Filed under: Producers
A couple of months back I was enlisted to write a short bio of K-Def for Vapors Magazine (I’m avoiding the temptation to make some sort of lame Biz Markie reference here). Not one to turn down the opportunity to wax lyrical about one of my favourite producers of all time, I jumped on the task with the quickness. Shouts to JNOTA for sending it my way: much appreciated mate.
I actually found the piece more taxing than I thought it would be: it’s kinda hard to find the balance between overt geekiness and something that would appeal to a broader range of people when you’re bordering on obsessive with the subject matter. Still, the result is now up, ready and waiting for you to digest. Drop a comment and make me feel good why don’t ya?
If you’re yet to peep the unreleased Tragedy jam produced by K-Def himself then head on over to Robbie’s spot and check it out immediately. ‘Tidal Wave’ hasn’t sounded this good since 1993…
Filed under: Producers
Q-Tip – ‘Gettin’ Up’
taken from The Renaissance (Universal/Motown, TBC)
OK, so I know I’m never really on top of the ‘news’, but I guess that’s because for the most part I’m rarely excited by it. So what’s-his-face is dropping a new mixtape? The hottest thing this year?! Gimme a break.
However, the recently leaked single from Q-Tip has me seriously amped for his upcoming release entitled The Renaissance. The beat’s killer and Tip can unsurprisingly still out-rhyme pretty much any rapper on the current scene: bring on November 4th. If it all sounds like this (please, please, please say it does) then we’re talking album of the year status. Although I guess in 2008 that ain’t saying a great deal…
Don’t hold your breath though. If the album drops before 2009 has already started then I’ll happily chow down on my virtual headwear.
Filed under: Producers
Damu The Fudgemunk – ‘Yes We Can (Election Mix)’ (Redefintion Records, 2008)
First off let me congratulate you America: I’m ecstatic and still recovering from the huge sigh of relief that I emitted yesterday morning. Let’s hope this really does bring about change in the future for all of us.
To celebrate, here’s a new track from FDB favourite Damu. Loads of samples thrown into a tight instrumental groove that’s had my head bopping all day. I can’t wait for a full length that my man John at Redefinition Records tells me is dropping in March. Watch out!
P Brothers – ‘Outta Control’ ft. Roc Marciano & ‘In A Zone’ ft. Milano
taken from The Gas (Heavy Bronx, 2008)
(Excerpts at artist’s request)
Rap music in 2008 just ain’t grimy enough. Any long-winded criticism and discussion of the contemporary scene seems to conveniently pass over the fact that at a base level the aesthetics of the music have now, for the most part, become so polished and glossy that the very grittiness that defined the genre in the first place seems drowned by a swelling flood of auto-tune, pseudo-electronica and abstract post-lyrical rapping. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff: it has its place and it’s taking things in an interesting (if at times questionable) direction that is clearly pushing the boundaries in order to more firmly establish hip hop’s next creative phase. Thank you messieurs West and Wayne: I appreciate the service you’re doing us all. Kinda, sorta.
However, all this stuff seems to miss the point a little for me. I listen to rap music because I want it to transport me to heaving basements where condensation licks the inside of blacked-out windows. I want it to make me body slam a pensioner through a glass table and spit in their face for encouraging me to do so in the first place. I want to be moved into throwing Molotov cocktails into abandoned tenement buildings at midnight so I can stand back and watch them burn to the ground with bass and drums as my co-conspirators. Figuratively, that is. Nevertheless, I miss the unbridled aggression and ruggedness that was such an intrinsic part of the music in days gone by. The one crew that seems to understand this sentiment more than any other in 2008 is Nottingham’s very own DJs Ivory and Paul S, collectively known as the P Brothers. Who would have thought that Robin Hood’s stomping ground could produce something as sublimely raw as The Gas? Five boroughs pay attention: it’s the East Midlands who are stepping up to bring New York back.
Despite Robbie’s coverage of the crew over at Unkut, it seems valuable to briefly reflect on their output so far. Despite remembering Malcom McLaren’s ‘Buffalo Girls’ as “a big point early on” in this interview with ukhh.com from a couple of years ago, this is surprisingly the Brothers’ first full length album of their career. This isn’t to say that they haven’t been busy though, steadily dominating the well-established scene in Nottingham and pleasing more discerning UK heads with their Heavy Bronx Experience EPs and through regular collaborations with the Out Da Ville crew and protege Cappo, most notably on the overlooked 2003 release Spaz The World. They’ve dipped their toes into cross-Atlantic ventures as well, most recently working with Sadat X on Experience & Education on top of the string of 12″s that have preceded the release of this album with Boss Money, Milano, Smiley Da Ghetto Child and Ress Connected. Despite all of this you’d be forgiven for letting them slip under your radar, as it’s a position outside of the spotlight that feels entirely intentional. Showboating media-courters they ain’t and they’ve also managed to stay admirably clear of the tangible insecurities of the British scene that have been brought on by the towering shadow of its all-conquering older sibling. They just make great, universal hip hop music with no hidden agendas or chest-beating jingoism.
