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Saturday, January 29, 2011

[Shelved Classics] INI - "Center of Attention"

Some of the finest hip-hop albums of the ‘90s found themeselves left behind and shelved for various reasons. I decided to start a new section of The Lost Tapes dedicated to articles about some of those shelved classics. With these I will try to create something substanial and reader friendly using bits and pieces of information from any concerning interviews, articles and relevant word of mouth I can find. The article will of course be coloured by my own personal view of the music, and in each case I will upload it, or as much that is available, for you; my trusted readers. To kick things off, I can't think of a better way than with a piece on one of my personal favorites of all time; InI's shelved, and almost mythical, 
mid-‘90s debut ‘Center of Attention’.

InI started out as a four man crew, hailing from Westchester County in New York. The group consisted of Rob Odindo (better known as simply Rob-O), Grap Luva, I Love H.I.M. (also known as Raas) and Marco Polo (not to be confused with the producer/DJ of today). Through Grap Luva, the quartet had a strong connection with super producer, DJ Pete Rock, being that he's actually Grap’s older brother. Pete Rock had of course been blowing up as a high-profile DJ and producer through his work with rapper CL Smooth, his praised remix work and his gig as a DJ next to Marley Marl on the Future Flavaz Show. This success led to him getting the chance to start his own record imprint; Soul Brother Records would be distributed as a sub-division of Elektra. His initial signees was, not suprisingly, his brother Grap and the InI crew, together with another Mt. Vernon emcee named Deda Baby Pa. Rob-O, Grap and Deda had all made their recording debuts on the posse cut “The Basement” from Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s much hailed "Mecca and The Soul Brother" in 1992. This continued with appearances on 1994’s "The Main Ingredient", and in the linear notes to that album we can see Pete giving a shout to “InI & Deda Baby Pah for being very patient”. This lets us know that work on their respective albums had either begun or was just about to. 

Shortly after this, CL Smooth and Pete went separate ways, allowing the latter to fully make InI and Deda the center of his attention. Recordings for "Center of Attention" and Deda's "Everyman For Himself" took place at Green Street Studios, NY with Pete’s trusted right hand man; engineer Jamie Staub. Much point to my conclusion that the Deda Baby Pa album was the first of the two to be completed, and was also supposed to be the first to be released.


For the InI album, many songs mention the years 1995 and 1996 so we can assume that these were the years during which the album was recorded. Although the group now consisted of four members, only Grap Luva, Rob-O and I Love H.I.M. appeared continuously on the recorded tracks. Marco Polo had only two verses on the later released songs; heard rapping in French on “What You Say” and “Grown Man Sport”. While many artists and producers passed through the studio to check out what Pete Rock and his new protog├ęs were working on, the guests on the album was kept to a minimum. Large Professor and Q-Tip stood for the higher profile cameos, while a young rhymer called Mekolicious made his debut on “Grown Man Sport". Had everything gone as planned with Soul Brother Records, it wouldn't suprise me if Mekolicious would've been the next project for the label considering there's plenty of Pete Rock produced demo tracks floating around from this time.
As for the production, Pete Rock handles all the tracks (with co-production by InI), besides the funky jam that is “Step Up Time”; that this was actually prouced by Grap Luva might caught a lot of heads off guard consdering that it’s as dope as anything on the LP, I guess the soul runs in the family, huh? Overall, the soundscapes are jazzy in nature with heavy emphasis on the bottom groove, relaxing reed instruments, soulful keys (often favoring the Fender Rhodes electronic piano), vibes and other sampled instruments that makes a great marriage with the constantly fat boom bap drums. Considering the three main rappers rhyme in a laid-back manner, with respective distinctive smooth voices, the beats and rhymes couldn't form a better relationship. I’ve heard people say that "Center Of Attention" wasn’t all that good lyrically; a statement I strongly disagree with. The trio might not be the most creative crew of all time, but they brought something interesting and sincere to the table with their mix of personal reflection, social commentary and rastafarian ideologies.

As the album was finished and ready for release in 1996, Dante Ross, the former A&R of Elektra’s hip-hop section had been replaced by Sylvia Rhone. This is where the tragedy struck; Rhone didn’t at all share Pete Rock’s vision for Soul Brother Records which was to be distributed by Elektra. “InI was a group that just didn’t progress on Elektra records due to switching of presidents. Sylvia Rhome came and then all hell broke lose. She fired a lot of people and didn’t put our project out”, Pete recalls. "Sylvia really didn't cooperate, she didn't break bread with me when it came down to resolving that. It was all about her changing everything around. She wanted to change my whole sound. When she said, "You gotta make a beat like Puffy", I just knew it wasn't going to work out”.
Before the battle was totally lost, Elektra at least released one single from the album; the incredible “Fakin’ Jax” that quickly became an underground success and got heavy radio play by DJs like Funkmaster Flex and Marley Marl. This didn't do much for Silvia Rhone, who still failed to see the albums potential and now decided to completely shelf it. The single itself is a collector's item, as it not only features the original, but also a slamming remix with Mekolicious and instrumentals; some versions also has the album song “Step Up Time” and an older Rob-O solo joint titled “Props”, which is said to have been recorded in 1992, and actually the sound is very reminiscent of "Mecca & The Soul Brother".

