Sunday, August 11, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 013: Ground Floor - "Dig on That" b/w "One, Two"

Ground Floor - "Dig on That" b/w "One, Two" (Bandoola Records, 1994)
Ground Floor is a complete mystery. T.O., ManHunt, and a third rapper whose name seems to have been forgotten surfaced just long enough to put out one limited single before disappearing forever. All that remains of the group are a few rare copies of that 12”, an entertaining but generic music video for “One, Two,” and a Bandoola Records flyer advertising their forthcoming EP. Everything beyond that is open to conjecture and there doesn’t seem to be any photos of the group online. How did they hook up with Lord Finesse (and what was Lord Finesse doing on a tiny indie label with only one other artist when he was at his peak)? Why weren’t they able to capitalize on the momentum from the “One, Two” video getting played on BET’s Rap City? What’s Puff Daddy doing in that video?[1] And most importantly, who were they, why didn’t they take off, and where did they go?

Being from Newport, Rhode Island probably didn’t do any favors for the group. It’s only three hours away from New York City, but in an era before the internet, being from a city without a well-known hip-hop scene could be the kiss of death for a group that wasn’t able to break through immediately.[2] Newport very well could have had a vibrant scene at the time, but if they did, it wasn’t exactly getting much coverage in The Source.

But the biggest hindrance to Ground Floor’s success was probably Bandoola Records. The people behind that label definitely had some long-term plans, seeing as it was just one of three arms of a larger organization, one of which managed Showbiz & A.G. and Organized Konfusion. It’s unclear why the label folded so quickly, but the why isn’t all that important when it comes to Ground Floor. Bandoola Records was able to put out this 12” and a Ground Floor demo single cassette in 1995, and that’s it. A planned Ground Floor EP and Lord Finesse album and EP on the label never materialized. In spite of the D.I.T.C. connection through Lord Finesse and their exposure on Rap City, Ground Floor went down with their label.

For a group that only managed one single, Ground Floor couldn’t have done much better than “Dig on That”/”One, Two,” two quintessential examples of mid-nineties east coast rap. “Dig on That” was produced by and features a verse from Lord Finesse. Finesse was in the middle of a four year break between solo albums, but for him a break meant producing and appearing on loads of songs by fellow members of the Diggin’ in the Crates Crew as well as anyone else who could pony up the cash. He gave Ground Floor a murky bass-heavy beat that sounds like a dry run for his work on Big L’s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous from the following year. Throughout the song, they compare wack rappers to the Jerky Boys and threaten to chop their bodies up so that they’ll fit in Hefty bags until Lord Finesse phones things in a bit for the closing verse. Needless to say, lines like “I keep it real like reality” aren’t among his career best.

Yet if “One, Two” is any indication, the group didn’t really need Lord Finesse. The group produced this song themselves and it is a prime example of just how renewable the basic New York boom bap formula was at this time. When deployed well, great drums, a simple three note piano sample, and looped trumpets could be more effective than anything that a more ambitious producer could make. The biggest shame of Ground Floor’s career is that their production is limited to just three songs.[3] Even if the group splintered right after this song came out, it’s a shame that they weren’t able to make beats for others. And they’re no slouches on the lyrical tip either. The first guy (I’m not sure who is who) in particular kills his verse and has a surprisingly versatile flow, and the other two are great as well. Most importantly, all three are distinct both vocally and personality-wise. I imagine that they would have done a good job of developing these identities on their EP if it had come to fruition.

Considering how many incredibly obscure hip-hop artists are getting 12” reissues of long out-of-print singles, EPs, albums, demos, and unreleased material over the last few years[4], it doesn’t seem impossible that Ground Floor will get the same treatment. Considering how little information is out there on the group and their label, it will take such a high level of research and persistence that I’m not counting on it. At least they left us with “One, Two,” even if the mystery of why Puff Daddy is in the video will probably never be answered.

"One, Two"

"Dig on That"
Coming Up on Spray Cans:
Rammellzee & K-Rob
Big Twan
Cashless Society
Black Attack
Royal Fam
Abstract Tribe Unique or the Nonce

[1] You can spot him in the elevator at about 1:50.
[2] Bone Thugs-n-Harmony was one of the few exceptions to this rule, but they had Eazy-E, a much bigger star than Lord Finesse, putting them on and Ruthless Records’ distribution and promotion infrastructure was undoubtedly much better than Bandoola’s.
[3] “One, Two” and the two songs from their 1995 demo cassette.
[4] K-Def and Grap Luva’s career revivals on Redef Records and Slice-of-Spice have been among the most exciting of these reissue campaigns.

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