I do not generally agree with posting up stuff that I do not actually physically own, as the point of the blog for me is to share things from my own personal collection with others. In doing so, it also encourages me to still go out and hunt down CDs and to avoid relying too heavily on sourcing stuff from the internet alone. Today is an exception, as Large Professor’s shelved LP never received a CD release and I imagine only exists as vinyl promos or bootlegs. I also own the ‘IJUSWANNACHILL’ 12” so feel that I can justify posting this up.
There isn’t much to say about Large Pro that you probably don’t know already. With production credits on some of the most important albums in the genre’s history as well as a load of remix work he is without doubt one of the most accomplished and prolific hip hop producers of all time. Like others in this category, he has a unique and defined quality to his work that means you know you’re listening to Large Pro even if you can’t put into words exactly what makes the track his own. Of course, he’s had his lower points as well with ’1st Class’ being a definite disappointment, and I wasn’t really feelin’ his most recent instrumental LP although haven’t given it much of a chance. Still, these are small gripes with such a strong and bangin’ discography. By the way, did I mention that he’s pretty tight on the mic as well?
I simply cannot understand how ‘The LP’ was never released. Hip hop seems to have been plagued with these sort of mistakes, with Freddie Foxxx’s sophomore LP receiving the same treatment as well as a whole host of quality albums that never saw the light of day. How can these record companies not have realised what they had on their hands? I think this was due to drop in ’96 and easily stands up against the strongest releases of the year. There’s a guest appearance from Nas that surely would have guaranteed sales and with Large Pro’s track record it seems astonishing that this never got a proper release. They even made a relatively high budget looking video for ‘IJUSWANNACHILL’ (see below), so how could they not have taken that final step and got this out there?
Whatever the reason, Geffen made a categoric error. ‘The LP’ is an exceptional album that will be appreciated by any fan of the genre. Large Professor in his prime: it doesn’t get much better than this.
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.
Although I’ve seen ‘Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop’ relatively regularly in blogworld, I’ve yet to see Diamond D’s (I still can’t bring myself to drop the ‘D’) second effort appear. Cue ‘Hatred, Passion And Infidelity’. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to love this album and at times I almost manage to convince myself that I do, but the harsh reality is that this has to be considered a victim of the hip hop slide and I consider it to be a disappointment.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. I really like the spacious feel of ‘Flowin” which could almost be an outro beat given its laid back and light, head nodding vibe. Similarly, I love the use of the Sister Nancy sample on ‘MC Iz My Ambition’ coupled with a smooth Axelrod loop. ’5 Fingas Of Death’ is also bangin’, although ironically this wasn’t produced by Diamond but by the omnipresent Kid Capri instead. In fact, I do like a lot of the tunes on this album, but there is a lack of energy and enthusiasm here that means that the overall impact of the album falls way short of expectation.
This album also features two of the worst Diamond D beats I think I have ever heard. ‘Can’t Keep My Grands To Myself’ is a travesty, featuring a super cheesy sung chorus hook that sounds like it could have been lifted off a throwaway tune from the disco era. I simply can’t believe how this song came about. Was it an attempt to break into a more commercial market? Had Diamond D smoked one too many blunts? Or had he totally lost his mind? ‘Cream N Sunshine’ is similarly grating and as much as I can I distance these songs from all of his other work and try to ignore that they ever happened.
I recently checked Diamond D’s MySpace page just to see what sort of beats he was producing now. Unfortunately, it looks like the man has officially fallen off. It kills me that this is the case. Songs like ‘Sally Got a One Track Mind’ and ‘Step To Me’ rank as some of my favourite hip hop cuts of all time and ‘Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop’ is a certified classic. Somebody please drop a comment and enlighten me as to what I’m missing on this album: I want to love it but can’t bring myself to do so.
It is relatively rare that you find a combination of intelligent lyrics, excellent delivery and phat beats in this here game known as hip hop. Take for example yesterday’s post: Larry-O can kick it, but his visions of a gangster lifestyle are hardly thought-provoking. I don’t mean this to take away from his ability as an MC; he has presence and understands how to deliver a good rhyme, but you wouldn’t exactly put him in the ‘intellectual’ bracket and invite him to a dinner party. Similarly, too much thought-provoking material can feel too try-hard and risks missing out on the party element that could be argued is a core element of the genre. I’m struggling a little to think of examples off the top of my head, but perhaps Saul Williams could be considered ‘too wordy’; his work is interesting and valuable but it ain’t exactly going to rock a crowd.
Today’s post features an artist who has managed to combine these elements in a cohesive package that makes it look all too easy. J-Live has had his fair share of strife in hip hop, with ‘The Best Part’ going through a five year ordeal where it was shelved on two (!) separate occasions. Amazingly, he emerged from this period seemingly unscathed and in my opinion is one of hip hop’s most valuable contemporary contributors. His second album ‘All Of The Above’ is a gleeming demonstration of the fact that you don’t have to talk about guns, drugs and bitches to come off dope.
