BUY Mantronix-Music Madness CD NOW!
I’m not sure what the general consensus is, but I tend to lend towards “Music Madness” as my favorite Mantronix album. Sure, the debut album had some supreme firepower with “Needle To The Groove” and “Fresh Is The Word”, but those are really the only two tracks on that album that blew my mind.
“Music Madness” has at least 5 powerhouse tracks of its own. There’s also a noticeable growth and improvement on the production programming, editing techniques, and rhyme skills. Also, to me it better showcases the concept of the synergy between man and electronic machines.
There’s no doubt that the press angle, label push, and just about everything else, down to the group name, was focused on the groups producer, Kurtis Mantronik. Even just the distinction between him as soloist and the group was merely swapping a “K” for an “X”. Every article I’ve ever read about the group focused on the production and seldom, if ever, addressed the lyrics.
Although unfair, it’s somewhat understandable. Mantronik indeed pushed the boundaries of production for Hip Hop and beyond. His sound was able to create early crossover opportunities with Hip Hop into the Electronic Dance market, which had started to split away from Hip Hop from the days of “Planet Rock”, Newcleus, Planet Patrol, etc… In fact, you are hard pressed to find a earlier producer in Hip Hop who got so much attention. By the time Hip Hop evolved to records the shift had went primarily to the MC. The DJ had been pushed to the back, but at least his name generally still had first billing and was part of the general discussion. However, the producer was rarely talked about. There was a bit of that type of talk with Rick Rubin, but it seems that started just a tad bit later. Mantronik was really instrumental in making the people care about the producer in Hip Hop*.
On the other hand, it certainly left MC Tee being a bit under-appreciated. Truthfully, he wasn’t an in-your-face blow your mind MC. This was a time were those most regarded as the MC elite were aggressive a la LL Cool J, Run-DMC, T LA Rock, etc… MC Tee was more reserved in his delivery and subtle in his technique. He was sort of quietly innovative. When you think of “abstract MCs” there are really two primary different things that come to mind. On one hand, you have a Busta Rhymes who is abstract and outlandish in his delivery. On the other, you have a Rammellzee, who had a bugged out frame of mind. Then, of course, there’s Kool Keith that is a mixture of the two. MC Tee was pretty relaxed in his delivery, but he was “abstract” in his expression of ideas, making the lineage of this type of MCing read; Rammellzee to Special K (Treacherous 3) to MC Tee. I’m sure you can find a few others to mix in there, but MC Tee should definitely be included. He didn’t say things in the way that average MC did. In terms of writing technique, he was definitely one of the early guys really toying with multi-syllables on a regular basis. Both of those detailed a bit more below.
The album opens with “Who Is It?” which is ultimately a Mantronik theme song that praises his production skills. The driving forces of the song are Mantronik’s hypnotic keyboard lines and layered snares, as well as, the masterful edits, done by Chep Nunez (of Diamond II), who handles the edits on the complete album except the “Mega-Mix”.
“We Control Dice” is probably my all time favorite Mantronix song. I seem to think I’m alone in that choice or even considering it in the running. However, to me it is the perfect representation of Mantronik and MC Tee at their absolute best. The Roland TR-808 programming is immaculate with perfectly heavy but not obnoxious bass, finely tuned handclaps, slightly off kilter cowbells, and super crisp rolling snares.
It is also quite possibly MC Tee’s greatest lyrical performance on record, as he fantastically displays both of the qualities I mentioned above. He takes a unique approach on painting lyrical pictures with “Precise with every angle, proceed for every need/Require what a must and manifesting every deed” or “Rock to the rhythm and sing to the beat/because it’s a necessary force like the food that I eat” or “It’s sentimental with potential, My rhyming is essential/For the money I am making, but that figure’s confidential/The finger with the vigor/I keep up with my trigger/To protect me from the brothers who smoke and drink liquor.”
I’ve always been mesmerized by the songs hook. I’ve never been able to decipher the first few words, but that doesn’t prevent the massive appreciation of what immediately follows, “?????? Instead of studying crime/duplicate the hands of fate and take a bite of the blind/MCs, oh Christ, they swear they’re nice/But they forget when I project I control the dice.” He also finishes the song excellently, theme in tact, describing a dice game that results in, “With your money in my pocket as I’m headed for home.” Which leads to another thing, he was also at the forefront of touching on the street life with dice games, guns, drugsand of course his alias, Crimemaster Toure’. It’s not prominent or a focus, but it’s slyly slipped in.