Had the single been released only a year prior, it could’ve made it onto the Billboard charts, but by 1996 hip-hop was changing rapidly much due to the success of Puff Daddy and Notorious B.I.G.'s more pop influenced rap styles. The missing success of “Fakin’ Jax”, despite its video and promotion, lead to the unlucky shelving of the project, although it would quickly become one of the most talked about and bootlegged LPs in hip-hop's history. 

Elektra only released an INI single and bootlegged the album. That’s how it got bootlegged, then people got copies of the album and tried to put it out, but certain songs are false, and the way they did it the quality’s not there. There’s none of the interludes that I put with the album out there, they’ve only got the regular stuff – and they don’t even have the whole lot! Of all the bootlegs, that’s not the whole album at all, period” Pete revealed in an interview with Unkut/Hip-Hop Connection. Anyone familiar with Pete’s catalogue knows one of his main signatures are those banging little instrumental interludes; often as dope as the actual songs on the respective albums. One or two of the vinyl bootlegs has featured a few of those intermissions but have in turned missed several songs; even the semi-official 2xCD release (which also included the Deda album) by Pete’s former label B.B.E.  failed to include any skits and instrumentals and replaced the song “Keep On” with the aforementioned B-side “Props”. “[BBE’s version] was something that I gave them to try to make amends with the group, to try to get them some money. But it didn’t really work out that way, they did some shenanigans with me.
As mentioned by Pete himself, the complete "Center Of Attention" has never been released to the public as originally intended. However, via different sources we can come close to how it was originally menat to be heard; an early bootleg a good portion of the interludes has been unearthed. These include three vocal skits (an intro, an outro and a midtro) and five instrumentals. Grap Luva has confirmed via his YouTube account that these specific instrumentals were in fact the ones recorded for the InI album. I have played around a little with them since I first got my hands on them, and really no matter how you place them in the sequencing, they really enhance the experience of this already fantastic album. 

The BBE version also omitted a song titled “Keep On” in favor of the aforementioned “Props”. For the version you'll find below, I did the complete opposite as I'm almost entirely sure that "Keep On" was the song that was supposed to appear on the original album, while "Props" was not. As my readers know, I always encourage heads to support the artist and purchase the music which is why i never post any full albums that are not out of print. Considering how Pete has said that BBE released the InI album without his permission, and has cheated him on a lot of money, I'm making this an exception so that you can hear this lost classic a little closer to the artists vision than the BBE version. However, I would like to say that I'm very grateful to BBE for releasing this and Deda, although slightly incomplete, in an official capacity and any Pete Rock fan should definitely own both albums in their collections. Tracklist and link below; let the soul and harmonics wash over you, and don't forget to TURN IT UP!!!:


01.   “Intro: Pete Rock Skit #1”
02.   “No More Words”
03.   “Step Up Time” [prod. by Grap Luva]
04.   “Interlude”
05.   “Think Twice”
06.   “Square One” (Ft. Pete Rock)
07.   “Interlude (H.I.M.)”
08.   “The Life I Live”
09.   “Keep On”
10.   “Interlude”
11.   “KrossRoads”
12.   “Pete Rock Skit #2”
13.   “To Each His Own” (Ft. Large Professor & Q-Tip)
14.   “Fakin’ Jax” (Ft. Pete Rock)
15.   “Interlude”
16.   “What You Say”
17.   “Center of Attention”
18.   “Pete Rock Skit #3”
19.   “Grown Man Sport” (Ft. Mekolicious)
20.   “Interlude”
21.   “What I Say”

6 comments:

  1. This is definitely a slepped on album. Sick production from pete and ill lyricism.

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  2. That's serious....I appreciate your effort! Thanks for posting a ling for this album b

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  3. Thanks for posting. I was wondering where InI - keep on came from since it is not on the original album. Thank you so much!

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  4. Thanks for posting this. I didn't d/l since I was just looking for a clean album but excellent post. I always thought "Step Up" was produced by Pete Rock, surprising to know that it isn't.

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  5. Replies
    1. here is the REAL DEAL, the full InI "Center of Attention" (or "The Life I Live") album as it was originally to be heard if it had been released in 1996 as intended.. enjoy:

      http://claaa7.blogspot.se/2012/07/exclusive-ini-center-of-attention-real.html

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