Handling production, turntable and scratch duties is no mean feat either, and J-Live does the three with style. The beats on this album are exceptionally well produced and range from straight party rockers (‘How Real It Is’) to late night head nodders (‘Nights Like This’). Spinna contributes a couple of tracks as well, although these by no means outshine J-Live’s own work. I’m not saying that the production is flawless; I don’t like ‘Stir Of Echoes’ and there are a couple of other tunes that I generally skip, but for an album released in ’02 that’s not bad going.
However, it is J-Live’s skills on the mic that really hold this album together. From flipping the well known call and response catchphrase ‘it’s like this an’ a’ into a prophetic warning of what happens to girls who give it up too easy to delivering three different possible endings to the same story on ‘One For The Griot’, J-Live’s lyrics cover a wide range of topics and all are delivered with finesse and flava. I can’t think of any other MC around at the moment who has the same ability to combine content with flow, let alone whilst producing bangin’ music to provide a backdrop. The debate is open: answers on a postcard folks.
Although I have a core list of producers who I consider to be the best to have ever taken part in the game, a conclusive winner always eludes me. One day it’ll be Pete Rock, the next I have to go with Premier, the day after that I’ll opt for Large Pro. The realms of the true geek are characterised by list making and endless debate even though a definitive conclusion can never be reached. I guess I might just be that geek.
One name that regularly crops up for me is K-Def who has already featured on From Da Bricks (see ‘Chief Rockas’). He slipped under my radar for quite a while, but I was stunned into one of those ‘how can I not have known about this before’ moments when I realised the full extent of his production credits. His work on the boards has been used by LOTUG, Da Youngsta’s and El Da Sensei amongst many other underground hip hop heroes and he continues to hold influence in the industry today, even appearing on Diddy’s new album (the track ‘We Gon’ Make It’ which is good despite Diddy’s pathetic mic skills). There are very few artists who have managed to build such a strong and consistent discography, and despite having been in the game for over a decade and a half K-Def’s contribution to hip hop seems far from over. If longevity was one of the criteria for the aforementioned lists then K-Def’s position would be undeniably strong.
‘The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama’ was released in ’96 and was the result of a collaboration between K-Def and his cousin Larry-O. The lyrical content is somewhat one-dimensional mainly detailing a gangster lifestyle and this feels a little played out over the course of a whole album despite effective delivery. The strength of this work for me lies in (you guessed it) the beats. ‘The Gimmicks’ and ‘Ain’t No Love’ are sensational featuring deep soul samples and soaring strings, ‘Money & Shows’ bounces along with some more of those violins as well as a nice vocal sample on the chorus loop and ‘Real Live Shit’ and ‘The Turnaround’ are truly bangin’. There are a couple of tracks that are not so hot, particularly ‘All I Ask Of You’ which looks like it was the label’s demand for a more commercial joint, but generally the production is flawless. Make sure you listen to the whole of the ‘Real Live Shit Remix’ as it concludes with K-Def on the turntables over a medley of slammin’ loops that demonstrates that the man also has some cutting skills under his belt as well.
The term ‘slept on’ has become a little difficult to define. Lost in an online community of people who clearly have a vast knowledge of hip hop, I would find it surprising if this album was not relatively widely known. Still, in terms of a wider audience there seems little doubt that this album and K-Def himself have not received the props that they deserve thereby qualifying for the ‘slept on’ tag in my opinion. If you don’t own this album, wake your sleepy head up and cop it: this genuinely is some real live shit.
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.
Buckwild. Overshadowed somewhat by the other core set of producers involved in the DITC crew his contribution to mid-90s hip hop and beyond is substantial. When I listen to a Buckwild beat I feel detached from the world around me: I’m flying over New York City; I’m on the London Underground at night in an empty carriage; I’m walking along the street at dusk lost deep inside my headphones. Very few producers have consistently provided me with the sense of space that Buckwild has done over the years and as a result, here is a selection of some of his remix work for your listening pleasure.
Hip hop is formulaic. You take a loop that you like, slam some phat drums and a bassline in the mix and then let someone put forward their view of the world in rhyme form over the top. Simple. And yet there are only a handful of people who have been able to perform this feat effectively, stamping their own sense of identity onto the work that they create and making your head nod uncontrollably at the same time. So what is it that defines a truly great beat? Who knows, but Buckwild has the ability to produce them in abundance. There is a beautiful simplicity to his work that goes beyond analysis and taps into a primaeval sentiment that is the essence of all great music.
There is no doubt that he will appear again on this blog again in the future. Indeed, it would be almost impossible for him not to do so given that he features on so many of the quintessential albums of the mid-90s era (‘Word…Life’, ‘Stress: The Extinction Agenda’, ‘Lifestylez Ov Da Poor And Dangerous’ to name but a few). Although these remixes may not represent his seminal works, each one picks you up by the scruff of the neck, demands your attention and shakes you into submission. He is amongst an elite set of producers who encapsulate what real hip hop should be about. Enjoy.