He also toys with mutli’s thru out the album, using a variety of simple “root word” techniques and some slightly advanced ones as well, “Teacher not preacher/Could never be beneath ya/A gift not a myth and I swear I’ll meet ya...” I’ve been hard-pressed to find many songs before this to so heavily use multis. All of which is proof that MC Tee was arguably as progressive an MC, as Mantronik was a producer.
Mantronix-We Control The Dice:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/02-We-Control-The-Dice.mp3|titles=02 We Control The Dice]
The albums titled track, “Music Madness”, is also certainly a highlight. Its slowed down pace and varied tempo warped vocal samples declaring the title give it a sinister feeling. I’m also a big fan of the double reverse snares in the bridge. Lyrically, MC Tee again pulls from his bag of creativity and utilizes a variety of unique methods to ride the rhythm. He flips a human echo double up style and a clever tactic of rhyming the last word of a bar with the first word of the next. Truthfully, it’s hard to explain and writing about it hardly does it justice, but a careful listen will treat you to handful of imaginative styles.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/06-Music-Madness.mp3|titles=06 Music Madness]
“Electronic Energy Of…” receives my top vote for the album sleeper track. I suppose it’s the most upbeat track on the album. The programming is intense and dramatic. Chep Nunez is allowed to go bonkers on the edits and it sports what might be the most effective use of a human whistle in a rap song. It is also the best glimpse into their next album, “In Full Effect”, which would be MC Tee’s last album in the group**. Coincidently, or perhaps not, the biggest telling moment of this was how on “In Full Effect” MC Tee’s vocals seemed to get more buried under the production, making him hard to hear at times. This was an issue with a few Mantronik productions at the time, including Just-Ice’s “Turbo Charged”.
Speaking of the beats, another great moment on the album is the instrumental, “Listen To The Bass”, part two in his “Get Stupid Fresh” series that continued thru out the Mantronix albums. There aren’t a wealth of instrumental tracks I remember getting played a lot in the mid 80s era, but this is definitely one that I heard rocking out of cars and boom boxes and rightfully so.
“Big Band B-Boy” is another instrumental track on the album and one that I mostly ignored. I think I might have just listened to it in its entirety for the first time right now. In hindsight, it’s by no means a bad track. It pulls from some different sample sources and it was probably more aimed at his dance audience than the straight up B-boys, like myself, despite the title.
Beyond that, you have the “Ladies UK Remix”. The original version was on their debut and it was my least favorite track on that album and this remix allows the song to be my least favorite song on two different albums. I’m guessing it most have done well in the UK to inspire the remix and inclusion the album. “Scream” is likely an attempt to be an updated version of “Ladies”. It’s definitely the better of the two for me, but again not something that I ever gave any real attention to. Per usual to the MC Tee era Mantronix albums, it closes with a Mega-Mix cannibalizing on the album itself for source material. This time around it’s Omar Santana on the edits and he’s using some next level techniques with the extreme effects on and is by no means stingy with the studder and shotgun edits.
When this album dropped I was already a vinyl fiend, but I if I really liked an album, like I did this one, I also had to have the tape to play in the box to walk around town, but I never found the cassette of this so I only had the LP. As soon as I saw there was a CD version of this, I knew I needed to get my hands on that. This is the sort of album that is perfect to hear in crystal clear quality and Traffic Entertainment, via Sleeping Bag Records, delivers that for all of our listening pleasure. On top of that, as far a full album, “Music Madness” is indeed my suggestion for a starting point for exploring the Mantronix sound.
*It can be argued that Kurtis Blow got some spotlight for his production work with the Fat Boys and others previous to Mantronik, but I would say that the big story there was the fact Kurtis Blow was already a successful artist as an MC and they were just using that angle to “name drop” essentially. I don’t recall any of those stories that actually talked about his production techniques or prowess, it merely acknowledged he did the work. As far as other pioneers, such as Pumpkin & Larry Smith, you really only knew about them if you read your album credits. Others, like Bambaataa, Spyder D, Davy DMX, etc, were similar to Kurtis Blow, where the main story there was a result of them being a featured artist who also did production and not focused on their production.
**MC Tee left the group after “In Full Effect” in ’88 and was replaced on 1990s “This Should Move Ya” by Bryce Luv of Q.B.C (Queens Brooklyn Connection). Bryce Luv stayed on for the last two Mantronix albums, before heading off into his successful production venture with Groove Theory.