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.
Kool & the Gang – ‘Winter Sadness’
taken from Spirit Of The Boogie (De-Lite, 1975)
(This post is dedicated to Travis as I know he’ll be feeling it. Can you hear me, yo?!)
I stumbled upon this track whilst embarrassing myself on The Breaks’ request forum and it’s been helping me keep things on a smooth tip on virtually every Sunday afternoon since. ‘Winter Sadness’ can be found on their 1975 release Spirit Of The Boogie, although you’ll have to be prepared to shell out if you want a physical copy on CD as this is long out of print and seems to be generally sought after.
Although this may not be classified as one of the group’s biggest releases it is very enjoyable, although I prefer Light Of Worlds and Wild & Peaceful. ‘Winter Sadness’ ends up being a bit of an anomaly on the album as the remainder of the songs are much funkier and harder hitting but I always tend to prefer the mellow, downtempo material from the legendary Jersey outfit anyway. Winner!
Treat yourself to this aural candy and indulge in that guilt-free chilling that you can only truly enjoy on a Sunday. Papers on the table, cup of tea in hand and a chicken in the oven: I’m killing it right now people.
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.
Filed under: Breaks
Power Of Zeus – ‘Sorcerer Of Isis’
taken from The Gospel According To Zeus (Rare Earth, 1970)
Having stuck simply to funk for fodder for this series so far, I thought I’d mix it up a little today and throw a rock joint at you for your percussive consumption. However, in terms of supplementary info on this particular break I’m afraid it’s going to be a little light on this occasion, as Power Of Zeus are a group who I know next to nothing about and wouldn’t ever profess to.
As far as I can tell ‘Sorcerer Of Isis’ is taken from their only studio album The Gospel According To Zeus which saw a release on Motown offshoot label Rare Earth. I’m yet to hear the LP in its entirety but ‘Sorcerer Of Isis’ is pretty cool for what it is, although bear in mind that this is coming from somebody who knows next to nothing about psychedelic ’70s rock. It’s also easy to see why it’s been adopted by beatmakers, as the beautifully clean hats, kicks and snares during the opening passage of the song are divinely ripe for the chop.
This only covers a fraction of it. Keep those ears trained for the snare hits in some of your favourite beats and ignore the fact that snare-spotting is pretty much as geeky as it gets: embrace it. I know I have.
Filed under: Breaks
Dexter Wansel – ‘Theme From The Planets’
taken from Life On Mars (Philadelphia International, 1976)
Given that I’m lacking a bit of time today and am in some serious discomfort (knee cartilage is officially the bane of my life), it seems the perfect opportunity to continue my new series that focuses on everybody’s favourite part of good hippity-hoppity music, the drums. Today’s percussive treat comes in the shape of Dexter Wansel’s ‘Theme From The Planets’, a great slice of space-inspired downbeat funk that offers a hell of a lot more than just three bars of particularly crispy hats, kicks and snares.
So here’s my brief, entirely ripped-off summary of Wansel just to set you on your way into further exploration. A keyboardist raised in Philly, Wansel made his name alongside Gamble & Huff at Philadelphia International Records during the ’70s, eventually collaborating with artists such as MFSB, Grover Washington Jr. and Lou Rawls amongst many others. ‘Theme From The Planets’ comes from his most successfully commercial album Life On Mars which will now set you back a few bob if you hanker after original vinyl as a result of the presence of the track offered to you here: diggers love it. There’s little point in me regurgitating much more info, so follow the links and fill in the gaps yourselves.
As a brief aside, although whipping out the Spock costume does inevitably increase the inherent joy of the listening experience, it’s far from a necessity. However, if you do choose to take the plunge then be wary: those fake pixie ears can be a bitch to remove.
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.