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Thursday, February 14, 2013

[Review] FRANK-N-DANK - "48 HRS"

In the early 2000:s Slum Village's Jay Dee signed a deal with MCA Records where he was under contract to deliver two complete albums. "Pay Jay" was his own solo album which would be something of a "freak of the industry", in that the acclaimed producer chosed to focus his energy on rhyming over productions supplied by some of his own favorites like Madlib, Pete Rock, Karriem Riggins, ?uestlove, Nottz, Diamond and more. Dilla was now a relatively big name in the industry, and had quite some juice at this point, which allowed him to refuse the deal unless MCA also signed the virtually unknown Detroit duo Frank-N-Dank (consisting of Frank Nitty and Dankery Harv) for a one-album deal. Both "Pay Jay" and FND's "48 HRS" was recorded and prepared simultaneously, often in Studio A, Dearborn, MI with Dee's trusted studio engineer Tood Fairall. Despite both albums should have some appeal to both underground and mainstream heads, MCA got cold feet and decidded to shelve both LP:s.

Now in 2013, finally both albums are in the process of being given a proper release thanks to Ma Dukes, Frank Nitt and the re-up of Pay Jay Productions, Inc. First out is Frank-N-Dank's 2002 album "48 HRS", which will soon be followed by the never before heard complete version, of "Pay Jay", now titled "The Diary". This review focus on the long-awaited official release of the FND debut; which, although it has been circulating for years, now gets a proper release with full artwork, credits, and without exception all the music and skits recorded in the original sessions, and sequenced the exact same way that Jay Dee and FND had intended. There has been a lot of rumours about the "original version of the album"; news paper interviews that didn't quite up with the choice of releasing the version stripped from all samples heard on the earlier singles back in 2001/2002. Dankery Harv cleaed up this confusion, saying that there never was an "original version" of "48 HRS" so to speak; "We started recording songs to sample driven beats of Dilla's, and we got 80% of the album done ... It wasn't MCA's legal department, but Dilla's creative vision to strip out all the samples". It's essentially the same as the semi-official 2003 bootleg, with a few minor exceptions; the sequencing is the same except that it does not feature the singles "Off Ya Chest" B/W "Take Dem Clothes Off", which according to Dank was made after the album was 100% completed. Though both songs are pretty dope, they were never my favorites on the LP and considering the lack of samples and bounce-driven club beats the run time of 47 minutes as it stands now is a better fit for the album. It also appears to have been slightly better mastered and mixed, although the '03 CD sounded pretty damnn professional, and there's some minor tweaking involved (such as distortion of vocals on at least one song's hook and final verse; "Where the Parties At"), but when it all comes down to it, there's no real suprises here and it's essentially the "exact" same album as was first made available in 2003.

Compared to the set of original sample-based mixes, both versions have their fair shair of charm; but the retail version is a lot more sonically stripped down and agressve, which actually really suits the thugged out party and hardcore rhymes of Frank-N-Dank. And as mentioned above, the trio took a 180* degree turn by going for a sound that utilizines close to no samples; instead focusing on live drums, drum programming, creating heavy bass lines and melodies through the use of synthesizers and keyboards and live guitars, bass, etc. The end result is a prdouct that has a lot more in common with Dr. Dre's "2001" and the ish The Neptunes and Timbaland were doing around the same time than anything Dilla had done before. In fact, theres' no question that those guys, among with similiar popular producers of the day, were Yancey's primary influence in stripping away the samples in the first place. With that being said, there's not a discussion about stealing ideas, but rather Dilla, being the genius he was, showing the world he could take whatever style popular at the moment and flip it in an original and interesting way. So while the influences can easily be spotted, it's just as easy to hear Dilla's trademark sounds all over the project, mainly the song structure and the way the drum and bass are given a center position above melody. The music might sound repetitive on the first couple of front-to-backs listen, but soon you'll realise that it's constantly progressivally esthetic and as far as Dilla goes very original; more than that it really works to enhance the words and rhyming styles of the duo and their subject matters. The theme of a large part of the album, told through both lyrics, beats and intermissions, tells of a weekennd in which our trio moves from party to party; up until the closing of "Afterparty" where a set of gunshots and the words "All right motherfuckers, party's over" gives way for two of the LP:s finest cuts. "Ma Dukes" is by far one of the best records on the set,with Dilla's fantastic composition centered around a deep hypnotic bassline, and a beautiful keyboard melody that brings out the best out of both Nitty and Harv that makes for a real beautiful, heartfelt tribute to their respective mothers, who, as they say, has stood beside their sides through thick and thin; "You being happy, really gives something great to it...". The lone female vocal on the album, performed by the wonderfully voiced Tammy Lucas sings the chorus and bridge on the track which manages to enhance an already hearttouching concept even further. Without a doubt one of the album's only, true  masterpieces though at the same time it makes you think what could have happened if the duo had decided to spend more of the LP using more serious subject matters.
The album closes with the monstrous "Keep It Coming", which is also my personal favorite. ?uestlove of The Roots provides tight live drums, that together with the distorted bass, live drums and low-key keyboard effects and sound FX creates a crescendo that increase in power til' you barely can take it anymore; all while your head is banging non-stop. Frank-N-Dank is in fine form here, and even Jay Dee himself pops up for his lone vocal contribution ot the album, and although it's only for a hook the introduction of a third voice really enhance the experience of the track. The distorted electric guitar play a major part here, all in all the chaos created by the track works absolutely perfect for an album closer and once the song tones down and a loud gunshot annnounce the closing of the LP, you know you've experienced something special.

