Saturday, October 21, 2006

Showbiz & A.G.

The rebirth of hip-hop's originating borough the Bronx can be credited in part to this two-man crew. While late-'80s/early-'90s hip-hop had gotten to be mostly party-oriented and at times downright corny, this duo brought back some swagger and soul. Show and A.G. were the first out the box from the superb Diggin' in the Crates Crew, an elite team of MCs and producers who can claim much clout and influence on genuine East Coast hip-hop. The spirit of rap's forefathers can be felt in the gritty weight of this duo's pioneering sound. Learning from their cohort Lord Finesse, the two started an underground buzz by street promoting their demos then selling the tapes out of the trunks of their cars. The street sales helped them polish their debut single "Soul Clap" b/w "Party Groove," a cut that banged dance clubs and got love on Yo! MTV Raps for many a week, a self-titled EP was released in March of 1992. Their debut album, Runaway Slave, followed in the fall and is seen as an early-'90s hip-hop essential. The album brought a bouncing hardcore sound of crisp, jazzy horns, stiff drum kicks, and snapping snares that could get a party hopping but could also satisfy the non-dancing purist nodding his head in the back of the club. The album truly is a D.I.T.C. family affair and introduced such legendary names as the late Big L, Fat Joe, and Diamond D, whose classic debut solo album Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop dropped the same week in 1992. The albatross of making unadulterated rap music is that it sometimes costs a crew acclaim, for Show and A.G. are some of rap's disturbingly underrated. The sequel to their raw, stripped sound came in 1995 with the under-appreciated Goodfelas and the two were major contributors to D.I.T.C.'s eponymous debut album in 2000.

Reupped: Showbiz & A.G. - Runaway Slave (1992: PolyGram)
A product of the tightknit Bronx underground posse D.I.T.C., Runaway Slave is a cornerstone album of hip-hop's middle school phase. Building on and borrowing from the layered, jazz-influenced sound of such contemporaries as Gang Starr and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Showbiz & A.G. affixed a gangster mentality to grainy, fortified beats, etching their own unique style. While the crossover "Soul Clap" and "Party Groove" are club cuts, the rest of the album is more densely expressive. Showbiz and his talented peer Diamond shape their beats around simple, deep drum tracks — but add subtle loops of chaotic horns, loose strings, or abrupt piano notes to create concise and hard-hitting overtures. Tasteful flute swatches light up "Silence of the Lambs," an ear-ringing saxophone buzzes on "Still Diggin'," and the motor mouthed late legend Big L introduced himself on the classic down-the-line jam "Represent," pulling such punchlines as "MCs be braggin' about cash they collect/But them chumps is like Ray Charles 'cause they ain't seen no money yet." The young A.G. (aka Andre the Giant) flows effortlessly throughout this album, an MC whose skill and unique voice would only mature in the future. While some of the import of this album is muted by modern-day technological sound booth advancements, Showbiz & A.G. did it raw and undiluted and the resulting sound was fresh, innovative, and most of all satisfying for hip-hop heads.

Showbiz & A.G. - Good Fellas (May 30, 1995: Ffrr)
The second shot fired from D.I.T.C.'s charter members Show & A.G. is a shade darker than their debut. While 1992's Runaway Slave was definitely no new jack swing affair, Good Fellas is decidedly more grimy and a lot less playful, both on the production and the lyrical ends. The lead single, "Next Level," also remixed exceptionally on the album by DJ Premier, was the only track that made any above-ground noise. Arguably the best cut on the album, the track is a manifesto of real hip-hop over a melodic guitar sample. Much of the album rumbles along to the tune of low bass grooves and noisy ambient loops of a jazzy variety. From bouncy xylophones to the standard Showbiz horns and kick drums, the production here is tightly constructed. At the time of its release (mid-1995), East Coast hip-hop was cruising along in a rugged gangster mode. All the while an ugly coastal battle was brewing that would conspire to darken hip-hop forevermore. This album steers clear of the coast bashing despite its unmistakable East Coast stamp and appeal. A few tracks do lack a distinct flavor, but overall the methodical, unassuming D.I.T.C. sound here has since been grafted but never duplicated. Show & A.G. affirm that the road to respect-worthy hip-hop status is not through releasing an album every six months, but by letting things marinate for a few years and then proving you're still on top of your game.
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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?