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.