There's plenty of dope material here, I always had a soft spot for the "Intro"/"Get Ya Bitch" with it's array of keyboard sounds, pounding drums  and hilarious lyrics. The same goes for "Marijuana", a joint I had totally forgot, but that stands as one of the finest songs of the entire project. A true smoker's anthem, Frank-N-Dank sends out a few verses to one of their main loves while Dilla uses the scorching bass, guest vocal hook, sound effects and keys to create an homage to the dancehall catalouge. This is followed by a hilarious skit preceeding the next song "Rite Bites", styled as a commercial, and is one of many skits that appear over the course of 47 minutes, giving the project an official album feel.  The song itself is another winner that will work both in a club context and being played loud in your headphones. Including a track called "Street Life" on a hip-hop album these days is somewhat of a cliché, but the duo pulls it off for two reasons; it's another party jam rather than a depresseing cut that would stray away too much from the formula already established by the album. As is always the case with Dilla, the drums are FANTASTIC and nothing to play around with, and the West Coast sounding synthesizer really help establish the mood. But from here, things take a slight detour for the coming tracks; "Pimp Strut", "Where The Parties At", and "Y'All Don't Wan't It" all sounds like generic party jams from both a production and lyrical standpoint, and can hardly be saved by neither party. In fact the only thing these songs do is manage to drag the LP down. Luckily, the trio manages to get back on track after this; "Sex On The Beach" utilizes several sound effects as percussive instruments, making it hard to sit still to. "All Seasons" doesn't reach all the way through, unlike the original sample based version, but with the nasty bass juxtaposed against the "West Coast synthesizer" and more of FND's club oriented vocals it's definitely a pretty nice jam. The same can't be said about "Alright" though, which for me is the worst song on the entire LP, neither vocals, hook or Dilla's presence can save this mess. This is followed by "The Afterparty" which is based around a nice keyboard melodi(es), and in the conext of the album theme the rhyming duo has now reached their final destination - The Afterparty. The subject matter is becoming a little tiresome by now, although I like the concept on the whole, but as mentioned above, we'll soon hear the gunshots (followed by the quote "Party's over motherfuckers"), which is followed by the albums two finest songs "Keep It Coming" and "Ma Dukes".


Before I often have felt this album was quite mediocre by Dilla standards; but after this final 2013 release, I have gone back to it several times, and really started reevaluating the LP, coming to the conclusion that I was completely wrong in dismissing it. It's not a perfect album by any means, and as far as Dilla goes I would believe this album will dividide his fans into two camps (though I give him all the props in the world for daring to try something as new, for him, as "48 HRS"). 

This is not Dilla's finest moments from a musical standpoint, but it does pack a lot of his trademarks; for example the structure of the songs and of course the emphasis on hard knocking drums and deep basslines. And while Frank-N-Dank is not the most lyrical rhyme slingers Jay has worked wih, they got a great dynamic between them and sound right at home on this production, making it FND's finest album yet in my opinion. It will probably take a few spins before you really get into what Dilla and Frank-N-Dank were trying to do here; and save for maybe 5-6 songs, it's a must have in any serious Jay Dee collection unless you managed to get the bootleg (pictured to the left) a few years back. One of the most interesting things about the LP is that it's further proof that Jay Dee was able to conform to pretty much any style of music, and with great success nontheless. In conclusion this album is a must hear and a must have in any serious Detroit hip-hop collection. If you want to compare the official version with what the LP might have sounded like had the trio decided to keep with the original idea of using samples for the majority of the songs - check out "48 HRS (c7 Revisit)" here, and support the 2013 release on 2xLP or 2xCD here.

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