Notorious B.I.G. – ‘Machine Gun Funk’
taken from Ready To Die (Bad Boy, 1994)
Black Heat – ‘Something Extra’
taken from Keep On Runnin’ (Atlantic, 1975)
Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns – ‘Up For The Down Stroke’
taken from A Blow For Me A Toot For You (Atlantic, 1978)
Lords Of The Underground – ‘Chief Rocka’
taken from Here Come The Lords (Pendulum, 1993)
I’ve tried to always keep things honest and upfront when it comes to my knowledge of breaks and sample sources here at FDB because it’s far too easy to front like you know everything when you run a music blog. Sure I’ve got a handle on some of the major sources of inspiration for the hip hop canon but it’s a constant learning process for me that often begins with an idea for a beat deconstruction. I’ve been spinning Ready To Die ad infinitum around my way at the moment and decided a few days back that I wanted to take on one of my favourite beats from the album ‘Machine Gun Funk’, so I set about my research, downloaded acquired what I needed and sat down to absorb what pieces Easy Mo Bee had thrown together in its construction.
Long story short (I’m omitting the numerous rewinds, note-taking and what’s-he-done-there?! moments that pleasantly consumed an hour of my life) Easy Mo’s production work here is nothing short of spectacular. Although I’d always realised there was a little chopping at play in the main guitar sample that forms the melodic core of the beat I really wasn’t prepared for the obvious ingenuity displayed behind the boards upon hearing Black Heat’s ‘Something Extra’, taken from their third and final studio album which I honestly haven’t had a chance to fully absorb. However, it’s a welcome discovery on the strength of this track alone, a sweeping ballad that houses that hugely important guitar lick that occupies a mere three quarters of a bar at the 0.34 mark. What Easy Mo Bee does with it I really can’t be sure, although I’d assume there was some pretty rigorous chopping in order to achieve the desired effect.
For that extra layer of flyness during the chorus Easy Mo dug out his copy of Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns’ cover of Parliament’s ‘Up For The Down Stroke’, a sizzling nine minute funk workout that gets my rear end jiggling in a hugely inapporpriate (and deeply disturbing) manner for a nice young man from North London. It took some time to work out exactly what section of this song had been incorporated into ‘Machine Gun Funk’, but pay particular attention at 2.49 when the male voices help bolster the ladies on the “I don’t care about the cold, baby/’Cause when you’re hot you’re too much” refrain which gets dropped during the chorus of the Biggie cut. The chorus’s horns are tucked away in this sample as well but as with the Black Heat chop, I can’t really get my head around exactly what Easy Mo’s done here but since it’s generally nodding violently at this stage I guess it doesn’t really matter that much.
The final addition during the chorus is of course taken from the Jersey classic ‘Chief Rocka’ and some of My Funky’s parting rhymes in the final verse. I can only congratulate him on living and dying for the funk, but regardless it makes for a great little hook during the song’s most sonically climatic moments. All in ‘Machine Gun Funk’ represents an incredibly detailed yet beautifully simplistic piece of production work that has taken my appreciation for Easy Mo Bee’s abilities up to the next level. I bet even Premier wishes he’d thrown this one together.
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions
I’m fully aware that the beat deconstructions have been a little thin on the ground as of late, so if you’re missing some of that geekery tomfoolery then hit up Passion Of The Weiss where I pick apart Stretch Armstrong’s mix of Big Noyd’s ‘Usual Suspect’ with the quickness.
Writing it made me realise how much I miss doing these kind of posts more regularly. Expect more in the near future digital diggers.
Junior M.A.F.I.A. – ‘Player’s Anthem’
taken from Conspiracy (Big Beat, 1995)
New Birth – ‘You Are What I’m All About’
taken from Birth Day (RCA, 1972)
Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew – ‘La Di Da Di’ ft. MC Ricky D
taken from The Show VLS (Reality, 1985)
1995. Ah, those heady days: The Infamous, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous… Conspiracy? Not so much. However, I’ll happily admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Biggie’s chums-from-around-the-way’s debut album given that it was one of a small selection of relatively random cassette tapes that I treasured during the infantile stages of my love affair with hip hop music. The unwavering power of nostalgia strikes again.
