's "Still Shinin" instrumental, Foxy and Pretty Boy come with a BK state of mind in the 1:28 they have here. Now, who had the better freestyle, Kim or Foxy? Well, I'll go with Kim on this one.
*3.5 out of 5*

12. Naughty By Nature
"Hip Hop Hooray"

13. Naughty By Nature
"Uptown Anthem"

14. Cypress Hill
"How Could I Just Kill A Man"

15. Redman
"Time 4 Sum Aksion"

16. Redman

Although K-Solo has a VERY brief appearance here, the showcase was all Redman, who essentially brings his closing verse from "Do What Ya Feel" off the "Muddy Waters" album, but with a more hilarious tone, over a classic breakbeat.
*5 out of 5*

17. Ras T

This actually was not a freestyle. It was called "Ill Nig" on the mixtape circuit, decent song.
*3 out of 5*

18. Michelob

Michelob also served as a co-producer for this mixtape. This freestyle showcases his skills on the mic, in a rapping and singing form.
*3 out of 5*

19. Greg Nice
"Set It Off"

20. Parliament

21. The Gap Band

22. Keni Burke
"Rising To The Top"

As most of you know, this classic is one of my top 5 favorite R&B songs of all time.

23. DAV

This freestyle was almost the same as Michelob's, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

24. Mary J. Blige

For those that owned the cassette like I did at one time, this is where "Side A/2" begins. When I first saw this on the tracklist, I couldn't wait to hear what type of freestyle Ms. Blige was going to drop. In later years, I read criticism about this freestyle ("what is she doing", "she can't rap", "she should stick to R&B", blah blah blah), which I didn't understand because it wasn't meant to be taken that seriously. Backed by Mobb Deep's "Survival Of The Fittest" instrumental, Mary throws out a few lines here and there (sounded like it was off the top too), along with a bit of harmonizing in the background. For what it was, it's very good, nothing wrong with it in my opinion, biased or not.
*4 out of 5*

25. Ivory
"Relax & Party"

Much like Flex essentially did with Yvette Michelle on "Volume 1", he was looking to jumpstart another career, in this case with Ivory. I believe he was signed to Loud Records for a time in '97 and was set to drop his solo debut the same year, but it never saw the light of day and quite frankly this was his one and only single. It's very good, produced by Ivory himself,  with a fine dose of hip hop and R&B flava.
*4 out of 5*

26. DJ Flexxx
"Crowd Participation"
Produced by Flex

Oh man, I love this one right here. The always hyped DJ Flexxx came through with this apply titled track and it was your typical Flexxx joint to get the crowd excited (and to participate, lol). Granted, it's not on the level of the classic "Water Dance", but it's still dope. I can already tell I'm going to be a little bit torn on the rating, so I'll try to work it out, lol. Nostalgia wise, this is a "5 out of 5" all the way, it's way shorter than the aforementioned "Water Dance" and being that it's on a mixtape, you have to keep the momentum going so I won't deduct .5 for that. I can understand why it was 3:28, then again I don't think there was ever an extended version of this. Hey, what the hell, I'm going the full monty on this, lol!
*5 out of 5*

27. Buckshot Da B.D.I. Emcee
"No Joke/Follow Me"

I have a small story about this one. When I was in the 8th grade, there was a guy (still can't remember his name, lol) in my homeroom class who was affiliated with the Boot Camp Clik in some form (it was never clarified to me what that affiliation was at the time). Not only did he bring me promotional flyers, but he also told me he was in this video. At first I didn't believe him, but after looking at it closely, he was (peep the video below and at during the 1:30-1:33 mark, the guy I'm referring to has the black winter cap on, behind the guy with the Oakland A's hat). On the other hand, he wasn't in my class very long and the only other thing I remember with him was during a time when he tried to freestyle against my homie Shaun (Twice) and got ripped, lol, which was mainly due to him reciting something from one of the BCC members and Shaun coming with his own material. Moving on, lol, Buck's remake of Eric B. & Rakim's classic "I Ain't No Joke" was always dope as a tribute/nod/homage to the God MC. It's cut a bit short for the Salt N Pepa influenced "Follow Me", which was the "B-Side."
*4 out of 5*

28. Boot Camp Clik

Ok, before I talk in depth about this freestyle, I gotta comment on the mastering. Even though it was never addressed and never made clear as to whether it was intentional or not, instead of the actual freestyle starting directly after "Follow Me", that song begins #28 and leads right into the BCC freestyle. It's a small thing to be sure, but I've always noticed that each and every time I bumped this. Now, onto the freestyle..... but a story first, lol. During my 7th grade at Peabody Middle School, I had my portal CD player with me (the Sony brand and it LACKED any type of "skip proof", but I digress, lol). I'm not sure how things are nowadays, but when I was in school, CD players, walkmans, etc, were not allowed and if you were caught with one, the teacher would usually take it. And did this happen to me? Once or twice yes, unfortunately, lol. On this particular day, I had my CD player clearly out in the open (I think something good was going on in school that day that allowed this, lol) and I was bumping this freestyle. I was signing along with Rock, somewhat loudly, "now when you come through the door WHAT DO YOU SEE???!!!", LOL. At this point, I was 12 years old and with my teenage years fastly approaching, my voice was getting deeper. It didn't take much for a classmate of mine named Latoya to laugh her ass off, mocking me in the process, lol, and if she's reading this, she'll probably laugh her ass off again, lol.. Ah, these memories man, I tell you.

