Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life
Quick heads up on a tune that I must have listened to at least 30 times today (still on school holidays), the original demo version of Nas’ ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’. I got this care of Stretch Armstrong over at Konstant Kontakt: if you haven’t visited yet you should get your arse over there because Stretch has got loads of audio from shows back in the day that epitomise the quality of hip hop in the early ’90s. I downloaded all three of these original demos, but the clear favourite for me is ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ with completely different lyrics and a slammin’ beat which still utilises ‘Human Nature’ as its key sample source. Cop it here and get a load of it.
I’ve put quite a lot of work into the blog this week, so today I’m just going to throw up Sconeboy’s latest mix rather than a full post. Fortunately for you this is no bad thing: this is straight bangin’. Here’s the tracklist:
1. Justice System – Dedication To Bambaataa (Diamond D remix)
2. Yall So Stupid – Van Full of Pakistans
3. Red Hot Lover Tone – Give It Up (Diamond D remix)
4. Bush Babees – We Run Things (It’s Like Dat)
5. The Roots – Push Up Ya Lighter
6. Large Professor – ijuswannachill
7. De La Soul – Dinininit
8. Buckshot Lafonque – Breakfast At Denny’s (Rap Version)
9. Crooklyn Dodgers – Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers (’95 version)
10. Busta Rhymes – So Hardcore
11. Heather B – If Heads Only Knew
12. J Treds – Make It Happen
13. Lords of the Underground – What I’m After (Remix w/ Keith Murray)
14. Pete Rock – 914 (ft. Sheek Louche and Styles P)
15. Gangstarr – The Piece Maker
16. Rakim – When I Be On The Mic
17. M Boogie – Patience (ft. Born Allah)
18. Erick Sermon – Stay Real
19. Rampage – Beware Of The Rampsack
20. Mobb Deep – Survival Of The Fittest (remix & original)
21. Street Smartz – Metal Thangz (ft. O.C. and Pharoahe Monch)
Quality selections and tight mixing: this is excellent. Stay tuned this week, we may see another Sconeboy selections post before too long…
My computer knowledge has increased tenfold since starting this blog. I’m no wiz yet, but I can handle a little HTML now, and more importantly, yesterday I worked out how to rip 12”s to my computer. This can only be a good thing, and now allows me to get some of my rarer singles uploaded in addition to the CD albums… damn I’m good! I’m probably not going to make a regular habit of it as it did take me a while, but in response to a ‘conversation’ I had with Alley Al over at Biff Hop recently, I’m throwing up a couple of 12”s that may tickle your fancy.
Ninety9 – Willow 12”
I remember copping this when it came out in 2000 after it received some pretty heavy rotation on MTV. I know very little about Ninety9, but judging by Alley’s comments, she was a feature on the New York hip hop/spoken word scene around the mid to late ’90s and this ultimately resulted in the release of this pleasing, summery single. The lead track is ‘Willow’, a beautiful string and piano laced beat with sung chorus hook that feels great when the sun is shining and has the effect of making the world around you seem sweet. With lyrical references to an SP1200, you can also be assured that Ninety9 is representing the real hip hop. The b-sides aren’t too shabby either, my favourite being ‘Last Minute’ which has a seriously chilled, late night vibe. All in all, this is a pretty decent 12” from an artist who I would have liked to see a lot more of but who has sadly disappeared from the scene.
DJ JS-1 – Beyond ft. O.C. b/w Arrogant ft. Substantial, Tonedeff, PackFM & Rise
I remember seeing Rahzel in my first year of university and being absolutely blown away by him and his DJ sidekick JS-1, so when this 12” dropped in 2002 I grabbed it without hesitation. ‘Beyond’ is an almost Premieresque (the man deserves his own adjective) beat with melodic piano loop and crispy drums that will get your head nodding, and O.C. comes correct on the vocal side of things. The two elements combined make for a quality, upbeat track that seems to have barely registered on the hip hop map. I’m not a great fan of the b-side, although there is no doubting that JS-1 can work his way around the boards. Ultimately, whenever I used to buy 12” singles, one side would always predominate and leave the other in the shade and in this case, ‘Arrogant’ takes the fall.
