At first I was excited about the prospect. Demos and Rarities from the same recording sessions that produced a treasured album? I’m sold. “I Got to Have It,” so to speak. The 2008 double disc collects previously unreleased tracks, straight out the crates of producer Joe Mansfield. What Edo.G fan wouldn’t want to hear ‘Original Demo Versions’ of “I Got to Have It” and “I’m Different,” plus a bunch of vintage early ’90s tracks with titles such as “Brand New Style” or “Punk Like You”?
As elaborately as the release itself is designed and packaged, the majority of the songs here are not just unpolished, they are unfinished. These are not even demos to a promotional end but strictly first takes, song drafts, etc. To the credit of the compilers and audio restorator Will C., there is a lot of unheard stuff gathered, and the recordings are presented in a fashion that you can still catergorize them as rap songs when you play them. Just don’t expect a high-fidelity headphone experience. Expect the contrary, an unmixed, unmastered rawness that not even ’93 RZA would accept.
“I Got to Have It (Original Demo Version)” sounds like something you taped off the radio back in the day, at a time when you were just happy to finally have caught it late at night. The song itself is the same as the classic Edo.G & Da Bulldogs debut single, with the exception of a drum sequence replacing the short horn solo, and final adlibs. The rest of the tracks are already a major improvement over this opener as they feature much less hiss. “I’m Different (Original Demo Version)” boasts an alternate beat, the sample source surely recognized by diggers. “Feel Like a Nut (Original Demo Version)” takes one more step towards acceptable sound quality and is almost on the level of the released version. The downside is that the closer these demos get to the known versions, the less they surprise us. That’s why “She Said it Was Great (Original Demo Version)” gets recognized for using the same sample as later Snoop’s “Gz and Hustlas,” even though the characteristic bassline plays only faintly in the background of the left channel. Interestingly, “Be a Father to Your Child” is only present in the form of an interlude, as if Mansfield was only just trying to build the beat, perhaps even without knowing what the song’s theme would be.
So much for the demo versions. 23 rarities still await, but the key question regarding this release will remain unanswered. Why did they (or any completed versions of them) not end up on either “Life of a Kid in the Ghetto” or “Roxbury 02119”? What the liner notes do relate is that “Do What I Wanna Do” is the first song they ever recorded together in late 1989. The posse is present for the intro, Mansfield drops a p-funk-fueled beat, then Edo gets promiscuous in his typical humorous style. The hook samples – barely audibly – Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative,” which makes sense considering New Edition were from Roxbury as well.
“Brand New Style” opens with Craig Mack’s self-made “zoom-zoom” bassline from “Get Retarded” seguing into a well-known Blackbyrds sample. KRS also pops up, his “Brand new style / ruthless and wild” slightly colliding with the smooth ’80s saxes. Some of the rhymes are familiar from “Life of…” and at one point even seem to reference “I Got to Have It.” The vocals conclude with collective RIP’s, for instance to Almighty RSO member Rock. With “Me and You Girl” the sound quality takes another dive, while the following “Punk Like You” presents the best sounding vocals so far. Clearly a post-“Life of…” recording, it features several Bulldogs (T-Nyne, Bulletproof Bret, etc.), a heavy dose of strong language, and a King Tee quote from “Played Like a Piano.” “Punk Like You #2” sounds even better, but at the same time further exposes the limitations of Edo’s crew. “A Nigga You Can’t Fuck With” is in the same vein, only that guests Scientifik, Herb and Smit are much better rappers. The beat is pretty unfuckwittable as well, a dry, uptempo headnod affair with plenty of funky undercurrent.
“I Love My Mother” is an obvious afterthought to “Be a Father…” over the “Me and You Girl” beat. With the necessary polish, it certainly wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut (minus maybe the n word):
“God bless my mother
cause yo, I got to tell her that I love her
I only got one, and there’ll never be another
who would give me her last thing, go without so I could have
workin’ two jobs to pay the bills, bein’ the mother and the dad
livin’ in a one bedroom with not enough headroom
but still she let my uncle stay with us
There never was a day with us that we weren’t strugglin’, gee
Cause everywhere she went, she was luggin’ me
See? So I always was with her
My father used to hit her and that made me bitter
to think that he could even sink that low
I was young, but don’t think I didn’t know
As I grew up
I had the type of moms that wouldn’t let a nigga screw up
I remember how the belt felt, but a beatin’
was always for a reason, and never for another
I love my mother”
There’s more to discover on “Demos and Rarities,” such as Joe Mansfield’s enthusiasm for saxophones on disc 2. Or Edo voicing his frustrations with the industry. On “Stay Funky” he declares: “This is album number 2, give me a show and I’ma pack it / Talent’s not a factor in the business, I don’t lack it / I keep your hands clappin’ because I’m good at rappin’ / but politics and tricks is the shit that makes it happen.” The extended version of his discontent can be heard on “You Got That,” where he begins to question his positive stance and shows signs of acute sarcasm:
“I’m not a rapper that’s happy-go-lucky
because the rappers like that to me are wack and sucky
But like Jason they seem to just keep comin’ back
cause in the business of rap you get paid if you’re wack
Ain’t that a shame, that they can say the same old shit
with wack beats and wack rhymes and have a number one hit?
Sometimes I think in my mind it’s just a waste of time
to write a dope-ass rhyme when there’s no ladder to climb
up, because I’m stuck; I’m not wack and I don’t suck
but I guess I won’t go gold; but hey, what the fuck
with my luck I’m still gonna get enough bucks
by producin’ another rapper that sucks”
Harsher words are used on “How It’s Supposed to Be,” where he says, “I won’t fall off like a buncha y’all sell-out, house-nigga, pop-rap, black figures / You need to take your shovel to the whites cause they dig ya.” But, like almost anything on “Demos and Rarities,” “How It’s Supposed to Be” is only a vague idea of what could have been (especially considering the presence of KRS-One). There are also a couple of embarrasing moments, such as “Me and Your Girl #2” with its awful R&B hooks, or “Check out the Beat,” which features a couple of the guys experimenting in the studio without Edo’s guidance.
So imagine if all your favorite hip-hop acts would begin to make previously unreleased recordings available, and not just finished songs that for whatever reason couldn’t be released but every rhyme ever recorded to a beat. Only the most uncritical fan would find delight in that. It’s interesting to listen to “Fight With Your Words” once or twice and realize it’s a precursor to “Go up and Up,” and catch the LA gang truce reference, and maybe even remember other tracks that share the same sample (Casual’s “Follow the Funk”), but that’s it. It’ll be a long time before I listen to it again. If “Demos and Rarities” demonstrates anything, it’s that some ideas rightfully never come to full fruition. For recordings that are actually worth digging up, see Bumpy Knuckles’ unshelved “Crazy Like a Foxxx,” which included an alternate, finished version of the entire album.
“Life of a Kid in the Ghetto – Demos and Rarities” is strictly for hardcore Edo.G fans and possibly for beat geeks interested in early material from Rhythm Nigga Joe AKA Joe Mansfield of The Vinyl Reanimators. To the release’s credit, at least the people who made the music are the ones who decided to put it out, and the sound quality improves considerably. “Punk Like You,” “A Nigga You Can’t Fuck With,” “You Got That,” and “Why it Gotta Be Like That” will even leave you guessing why they weren’t included on the sophomore album.