When I saw that the BCC had a freestyle on this mixtape along with the length (7:58, minus the minute and change for "Follow Me"), I went crazy and again, I couldn't wait to hear it. I thought the entire crew was going to blaze a variety of instrumentals, but the only ones present here were Heltah Skeltah, Tek, Starang, Swan Da Boodah Junkie, Top Dog, MS and The Representativez (fairly close). The first part finds Rock and Starang go back and forth, killing things in the process. Rock said, "step to Rock man, listen you'll get lifted/like my toilet seat when I'm pissin!" Tight right there. Ruck (aka Sean Price) and Swan are honey chasing in the second part of the freestyle, with Swan coming with another one of my favorite lines here:

"On the 7th day of Dissmas, I had a dream it was Foxy Brown and Kim the mistress on my team/Now in this dream I'm the biggest baller of them all/Cause I got the top sellin' rap chicks on call!"

I still go crazy when I recite that line, lol. Ruck really wants to get it in, if you will, with this chick, but "it's that time of the month", so of course this part ends when the chick tells him to "call her on the 12th cause she got the red spot", lol. One half of Smif N Wessun, Tek, along with MS, represent on the third part, leading to the closing fourth, reggae style, with Top Dog and Lidu Rock. Such a lengthy yet DOPE freestyle all around. It was clear that somewhat of a breather was needed, which would be provided during the next freestyle.
*5 out of 5*

29. Akinyele

Akinyele says little to nothing here outside of offering the closing words at the end. His apparent proteges at the time, Complexion and Curly, are showcased here with quite the "X-Rated" freestyle and considering the shift in content for Akinyele (remember "Put It In Ya Mouth"), I'm sure you know what to expect here.
*3 out of 5*

30. Wu-Tang Clan
"Method Man"

31. Notorious B.I.G. & Da Lox

"You know I had to get Bad Boy up on this piece", yells an excited Flex at the start of this. Styles, Sheek and Jada were already making noise on the mixtape circuit prior to signing with Bad Boy, which was a big deal, much like this fondly remembered freestyle over Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." instrumental. All three Lox members lace this joint with some dope lines, but the star of this freestyle no doubt was Biggie. He simply owned this one, coming with lines like:

"Don't be like me, hard headed and stubborn when my gun burn, much hotter than sunburn"

"Wherever I go, my crew is true to swarm/Got stripes in New York like Yankee uniforms/When I was born, I know I make the world darker/The age of 15, tote gats, quick to spark ya/Like Bob Barker, if the Price is Right/Lay your ass down for spite, anybody ight?!"

ANOTHER dope freestyle, made all the more sad that weeks after this mixtape's release, (facepalm), Biggie would no longer be with us.
*5 out of 5*

32. Puff Daddy & Mase

The Bad Boy lineup continues here, with Puff playing the background while Mase led the way on the mic. Mase mentioned this was his "Bad Boy debut", but come on man, lol, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" had the radio and TV on lock at this point. The "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' To Fuck Wit" instrumental brought out somewhat of a hard side of Mase here and if a Wu-Tang instrumental can't do that to you, I don't know what else to tell you.
*4 out of 5*

33. Mobb Deep

Havoc and Prodigy were in the studio based on the album insert, so this truly was P's first verse and the hook done over the "Seven Minutes of Funk" instrumental, less of a blend if you ask me.

34. Lost Boyz

This is another freestyle I went crazy over when I first heard it. The LB fam is represented to the fullest here as Mr. Cheeks and Freaky Tah handled Mobb Deep's "Apostle's Warning" pretty damn well.
*5 out of 5*

35. Method Man
"Release Yo Delf"

36. Das EFX & PMD

To this day, I still don't know whose instrumental is used here (it's dope as hell). It's the Hit Squad in full gear here with Skoob, Drayz and PMD, along with an uncredited Nocturnal.
*5 out of 5*

37. Xzibit

At the time, I was a bit surprised to see a West Coast MC show up on a largely East Coast driven mixtape, however, X to the Z was not out of place at all here as he brought the lyrical goods over Tha Alkaholiks' "Make Room" and "Likwit" instrumentals, respectively.
*5 out of 5*

38. Cormega

Mega didn't let loose over Raekwon's "Rainy Dayz (Remix)" like he could've, even though it's still a relatively good freestyle. Mega would hook up with Flex for another highly DOPE freestyle again in '97, but I'll talk about that in another upcoming '97 Retrospective.
*3 out of 5*

39. DJ Kool
"Let Me Clear My Throat"

40. Run DMC
"Sucker MCs"

41. Soul II Soul
"Back To Life (However Do You Want Me"

Flex puts his turntable skills on display for the listener. It's clear that the mixtape is coming to a close at this point.

42. Run DMC
"Here We Go"

43. Slick Rick
"Mona Lisa"

44. Flex

"See you on volume three, can you feel me baby?!" -Flex

Man, it's always SUCH a treat to go back and revisit this mixtape. I still remember how excited I was prior to my aunt buying it for me and how crazy I went when I played it the first time, and of course when I listen to it today, it INSTANTLY takes me back to 1997 and recalling all the memories this mixtape brings (and volume 1 does the same thing when I revisit it, taking me back to 1995). Flex did a GREAT job by assembling just about everyone who was hot on the scene in '97, veterans and newcomers alike, definitely reading like a "who's who" especially in terms of the freestyles. In present day 2017, I still couldn't tell you which volume is better between 1 and 2, however, the nostalgia is EQUALLY strong in both cases. I can't thank Flex and everyone else involved with the making of this mixtape enough for all the memories that remain 20 years later (wow). Instead of posting the individual freestyles, I'll include a link below to the entire mixtape and trust me it's WORTH the time, along with a STRONG recommendation to check it out if you haven't heard it before and a revisit if you haven't played it in a long time. On nostalgia alone, this Certified Gold mixtape warrants a 5 star rating.

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