Upon more mature reflection Conspiracy is by no means a bad album, with several great tracks nestled in amongst a host of unimaginative skits and overt attempts at crossover appeal, but there’s little doubt for me that ‘Player’s Anthem’ holds its head above the rest of LP’s offerings by a country mile. I mean, if after thirteen years I still can’t resist grabbing my delicates and imagining softly fondled mammary glands during the listening experience then something must be right here, mustn’t it? Don’t misconstrue me though. It’s a great song and I’m not that shallow. Much.
All joking aside, the beat here is beautifully executed and a testament to Clark Kent’s ear for a great sample. With Kent now assuming a dominant media persona as shoe connoisseur and fashion tastemaker, it’s often easy to forget that during his time he’s produced some truly great records and although he may not be the most imaginative of producers in terms of flips and chops the man can put together a great beat. ‘Player’s Anthem’ is a case in point, with a simple loop and drums formula combining to create an end product that is infectiously bangin’ and beautifully simple. The loops in question are lifted from New Birth’s ‘You Are What I’m All About’ from their 1972 release Birth Day and can be found at the very opening of the song. My suspicion is that the percussion and vocal sighs that run throughout the Junior M.A.F.I.A. track come from the opening two bars, whilst the warm bass line that complements them is the result of a low pass filter over the first four bars of bass groove thus eliminating the superfluous vocal ‘moans’ that would otherwise complicate the track’s stripped down aesthetic. Yes, I really am that geeky. Throw in the subtle layer of melody provided by a few other samples to the mix and you’re onto a winner.
Although I usually avoid commenting on the scratched samples found in chorus hooks (you’ve got to call an end to completism at some point when you’re blogging purely for the love), I can’t resist the temptation to throw up ‘La Di Da Di’ for the hell of it. Without traversing ridiculously tired ground, there’s such a charm to the simplicity of this song that I will never grow tired of… indulge yourself people. Can you believe this thing is 23 years old?!
Ultimately, I guess that ‘Player’s Anthem’ ends up being a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d play to someone who I was trying to convert to the genre due to its played out gangster posturing and misogyny, although Biggie’s verse still sounds great, but it endures for me as a highly enjoyable cut from the era that still sounds fresh (sorry Robbie). Ill, grown folk music it ain’t. And it’s all the better for it.
Having been heavily back into the first Beatnut’s full-length over the last fortnight or so, I realised that I’ve actually rarely touched upon their work here at FDB. This strikes me as somewhat bizarre because despite only coming around to their material after devouring the more obvious production big-hitters, they still hold a special place in my heart as one of my favourite crews to ever do it behind the boards. OK, so they’ve ended up falling off post-2000 (who hasn’t?), but I still generally find their more recent music to be more enjoyable and imaginative than other outfits who have managed to maintain that same balance between underground respectability and mainstream success (see Dilated Peoples), and that’s saying something given that the inaugural Intoxicated Demons EP dropped in 1993. It’s probably no surprise to you that Street Level has endured as my favorite album from their back catalogue, and so it is that ‘Straight Jacket’ finds itself under the figurative digital microscope today.
What I’ve learned to appreciate about the Nuts since getting into the sample side of things is that those boys dug deep in the quest for funky musical fodder (perhaps that should be ‘dig’: there’s supposedly an album coming next year). Although looking over some of their sample credits reveals a lot of familiar names and breaks, there are also a few bits and pieces nestled in there that demonstrate an individual, artistic approach to the art of digging that is made even more impressive by a handful of songs that will be immortalised as their own unique find (here’s a decent example). Of course this is a quality shared by pretty much all of the production greats, but there’s something enjoyably kooky about some of the Beatnuts’ samples choices that I find endearing as it seems to communicate a passion for unearthing something truly original before transforming it into a very different beast (see corresponding example).