The 12” also includes a DJ track featuring DJ ODY-ROC, who I have never heard of before, but the pair perform some seriously tight scratching over a relatively aggressive beat that makes several transitions over its five and a half minute duration. Overall, a quality 12” that demands you hit the link.
Although DJ P.F. Cuttin and MC Outloud initially formed their alliance as far back as 1985, it was not until ’96 that they realised the full potential of their union, releasing one of the finest albums in the latter stages of hip hop’s second golden era: ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’. It is rare that I unequivocably recommend an album on From Da Bricks, but if you have a penchant for big bangin’ beats and dope rhymes then you would be hard pushed to find anything better within the genre that is not already widely known. This is pure hip hop in its undiluted state: a DJ/MC team that paid their dues, threw together some choice snares and samples and recorded a straight up banger at D&D Studios, one of the homes of the genre. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that this means the group are simply the purist’s choice: this is high quality material that will appeal to anybody who holds an interest in the genre. Can you tell that I’m a fan of the album yet?
If you are new to the group then your most likely point of reference will be their breakthrough single ‘Danger’, the Jeru sampling banger that recently cropped up on Jazzy Jeff’s ‘Hip Hop Forever II’ mix. This cut epitomises hip hop of the era and is a worthy representative of the album as a whole, which consistently delivers with crisp snares, big bass kicks and well chosen samples. There really isn’t a bad cut on ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ and it is definitely an album that is best enjoyed in its entirety. If I had to offer a criticism, it would simply be to state that the crew are better off on the slightly more upbeat cuts; the slower songs lack the immediacy of the more uptempo numbers.
Outloud’s mic skills work well with the production, although the lyrical content is nothing revolutionary. Still, his delivery carries the subject material well: it is a confident and engaging flow that complements the beats rather than detracting from them. To be perfectly honest, given my tendency to focus on the production as opposed to the rhymes, Outloud’s flow almost constitutes another instrument for me in these songs, merging into the overall sonic effect. Bottom line, it’s dope.
Whilst having a look for some video material to add to this post, I stumbled across a recent interview with P.F. Cuttin that highlighted the strife that hip hop is currently facing. Speaking in the back room of a club where he’s put on a set, he explains his selections in relation to the industry today.
Although I can understand that the man deserves to get paid, it may well be this defeatest attitude which is now holding the culture back. I mean, if you are going to state that ’85% of the records I play in the clubs, I hate them shits’, you can’t exactly hope to re-engage the audience that he is explaining are no longer present in the club scene. Perhaps hip hop may be dead after all. Anyway, if you’re interested, there are another two sections to this interview that you can catch on YouTube.
Don’t let P.F.’s negativity get you down. If hip hop is struggling today, there are still plenty of fine examples from the past to savour and enjoy: ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ is most definitely one of them. Cop it, forget about the crisis of the culture and remember what quality mid ’90s hip hop was all about.
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life
In response to a request this week I’m hitting you with a little more UK flava. Bad Magic, an affiliate of the Wall Of Sound record label, had a spate of releases around the turn of the millenium and then faded without trace. This is a pity because they successfully brought one of the UK’s stronger production teams into the limelight: The Creators. Like Richy Pitch (check the archives), The Creators not only produce some bangin’ beats, but also are not afraid to invite US MCs to provide the vocals for some of their cuts. ‘The Precedent’ was a promotional CD given away with HHC that brought together some of the label’s releases (the majority of which feature The Creators’ production skills) and allowed Scottish DJ Plus One to assemble them into a mix.
