It’s kind of incredible to think about just how much the “single” has changed as a format over the years. When singles first gained popularity, their construct was simple: a hit song was collected from a long-playing record, then paired with a song of complementary length and then pressed one-per-side onto a seven-inch record. Simple, right? As both taste and technology changed though, so did the design and construct of singles. The adoption of cassettes into the equation compelled record labels to add a little more music to the mix, but the floodgates really opened when CDs came along. With only one side on which to work but with a whole lot more available space, singles began more closely resembling EPs for length (they were often referred to as “maxi-singles”) as they included other album cuts, remixes, B-sides and innumerable other treasures. It was a pretty wild time in the development of the format but, when it ultimately began turning back to vinyl (perhaps in part for novelty, maybe for nostalgia or – hey – maybe because vinyl just sounds better) the issue became making the format work with the amount of content that buyers had come to expect when they were purchasing a “single.”
The vinyl reissue of Mobb Deep emcee Prodigy‘s “Keep It Thoro” single is a good example of what comes when a record label attempts to make form comply with taste and style. The 12-inch single features eight cuts (five on the A-side, three on the B-) pressed into a picture disc which features the image of the late emcee, and really feels unique – even if some critics may complain that the amount of music (clean versions, dirty versions, edits, remixes and instrumental versions) definitely qualifies as an act of overkill.
Putting on this single for a front-to-back play session starts out solidly enough. The censored version of “Keep It Thoro” opens the A-side and while some listeners (and/or critics) will meet the sound effects which have been overlaid on top of the questionable language tepidly, the minor-key piano sample and vintage style beat have hooks in them which are big enough to pull them along anyway. There’s just something about that intro which the diffuse nature of the edit cannot soften and, with the stock boasts of money and power, those listening will just dive in and relish the horn sample which colors the turn. This song plays as well in 2017 as it did in 2000: the horns are groovy and the grooves are horny, and Prodigy’s timeless, breathless boasting is the sort that makes a star of an emcee, effortlessly. It’s timeless – classic.
Of course, after the edited version, the single dutifully fills listeners in on what they missed with the originally unedited album cut which (in this critic’s opinion) is the way this song SHOULD be heard, and then proceeds to go overboard with far too much more in the canon. That isn’t to say it isn’t cool to hear the drive-time radio-ready instrumental versions of the song play through, and the a capella versions are interesting to hear the first time a stylus touches them – it just feels like a touch much after the cherry gets popped on the vinyl. The original cut will certainly be the sort that fans are anxious to hear, but the rest are just filler after the fact.
A similar sentiment to the above could be made of the B-side of this single. True, the dirty and clean versions of the “Keep It Thoro” remix which populate the single’s B-side do sound truly fantastic, but the question becomes how often one needs to hear the same song in rapid succession.
So, in the end, how could one view this single? Well, from a ‘play’ standpoint, there’s no doubt it will be divisive. The single itself is great and many fans may be excited to hear all the variants (they may get used for samples on future recordings) and some newbies may be excited to experience it for that reason too – but there will certainly be the complainers who claim that too much is just too much. How you take it, dear reader, depends on which side of the line you fall; it’s entirely possible that you’ll love this single, but possible too that you may not. Decide your position and choose well.
(Certified Classics/Legacy Recordings/Sony Music)
The special release 12-inch picture disc version of Prodigy’s “Keep It Thoro” was issued for Record Store Day 2018 (recordstoreday.com/SpecialRelease/10133).