Although in terms of aesthetic The Sons’ ‘Boomp Boomp Chop’ may not seem that obscure a choice – it does after all conform to the standard smooth jazz formula that so many producers turned to during the era – the record itself has proven incredibly difficult to research. It’s not helped by the fact that the album is self-titled and that the name of the group is particularly generic, but I can’t help but feel that this is also an indication of this record’s scarcity and therefore highlights the Beatnut’s originality in its discovery. And the reason for the difficulty turns out to be down to a swift name change by psychedelic west-coast rock outfit Sons of Champlin for their second LP (shouts to reader eons for the info). The sample is easy to spot as it serves as the opening four bars of the main groove in the source material, a beautifully atmospheric mix of electric piano and guitar licks, and despite being pitched-down a little this is just a straight loop. I feel like I’ve said it hundred times before by now, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Any information on The Sons or the record from which this is lifted would be much appreciated.
For drums the selection is similarly astute. Although Harry Nilsson isn’t exactly a small player in the history of music, he doesn’t come to mind immediately when you think of hard-hitting snares, and yet it is from his song ‘Rainmaker’ that the Beatnuts source the percussion that propels ‘Straight Jacket’ forwards with such ferocity. As with The Sons’ groove this also appears to be looped, although extra snares add the necessary detailing and the step up in pace makes this a break to be reckoned with: in some ways I’m surprised that it hasn’t been used a little more widely. The album from which it is taken entitled Harry comes from the earlier stages of his career, released on RCA in 1969, and although I’d like to make some comment about how this work fits into the Nilsson catalogue in all honesty I haven’t got a clue. Yet another musical avenue to explore at some stage…
The ODB vocal sample as hook works wonderfully well, but there are so many other small nuances to comment on here that certify this is a masterfully executed chunk of mid-’90s hip hop music. The running water that disappears after the first eight bars makes the drop into drums all the more glorious, and the use of an unidentifiable high-pitched chirp that intermittently appears throughout the song adds another layer of interest which despite being relatively subtle adds real character to the beat. Then you got the switch in the main groove into the bass heavy riff and some tastefully placed sax to take into account and what you’re left with a beat that is at once perfectly simple whilst masking an underlying complexity.
I’m on a serious Beatnuts tip at the moment so I wouldn’t be surprised if they crop up again in the near future. They have got the funk, after all.
One Be Lo – ‘Decepticons’ (Pete Rock Remix) & ‘Decepticons’ (Pete Rock Remix Instrumental)
taken from Decepticons VLS (Fat Beats, 2005)
Isaac Hayes – ‘One Big Unhappy Family’
taken from The Isaac Hayes Movement (Stax, 1970)
Lafayette Afro Rock Band – ‘Darkest Light’
taken from Malik (Makossa, 1976)
Although the vast majority of my sample ‘knowledge’ comes from you know where, I’m glad that my explorations into the soul and funk that laid the foundations for hip hop music have gone far enough at this point to mean that from time to time I stumble across something all by myself. Granted, Isaac Hayes isn’t exactly the most obscure of sources, but I was pleased to discover ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ on my current (rather obsessive) journey through the entire Isaac Hayes’ back catalogue as it forms the backbone of one of my favourite Pete Rock remixes of the last decade ever. Given that a discussion of the ‘Decepticons’ remix also ties into certain ‘issues’ I’m having with the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s production style of the moment, it seems apt to jump on the happy coincidence of the Hayes’ sample discovery and serve up a little beat deconstruction, FDB style. The renaissance is in motion people.
Let’s start with the sample. ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ can be found on Hayes’ third solo studio outing The Isaac Hayes Movement which goes down as essential material from the late master arranger and composer. Although I’ve still got a way to go until I make my way through all of Hayes’ work, it really is the late ’60s/early ’70s output in the lead up to Black Moses that captures me most emphatically. The trio of albums that precede this seminal double LP are nothing short of sensational, and if you’re yet to indulge in a posthumous Hayes craze then I’d strongly suggest that Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued act as jumping off points into the veritable ocean of material that he leaves in his wake. For me, this is probably the weakest of the aforementioned LPs although Hayes’ exceptional cover of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ is worth the price of admission alone. ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ is pretty glorious in its own right, an achingly sentimental number that has me crunching up my face and gyrating on my desk chair like I’m slow dancing with Beyonce in some soul-drenched Harlem basement (damn, that’s an image and a half), but it’s the bar and a half at the 0.24 mark that manages to break the trance and turn my facial scrunch into a broad – if rather brief – smile. Pete doesn’t do a huge amount with the break despite layering the snare hits and adding kicks and bass, chopping it into several neat sections that get flipped in various ways throughout the One Be Lo cut. It’s a great beat that feels beautifully spacious and demonstrates the restrained, soulful PR sound that I feel is sadly lacking at the moment… more of that later.
