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'90s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks

Casual fans of Tribal Productions know about the collective’s famous 1996 rap compilation called Do The Math which now sells for hundreds of dollars on Discogs. More serious followers not only have Do The Math but also trade copies of Untranslated Prescriptions, the crew’s rare earlier compilation from 1995. But then we come to the third category of Tribal fan, the completist. Fellow Town Love writer Jack Devo fits into this third category, and he has written an excellent piece here about the obscure Tribal Productions release titled Freestyle Demo Tape which was uploaded to Bandcamp in 2013. Back 2 Da Source Records in Belgium has been releasing an incredible series of Tribal reissues on vinyl, including Narcotik’s classic album Intro To Da Central in 2018, and then Untranslated and Math in 2019. In 2021, Back 2 Da Source gave us another dose of that sweet Tribal goodness, this gatefold collection of a dozen early tracks called 90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks by foundational Tribal group Ghetto Chilldren.

Ghetto Chilldren began as four members, Culture, Capabilities, B-Self, and Vitamin D. The four young musicians came together at a time when hip-hop was rediscovering its identity after several years of domination by gangster rap. Groups like De La Soul and Freestyle Fellowship were showing a blueprint for rap that dealt with complicated emotions caused by issues of identity, progress, and everyday life. Ghetto Chilldren rapped about their academic successes and failures, their attempts at meeting women, and fears about neighborhood violence. These topics were relatable to listeners, and the tracks were entertaining and educational. Ghetto Chilldren caught a huge buzz in Seattle, which led to attention from major labels. They got a demo deal from Geffen, but creative differences crashed that project and the group returned to Seattle.

90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks proves the unparalleled skill of GC despite the extremely lo-fi sound. The songs were recorded at The Pharmacy studio, which at that time was Vitamin D’s basement bedroom. Vocals were recorded using a single Shure mic in the middle of the studio, with all the resulting hiss and background noise. If you listen closely you can catch snippets of voices or laughter from other people in the room. Even with the lo-fi setup, the tracks are masterpieces. The beat for “On The 1’s and 2’s” has a carefree, moon-gravity astronaut bounce, and don’t miss B-Self’s hilarious verse about avoiding gangbangers. “Detour To The Left” disarms with its clever inventive hook that bursts open like a flower in spring. But “Free Enterprise” featuring Narcotik is the star of the show. Found on a never-released Tribal project called Therapeutics, this track sounds sparkling and streamlined next to the earlier amateur material on this release. “Free Enterprise” is the dope theme song of Y2K and it exemplifies the unlimited potential of rap to create its own billion-dollar industry.

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Monologs And Soliloquys For Your Mom

Tribal Productions was a collective of rappers and DJs who came together in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Seattle. They were a diverse crew with street-influenced acts like Narcotik positioned alongside more backpack-style groups like Union Of Opposites. Four members of Tribal formed a group called Ghetto Chilldren: Vitamin D, B-Self, Culture, and Capabilities. The group’s first release was a four-song cassette called Monologs And Soliloquys. Ghetto Chilldren caused a huge buzz with this release. It established the Tribal sound, which was dusty yet hard drums mixed with acutely chosen jazzy samples. Where artists like Puffy were taking top 40 hits and remaking them into rap karaoke, producers like Premier, Pete Rock, and Vitamin D were looking for obscure arrangements and turning them into new melodies. Monologs & Soliloquys is a stellar example of a paradigm shift in Seattle rap, a quantum leap of creativity.

The first song is titled “Odd Ball Sindrome,” and it introduced Ghetto Chilldren as outsiders to the mainstream rap culture. They were more like sketch comedians at times, with little snippets of samples and dialog before and after the tracks. “BBQ Sause & The Stank Nasty” is the second song. In this lighthearted track, the crew shares stories of trying to meet girls at barbecues. It succeeds on a number of levels, capturing the wildness of youth and the “anything can happen” feeling of long summer nights.

“Questions” begins side B with a long intro featuring Vitamin’s younger brother bugging him while he tries to work on the track. By side B it’s evident that clever wordplay was the currency of the group. It’s thesaurus rap but wait, it’s not about just showing off SAT vocab like Jack Harlow in an SNL NFT rap, but more about using language artistically in a way that it has never been used before. The lyrics are never cute or overbearing, rather the verses leave you with a feeling of brain tickle. I don’t know how else to describe it. The last song “20 Bucks” is all about the value of money to someone in high school. This might be my favorite beat of the four, it’s extremely catchy.

All in all, this tape is valuable as a snapshot of the four-member lineup of the group. By their next releases on Untranslated Prescriptions and Do The Math, the group had slimmed to just Vitamin D and B-Self performing as a duo. Ghetto Chilldren in any configuration is a foundational group in Seattle hip hop. This tape allows the listener to hear them take their first unsteady steps, and it’s magic each time you play it! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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