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‘VAGINA DINER’ 2012

This blog post is brought to you by BlackBerry and Orange’s failings in giving me a device on insurance that blocked me out of the blog entry I’d written for today. That meant a hasty rewrite on a completely different topic.

I’m excited about the impending rerelease of Akinyele’s ‘Vagina Diner.’ I’ve decried our preoccupation with the old on here before, but one album deserving of a second time in the spotlight is Akinyele’s 1993’s smartly crafted punchline sleaze opus, ‘Vagina Diner’ — I maintain that Spice 1, Too Short and any number of Rap-A-Lot artists (the Complex interview with J Prince the other week was excellent) had the albums I can replay now, and most of the others we get dewy eyed about from the east coast seemed to have excellent singles but many of the ensuing albums are just boasts, horns and bass that outstays its welcome after twenty minutes. Salutes to De La, Jungle Brothers and Tribe for understanding the art of LP structure back then, even if ‘J Beez…’ got fucking slaughtered.

Akinyele’s effort was something different though. Getting Large Professor to produce the whole thing — a privilege of being signed to Atlantic/Interscope — made the whole thing cohesive and a precursor to those one producer and one MC albums that are frequently promised but rarely executed properly. ‘Vagina Diner’s awesome titled could have been justified with some talk of the man being a cunning linguist, but that amazing Ralph Bakshi/REAS/John Kricfalusi-esque cover art indicates that it’s just an album about fucking and some ignorant stuff.

‘Vagina Diner’s playing time doesn’t allow for Akinyele’s hiccup style to drive the listener insane and Extra P goes in. ‘The Bomb’s Carhartt hooded, roomy denim anthemic quality, a couple of twenty-second interludes that could have been stretched to full-length, the smoothed-out keys at ‘Bags Packed’s outro all made this a necessary album. Nobody’s boy hopped on to ruin tracks, and any attempts to get soulful were scuppered with some brutal talk. And that’s where it all went wrong. Ak’s line on ‘I Luh Hur’ about a hypothetical pregnant belly kicking and punching (“I’m fed up, and sorry that I’ve done it /I’m ready to set her up and have my little man kick her in the stomach”) seemed to be taken a little out of proportion — it was an unnecessary and idiotic moment, but Ice Cube touched on a similarly unpleasant matter (“Then I thought deep about giving up the money/What I need to do is kick the bitch in the tummy” from ‘You Can’t Fade Me’) and it seemed to get lost in the midst of other allegations of troublemaking against him. Ghetto Gold Matt reminded me of the December 1993 editorial in ‘The Source’ from Kierna Mayo decrying the lyrics and Akinyele’s letter of response in the February 1994 issue.

Cube was more profitable for his label, but with a lack of commercial success, Atlantic dropping Akinyele seemed like a cost-effective move. For some reason, summer 1993 was a bad time to be dropping an album and getting heard — bald headed rappers with raspy voices, Parliament samples and weed talk took precedence, and while ‘Vagina Diner’ got good reviews, it just got lost in comparison with an equally nihilistic and perfectly produced set like the ‘Intoxicated Demons ‘EP. Perhaps Interscope could have promoted it a little more. Ah, the hard life of the punchline rapper. If Interscope had let ‘Break a Bitch Neck’ (Kierna would have been triply furious about that one and it really undermines the point he makes in his letter too) go on that album as planned, that shit would have gone platinum. RA The Rugged Man’s ‘Cunt Renaissance’ line “Pregnant bitch — you get kicked in the belly/So fuck all them hookers who had beef with Akinyele” references the outcry and subsequent dropping of Ak (his boy  hence the indy release, ‘What The Fuck?’) in Crustified Dibbs’s typically sensitive manner.

Unsurprisingly, RA got dropped by Jive, but surprisingly, Jive picked up Ak later that decade, who’d reinvented himself as a porno rapper with the success of ’96’s ‘Put It In your Mouth’ — taking the sexuality of ‘Vagina Diner’ and making it a little more British postcard lewd rather than the Ike Turner backhand steez of his earlier works. A year earlier, ’95’s ‘Loud Hangover’ appearance with Sadat X had me wanting him to join the Loud roster. After that, Akinyele descended into the nowhere zone of Koch’s terrible early ’00s long players (see also, calamities like KRS One’s ‘Spiritual Minded’ album, Grand Puba’s terrible third LP and Onyx’s ‘Bacdafucup’ sequel). 2004’s ‘Live at the Barbecue: Unreleased Hits’ compilation had a few tracks that seemed to be from a 1994 project that never materialized at the time.

Just as ‘Put It In Your Mouth’ introduced a whole new audience to Ak’s work, the ‘Vagina Diner’ album seemed to vanish from the CD and record racks circa ’96. Other albums have had re-release after re-release, plus tours covering the entire tracklist, yet ‘Vagina Diner’ remains elusive, bar a vinyl bootleg or two. Recently, a promo edition of the LP sold on eBay, with lettering apparently from Ak himself. Compared to the real promo edition, it looked more like a bootleg — maybe Ak took matters into his own hands? But now you don’t need to shell out mad money for the dull single vinyl edition or crazed dough for a second-hand CD on Amazon, because according to their twitter feed Get On Down records, responsible for the recent ODB ‘Return to the 36 Chambers’ reissue, are putting out a remastered Digipak edition of ‘Vagina Diner’ in 2012. Hopefully it’ll restore some lost tracks, make up for years of compressed Mediafire piracy sound and blow up the album artwork to poster size.

Front and back and even on the CD’s diner sign look, the album’s dripping art direction was on point, but unlikely to find friends among the feminist fraternity. I refuse to be that guy on every stack of YouTube comments claiming, “Now that’s hip-hop — not like Drake or Lil Wayne” like a dad blasting Fleetwood Mac on the school run, but there’s a lot of merit in this album. A lot of lost albums need never return, but this is different. A rerelease is unlikely to bring the album a vast new audience (buying a CD or vinyl is considered quaint), but for those of us who care, ‘Vagina Diner’ 2012 is a big, big deal and hopefully that enthusiasm might prove infectious.

For your patience in reading these recollections, and while we’re stuck in 1993, here’s some highlights from the April ’93 ‘The Source’ Style Preview. Zhigge kitted in Armani Exchange, plus PNB, Pervert, Fuct, Not From Concentrate, Conart (the brand with Slash’s younger brother on board in its early days) and many more in the hat and tee collection, plus the Max ’93, Air Traverse, Jordan VIII, Rod Laver, Vans Chukka, Torsion Alegra and Equipment Support on a packed pair of shoe pages, that even the presence of flop post-Ewing shoe brand Aerial Assault can’t sully. Eighteen years later we still seem to be tethered to the aesthetics of the designs on display.