On top of the Hayes’ sample you get a nicely executed panned flip of Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s classic ‘Darkest Light’ horn intro to add a little interest during the chorus sections and they sit rather nicely here adding to the ‘gazing over the cityscape at sunset’ vibe that the track captures so well. However, there’s no denying that using it could be perceived as a little lazy and it’s a trend that’s developing in Pete’s current output that concerns me a little. Although ‘914′ was a standout for me from NY’s Finest, using ‘UFO’ and ‘It’s A New Day’ is hardly rocket science, and his recent ‘Nautilus’ sampling outing with The L.O.X. must have been something he put together in about five minutes. In his sleep. Now I don’t want to go too far with this as these are admittedly relatively isolated cases, but it all contributes to my feeling that Rock is struggling to find his fire of late. The Kurupt and Vast Aire collaborations earlier in the year clearly lacked something and when you take this travestyinto account it becomes pretty clear that it’s not a particularly good time to be a Soul Brother fanatic. Just gocheck out some of the chat at the PR forum if you need further proof. Disgruntled doesn’t even begin to cover it.
However, let’s not let my geeky panic at the state of Pete Rock detract from his work on the One Be Lo cut featured here. I’ve thrown up the instrumental as well because it’s the version that gets most plays from me, with the vocals sounding a little harsh in the mix on the vocal cut (poor mastering or crappy mp3? I’ll let you decide). Pump this one loud on the train and you’ll be bopping your head maniacally with little care for the welfare of others around you: this is what real Pete Rock is supposed to sound like.
Although the one-track blogs of old are now in the minority, I’d thought I’d tip my hat to the old school this evening and hit you with just one joint. The reasons for this are numerous. Partly, ‘Petestrumentals’ is still in print and easily accessible (pick it up here) and so I do have some qualms about posting the album in its entirety (although I am aware that this has not been a consistent feature of the albums that I have posted). More importantly, this is my favourite Pete Rock beat of all time, and as such, it deserves its own post.
For most die-hard music fans, there will be a large number of songs that have the capability to transport them to another time and place. It may not be your favourite track of all time, but for whatever reason it reeks of a certain moment in your life. ‘Ms Fat Booty’ transports me to a summer spent with mates whilst my parents were on holiday, whereas Rahzel’s ‘If Your Mother Only Knew’ will always take me back to my first year in university: the list goes on… What’s extraordinary about ‘Pete’s Jazz’ for me personally is that it reminds me of innumerable moments over the last five years: it has brought me so much pleasure, so often, that it is impossible to distinguish one single moment in time that it encapsulates beyond all others.
In all honesty, I probably listen to the intro section, first ‘verse’ and chorus more often than I do the song in its entirety before I find myself reaching for the rewind button. There is something incredibly captivating about this first 32 bars or so that gets me every time. The initial drop into drums and bass, the subtle sax loop, the breakdown and then onwards into a stripped down percussion section before all of the samples weave in and out of the beat collectively on their way to the chorus. When it drops, the song opens out into a spacious sonic landscape that raises the hairs on the back of my neck every single time.
There is a remarkable complexity to this tune and it would be nothing short of criminal to have someone spit over the top of it. Although I generally try to mime various instruments when I am listening to songs that I really love (much to the potential disdain of those around me), the bass kick on ‘Pete’s Jazz’ is beyond my amateur mime act. And yet at the same time, it by no means dominates the music, and instead slips in perfectly alongside the other layers involved in the composition. This ‘complex simplicity’ is indicative of the track as a whole: the subtlety with which it is constructed is staggering.
Bottom line, I’m never disappointed when I listen to ‘Pete’s Jazz’. In a discography that has such consistency and quality, favourites will always come down to personal preference, with each head able to argue the case for their particular choice. Whichever Pete Rock track is yours, I hope that it brings you as much joy as ‘Pete’s Jazz’ does for me: this song is one of the reasons that I love hip hop.