There are some nice moments on this mix, although it is not sensational. Highlights include ‘The Hard Margin’ featuring Mos Def and Talib Kweli which is a moody and intelligent piece of rap music, both lyrically and production-wise. There is also a remix of Masta Ace’s ‘So Now U A MC?’ which is good but acts more as a point of interest for fans of one of the genre’s most long-standing and well respected MCs than as a banger in itself. Generally there are some nice beats and some decent verses, more than enough to keep you entertained for its rather short half-hour duration. If you’re interested in the tracklist then check it at Discogs.
Perhaps more impressive are Plus One’s turntable skills, putting together a cohesive mix with some tight scratching that also features his well-known ‘I’m Still No. 1′ routine. This is a highly accomplished piece of turntablism that although extremely technical is still musically rewarding. Plus One used this in both DMC and ITF competitions, and in fact it was a part of his winning set in 2001′s DMC competition. If you can sit through the first four minutes of the first video below (DJs are not necessarily the most eloquent people on the planet) then he will talk you through the construction of the routine. It is also well worth watching him actually perform it live rather than just hearing it (see the second clip).
Although the majority of you will know these tunes inside out, there is always something highly satisfying about a mix that brings together some quality beats with skill and finesse. These are the sort of albums that I throw on when friends are around as they appeal to even casual hip hop listeners due to the high standard of cuts throughout. However, there is also something here for your more serious head as the mix puts a unique spin on otherwise familiar tunes. This Nervous Hip Hop compilation fits nicely into this bracket, with Kenny Dope selecting some classic Boot Camp joints and a few other bits and pieces to keep that head nodding.
I love the way that this mix has some extended instrumental sections that blend seemlessly with other cuts that have vocals over the top. Big beats and funky horn loops are the key link between the selections here and the mix as a whole is dope. In all truth I don’t have a great deal to say about this album, although perhaps ‘Six Million Ways To Die’ deserves a special mention. I love Nine’s gritty delivery and there are very few non-LP appearances by the man so this is a bonus in a quality mix. There is some nice back spinning at the beginning of the tune that extends the intro and when the vocals kick in it is as good as any track off ‘Nine Livez’ or ‘Cloud 9′. Skip to the bottom of this post for the link and enjoy.
Thought I’d chuck in a couple of other bits today due to the slightly short post. Saw this in a magazine aimed at those involved in the production game today and couldn’t resist sharing it with you. As I imagine is the case for many a diehard fan, the dream of delving into beatmaking at times seems all to appealing. This new mobile MPC would be top of my gadget hitlist if I had bottomless pockets and hours of time to kill pressing little rubber pads and pretending that I had moved up in status from avid listener to bangin’ producer. Fortunately I have enough awareness of myself to know that I have neither the record collection nor the musical ability to warrant owning one. Still, you can’t stop a man from dreaming and this battery powered unit has me sat on a late night train putting together beats that sound like Pete Rock c. ’94. Check out the Chocolate Boy Wonder doing his thing, close your eyes and imagine people…
Neither of these cats need too much of an introduction. J Rocc of Beat Junkies fame spins some of Dilla’s greatest instrumentals: if you don’t have this then it should be clear that you need it. Shouts again to Sconeboy for this one: live it large in Toronto mate!
Due to Dilla’s tragic passing last year, there has of course been a massive amount written about him all over the internet. For this reason I am not going to go into any detail at all about the man himself. Instead, I want to focus on his music and the effect that it has had on me as a fan of the genre. I have to admit that I would not list Dilla as one of my favourite producers of all time, and in fact at stages I have felt lukewarm about his production. This is offset with a handful of songs that I deem to be amongst the greatest that hip hop has ever known.
My first official introduction to Dilla came with ‘Fantastic Vol. 2′ which I had heard so much hype about that I thought it was going to change my world. It didn’t. Apart from a few of the cuts I really didn’t connect with the album, and found the production lacking in substance and the rhymes irritating. I never really understood why this album got the credit that it did. I put this down to a simple case of personal preference as I can understand the musicianship behind the album and the way that it offered something different to a more mainstream hip hop audience, but I just wouldn’t listen to it very often and certainly not for its whole duration. I was also disappointed in the BBE release ‘Welcome To Detroit’ which again lacked punch for me and is another Dilla work that I could pass up quite easily.