Onto the album. From start to finish (that’s right, the whole thing) The Gas represents a coherent cluster of cuts that are unabashedly hard and completely devoid of trend-pandering or gimmicks. ‘Cold World’ successfully sets the tone with a soulful vocal hook, melodic keys and crunchy drums that serve as the perfect platform for E.C. and Bago to get busy in style. From this point on there’s no letting up and although a discussion of every song on the album would be warranted, I’m going to stick to my personal highlights for the sake of your attention spans: ‘Outta Control’ puts forth the most mesmerising bassline I’ve heard since ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop’; ‘Digital B-Boy’ marries together brutal drums and twisted digital noise in a veritable assault on your inner ear; ‘In A Zone’ is what Pete Rock should sound like in 2008 but doesn’t; ‘Don’t Question Me’ combines swirling guitar licks with downtempo drums so beautifully that I can’t even listen to it without closing my eyes. The guest MC spots are pleasingly restricted to a small handful of underground Bronxites giving the whole work a sense of continuity and in an age where most people don’t even care about albums anymore, The Gas literally demands a front to back listening experience to be fully appreciated. Ultimately, it feels like the whole package is bolstered by a sense of unwavering confidence: this is music made by aficionados, for aficionados. Don’t like it? Then screw you.
Except you will do. A lot. And it’ll be with good reason because this is hands down the most honest, genuinely slammin’ rap album I’ve heard all year. Granted it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but when it sounds this good who cares? The P Brothers certainly don’t, and that’s exactly why The Gas is a collection of some of the very best beats and rhymes you will hear all year.
Filed under: Producers
Charles Hamilton – ‘Stay On Your Level’
So I just came across the latest bit of Pete Rock production at 2 Dope Boyz via the PR Forum. Having recently voiced my concerns over the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s current direction, this nonsense only serves to take another swipe at the already withered shreds of my optimism when it comes to contemporary Soul Brother material.
Pete, I’m still there for you, but there’s only so much one man can take.
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.
Such is the output of one of the genre’s most prolific DJ/producer that there are inevitably some 12”s that slip under a lot of people’s radars. As a result, today’s post features a couple of 12”s that I have stashed away in the vaults that may be of interest to you…
DJ Premier Introduces Assylum Seekers – Check My Style b/w Gettin’ Mani
I picked this up around 2002 at a record shop in central London called Selectadisc. This came in a blank sleeve and as you can see from the shots of the vinyl, this is likely to have been a low budget release that probably only saw a limited number of pressings. This is affirmed by the fact that this 12” does not even appear on Premier’s Discogs and by the fact that I can find absolutely nothing about it on the internet. ‘Check My Style’ is undoubtedly the better of the two cuts, with a relatively classic Premier sound featuring a chilled piano loop, heavy beats and little else. I am not really that keen on the b-side and to be honest, it doesn’t even really sound like Premier production. Lyrically, the Assylum Seekers are by no means awful, but there really isn’t that much to grab you here and ultimately although they do the beat justice, the real star of this release is of course Premier’s work on the boards. If anyone has any information on this then I would greatly appreciate it, and if you didn’t know that this existed then show some love and drop a comment: I suspect that this may be a blog exclusive.
[Note: It has become clear from comments that Premier did not produce this 12'' and in fact it looks like there may have been a little shady business on Empire's part here... the search for lost Primo beats continues]
Just-Ice – Gangstas Don’t Cry b/w Just Rhymin’ With Kane ft. BDK
The next 12” for today is definitely less rare, as it features on the ‘Fatbeats: Volume 2′ collection released in 2002 and features two veterans of the game, Just-Ice and Big Daddy Kane. I find the a-side a little unispiring, a simple bass hook and drums with Just-Ice ripping verses over the top. To be honest, this feels a little like one of those beats that Primo probably puts together in his sleep, and as such it feels relatively mediocre. The b-side is my preferred cut on this 12”; the beat has a better vibe to it and the appearance of BDK provides the song with a little variation that serves the song well. Overall, this is a decent enough release but it is by no means the best work that any of the three artists who feature on it have ever produced. Still, for all you Premier junkies out there, this is a worthy addition to your collection.
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.
Filed under: Producers
Just a quick heads up today rather than a full length post, and mad props go out to Kazeiro over at Rap Dungeon for putting me onto this. I would usually try to avoid posting something that I had seen elsewhere recently, but this is slightly different as this is another album that is being released for free on the internet, a growing trend that has seen some quality releases this year.
Prince Ali’s ‘I Miss 1994′ is one of the best records that I have heard this year, and as the title suggests, it harks back to days gone by in the rap game. All the information you need to know is on Prince Ali’s myspace page as well as the link to download the album. I have been heavily into this today, particularly the album opener that features one of the best beats that I have heard on any album that I have bought recently, new or old. The mellow guitar loop has had me reaching for the rewind button countless times today. Don’t sleep on this: grab it while you can.