Friday, July 27, 2012

Hiphop Holiday!

I wrote the liner notes, for 3 The Hard Way's digital reissue of Old Skool Prankstas, out today. The band had planned to reissue this back in 2003, when they released their 2nd album, but no one in the band had a copy! I found one in Real Groovy last month and passed it to their label, and whipped up some liner notes, and now....

THREE THE HARD WAY started out as a West Auckland hiphop crew consisting of Mighty Boy C (Chris Ma’ia’i), DJ Mike Mixx (Mike Paton) and DJ Damage (Lance Manuel). The group signed to Deepgrooves on a single by single basis in 1993.

The first single they delivered to the label was Hiphop Holiday, a very clever flip of 10CC’s hit Dreadlock Holiday with a cool reggae breakdown mid-song featuring Bobbylon of Riot Riddum Sound System/Hallelujah Picassos guesting. It came out in early 1994.The song was produced by the band and Angus McNaughton at Incubator Studio.

It hit number one in New Zealand - the first local hiphop song to ever achieve that - and stayed there for several weeks, and made it to number 5 on the Australian pop charts.

The sudden success of the single led to the band being sent on a 40 day Australian tour by their label with only seven days notice. “In the six days between then and when we left”, said Boy C, “we had to record our album.... and because we’d only been signed up on single deals, we only had two or three other songs that we’d even really played around with. So we were writing and making mistakes as we went.”

The Australian tour proved very successful. Boy C: “We were headlining gigs ... and playing to between 3,000 and 5,000 people. We did 50 gigs in 40 days ... it was quite mad, a definite eye opener. The weirdest thing was that Brisbane seemed to be populated with West Aucklanders: I was looking out at the crowd and saw people from school!” [Above quotes with Boy C from Hiphop Music In Aotearoa, by Gareth Shute, published 2004.]

The single’s success should have been a huge payday for the group, but Deepgrooves failed to clear it with 10CC’s publishers, even after its release. The group had replayed the melody from Dreadlock Holiday, not sampled it.

Three The Hard Way released several other singles, then their debut album Old Skool Prankstas in 1994, which went platinum the following year.

They took an extended break, reuniting in 2001 as a two piece (DJ Damage was no longer in the group) to work on a new album with Alan Jansson (OMC writer/producer), called Eyes on the Prize, which came out in 2003 on Joy Records, the label run by Alan and Simon Grigg.

The first single off the album It’s On went to number one in the NZ charts, knocking Scribe’s Not Many off the top slot.

In an interview with NZ Musician in 2003, the group revealed the reason for the extended break.

“We sat out the last four or five years of our recording contract with Deepgrooves,” says Boy C “We weren’t too happy. There were a few things that happened over that time and we decided that the only satisfactory way we could go about it was to sit out the rest of the contract and not release anything.”

The article says that at that time (2003) the group had only recently regained the rights to their first album. I understand they had planned to reissue it back then, but no one in the band had a copy!

I recently found a copy in Real Groovy and passed it onto Simon Grigg, and now it’s getting a digital reissue, with a few added bonus tracks from their singles, like the Zane Lowe remix of What I Gotta Do. Hip hop hooray!

— By Peter McLennan (musician, DJ, and author of a forthcoming book on Deepgrooves).

Available from today, and iTunes (NZ and Aust).

Added: On August 26 2013, Deepgrooves label boss Kane Massey posted this as part of a blogpost on the revived Deepgrooves website, giving his side of the story:

"... We might also take this opportunity to also dispel one of those urban myths that have lingered for many years with regard to the label "not responding" to APRA with regard to Hip Hop Holiday "clearance requests".

Prior to the release of the single the label had been in lengthy communications with EMI, who were Godley and Creme's (Dreadlock Holiday writers / 10CC) local representatives in NZ at the time as well as with APRA. Things were moving slowly to say the least and this had pushed back the original late 1993 release of the single into early 1994. We were pitching the small label, won't sell much, no samples, not strictly a cover line.

The band’s management at the time, had become increasingly impatient and in conjunction with our distributor (no vested interested in clearing composition arrangements) made the decision to release the single regardless. Of course when the single came out and hit #1 two weeks later, EMI claimed that the track was simply a "version" of the original composition and stopped communicating. Like we had the resources to take EMI / 10CC to court, we found it was hard enough paying our coffee tab at the Alba Cafe.

Our distributor and the group’s management would also later haggle over the release schedule for the album, which eventually resulted in the group’s management deciding to do a national album release tour as a way of "forcing" our distributor to release the album earlier. Did they release it earlier - No. This inevitably resulted in no local or regional press or support, dwindling crowd attendance and poor reviews.

A couple of weeks after the tour had commenced, we received a phone call one morning from one of the group (calling from Invercargill) saying that they had awoken to find that their management had "disappeared" and that they had no money at all and could not even pay to check out of the motel, let alone get back to Auckland.

We managed to get them back to Auckland and a couple of weeks later their album was released to very disappointing sales of approx 2800 units. Festival had been planning for a Gold Album release.

As a further note, the group was only ever enlisted to do one album with the label and were never tied or contracted to the label in any way, form or manner past 1995. Although it probably made good press, the truth is the group, like all Deepgrooves artists, were only obligated to record one album and (with the odd exception) were contractually free upon the release of said album.

We last spoke to the group in or around 1998 when they called to ask if we would be open to doing some more recording with them, of course we were, the door was always open for them, they were nice guys. They did mention that they were also speaking to Mr Alan Jansson at the time as well.

All tours for the group were initiated and managed by the group’s management, with varying degrees of success, including their Australian Hip Hop Holiday Single tour.

Music industry rule #1: Don't let your school mates manage your band, just because they buy the beer. Rule #2: Don't piss off your distribution company."

Hip Hop Holiday, single, 1994
Many Rivers single, 1994
All around (for tha funk), single, 1994
Old Skool Prankstas album, 1994
What I Gotta Do single, 1995
Eyes On The Prize, album, 2003
It’s On single, 2003

BONUS TRACKS with this 2012 reissue:
Hip Hop Holiday (Radio Mix) from Hip Hop Holiday single, and What I Gotta Do - Zane Lowe Remix/Instrumental from What I Gotta Do single.

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