However, his contributions to both the second Pharcyde release as well as Common’s ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ were sensational. I would have to class ‘Runnin” as one of my favourite hip hop cuts of all time and love ‘Labcabincalifornia’ despite an awareness that others do not feel as strongly. I copped ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ during the Rawkus golden era when artists like Mos Def and Kweli were at the forefront of the scene and loved it from the word go. Dilla’s contribution here was soulful, jazzy and undeniably cool. His work on the boards matched Common’s dope yet thoughtful style and made for a truly great record.
Of course in more recent times both ‘The Shining’ and ‘Donuts’ have demonstrated what an original thinker and valuable contributor Dilla was to the hip hop scene. I remember holidaying in the south of France when I got ‘Donuts’ and I could not put it down. I love the fact that Dilla used to tap out the beats for the whole tune without relying on the MPC to correct his mistakes, and this live and slightly abstract feel translates into a bangin’ release. Some of the cuts on ‘The Shining’ are also excellent and the album as a whole is testament to the talent that has been sadly lost. Of course, there are loads of quality Dilla releases dotted all over the place both under his own name and in collaboration with other artists, but you know that don’t you?
Back to the mix. J Rocc doesn’t mess about here, creating a smooth blend where each beat gradually develops into the next with nothing in the way of turntable trickery to spoil the mood. This is a late night head nodder that brings together a whole host of instrumental joints with style and grace. Kick back, relax and pay your respects to a man that may not have revolutionised the state of hip hop in the future, but who was certainly in the process of resuscitating an artform that is struggling to stay alive.
OK people, the festive season is officially upon us and I’m afraid that this will be my last post until the 31st. My parents still live in London so I’m making the journey home and I’m also staying with my girlfirend for a bit in Reading. Have been really enjoying the blog since I started up at the beginning of the month so I’m slightly concerned about withdrawal symptoms (although should be beneficial to leave the computer alone for a short period).
Decided to throw up a couple of mixes today to see you through the Christmas period. DJ Abilities is based in Minnesota and holds an affiliation with the Atmosphere crew, although tends now to spend most of his time working with Eyedea (hence Eyedea & Abilities). I haven’t really checked any of his production work, but if it’s anywhere near as good as his technique behind the ones and twos then it must be worth checking out. Winner of the DMC regionals in ’99 and ’01, Abilities is particularly strong at older scratching styles and his transforms are some of the best I have ever heard. ‘For Persons With DJ Abilities’ is an excellent blend of boom bap hip hop and some newer stuff with some nice touches throughout that make this exactly what a good mix should be: complex enough to demonstrate real talent but without overcomplicating the issue and making it sound fussy. Check the use of Black Sheep’s ‘Without a Doubt’ beat twinned with De La’s ‘Itzoweezee’ lyrics over the top: pure class.
I know very little about DJ Fuse One other than that he is based in the Bay Area. His ‘Metamorphosis’ mix is a highly entertaining 60 minute journey through old and new skool hip hop with lots of original break samples used to boot. There is a DJ Shadow section on the album which is jaw-droppingly put together, utilising original source samples and various Shadow releases in an original and exciting way. Fuse One has a purist’s approach to the artform claiming in the liner notes that all of the track selections were from original pressings and therefore ‘no bootlegs, compilations, re-issues, CDs or anything else you people use to substitute the real’ were used. I’m not sure if I agree with this aggressive stance towards beat collecting (if you have the original pressing does it mean that you love the music more?) but you have to admire the commitment it must have taken to have put this album together.
Hope you all enjoy the festive period. There is nothing like getting together with the family, consuming large quantities of food and drink and treating yourself to a Christmas day nap in front of the telly: pure, heart-warming indulgence. Tune back in on the 31st for more of the good stuff. Later.
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life
Around ’98/’99 I was getting into turntablism in a big way and at that time the Scratch Perverts were the kings of the UK scene. They were technically stronger than anyone else as well as keeping it funky, and eventually went on to innovate the artform with feedback techniques that had never been seen before.
Simultaneous to this, Rawkus stepped into the limelight with a plethora of releases that brought quality underground hip hop back to the masses. I remember snapping up almost anything that had the Rawkus name stamped on the cover: it was an almost definite indicator of a slammin’ release. Never before had I had such confidence in a contemporary label and I can only imagine what it was like for rap music fans during the golden age when Def Jam and Tommy Boy were at the height of their powers. Of course, things turned sour for the label around 2000, but it seems like they might be making a resurgence; let’s hope so.
Given away with HHC, ‘The Cleaner’ features a selection of the Rawkus classics from this era and lets the Perverts work their magic on them. Featuring cuts from Ripshop, Mr Complex and Common as well as others, this is a seemless mix that demonstrates the skill of the Perverts whilst still allowing the selections to shine. Perhaps the most technically striking moment in ‘The Cleaner’ is the outro to Shabam Sahdeeq’s ‘Every Rhyme I Write’: pure turntablism genius. I’m not sure what the exact Perverts line-up was at this stage as they have been through several incarnations, but I suspect that this was after the departure of Mr Thing and First Rate but before the re-induction of Scotland’s Plus One.
I’m also posting a couple of mixes taken from a John Peel radio session coutesy of Sconeboy. First up is Prime Cuts followed by Mr Thing (my favourite UK DJ of all time). I would estimate that these were recorded c. ’98 as the Prime Cuts section features his ‘Jack Of Spades’ juggle which he was busting out at both the DMCs and ITFs around that time. Both mixes are of an exceptional standard featuring classic hip hop joints as well as the odd well known break.
Hate to sound jaded already, but if you download either of these mixes then please drop a comment. I know that people are downloading on a daily basis and yet only a small selection of people are talking! It’s pathetic I know, but it does make a difference to my day…
Back in ’95 the name Mo Wax was synonymous with quality. Early releases promised much and made the label a collector’s dream: limited presses, fantastic artwork and most importantly, bangin’ music. James Lavelle’s outfit could possibly be cited as the originators of the ‘trip hop’ tag (a term that I despise) as the releases around this time were basically downbeat or more abstract hip hop instrumentals. DJ Krush fitted perfectly into this niche, producing brooding sonic landscapes routed in hip hop but with a futuristic and forward-thinking edge. For my money, ‘Meiso’ is his seminal work.
The album features both instrumental joints as well as some impressive mic collaborations. Black Thought and Malik B’s verses on the title track are exceptional and CL Smooth comes correct on the album opener ‘Only The Strong Survive’. I’m not as keen on the Big Shug and Guru track; the beat lacks the moody atmosphere that complements the MCs so well on the aforementioned cuts, and the overall vibe leaves me feeling a little cold. Still, the names speak for themselves: these are well written and expertly delivered rhymes that work well over Krush’s accomplished production skills.
Worthy of a special mention is ‘Duality’. This tune passed me by for a long time as the opening two minutes is some of Krush’s less inspiring work. It simply doesn’t carry the weight of some of the other tracks and lacks punch. However, everything changes after three minutes. Snares break out in an eruption of percussive noise before dropping into the DJ Shadow produced section of the song which is nothing short of sensational. Scratched horns float over rippling drums and the momentum is relentless. This is Shadow at his best: I could listen to this all day and my head would still be nodding as it hit the pillow.
Later Krush works become increasingly minimal and stray away from the drum heavy tracks that constitute the finest beats on this album. In doing so, he loses the sense of rawness that is so compelling on this release. Still, this is a powerful and at times gripping album that demonstrates that it definitely ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.