FDB Horn Mix & John Coltrane
January 20, 2007, 4:55 pm
Filed under: FDB Mixes

My compilation today follows the same concept laid down by the FDB piano mix, except that this time the focus is horn samples. It has been a difficult task to narrow this down to fifteen tracks due to the huge range of hip hop cuts that have utilised either trumpet or sax loops (these two instruments seem to be the primary source for the majority of samples), but I am pretty happy with the final product: let me know what you think.

From simple stabs at the beginning of every four bar sequence to extended live performances, horns and hip hop go together like a cup of tea and a nice digestive biscuit. Whether making the song more mellow and laid back or providing an injection of adrenalin, some of my favourite albums of all time have been horn-heavy namely ‘Mecca And The Soul Brother’, ‘Stunts, Blunts And Hip Hop’ and ‘Runaway Slave’. There is something so damn funky about a nice horn loop, and laid over some heavy drums, hip hop doesn’t come much better. Here’s the tracklist:

1. Lords of the Underground – From Da Bricks (of course!)
2. Diamond D – Step To Me
3. Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth – Mecca And The Soul Brother
4. Eric B. and Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique
5. King Sun – Once Upon A Time
6. Illegal – Illegal Will Rock
7. This Is How We… – Pudgee Tha Fat Bastard feat. Kool G Rap
8. ADOR – Let It All Hang Out
9. Hard 2 Obtain – Ghetto Diamond
10. Main Source – What You Need
11. The Roots – Datskat
12. Dred Scott – Back In The Day
13. Show & AG – You Want It
14. Kurious – Leave Ya’ With This
15. Organized Konfusion – Why

Whenever I put together a compilation I never put two tracks by the same artist, although Pete Rock and Diamond D do appear twice with production credits on ‘Let I All Hang Out’ and ‘Illegal Will Rock’ respectively. I have tried to get a bit of a cross-section of horn sample usage, so for example on ‘Once Upon A Time’ there is a simple stab at the beginning of each bar, whereas on ‘Datskat’ you have an extended live sax solo that brings the tune to a close. As I said before, with such a wealth of material out there this obviously represents only a tiny fraction of what could be put together. Still, I enjoyed compiling these tunes, have had the mix in rotation for the last couple of days and hope that you will too.

John Coltrane

With last week’s ‘FDB Piano Mix’ I threw up Ahmad Jamal’s album as it was the source for some of the samples on the compilation. This week, I’ve kind of gone the other way around, with the horn compilation inspiring me to think of some of my favourite jazz saxophonists. Although my knowledge of jazz is by no means extensive, Coltrane comes top of my list with ease. The album ‘Blue Train’ was released in 1957 and it is not only one of Coltrane’s most important and influential albums but also for the genre of jazz as a whole. In line with the horn theme for today’s post, the album features saxophone, trumpet and trombone: a veritable horn-fest. Featuring both smooth, lazy Sunday afternoon tracks (‘I’m Old Fashioned’) as well as more upbeat numbers (‘Locomotion’) this is a certified classic of the genre. Apparently, it is said that Coltrane killed jazz: he was so good that there wasn’t really any point in anybody bothering in the future as they would inevitably fall short of the mark. This is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no doubting the quality of the music on this album and the importance of Coltrane within a genre from which hip hop has drawn inspiration on countless occasions.

SP 1200

As my knowledge of production equipment is limited, this is the last of my brief posts on hardware that is important in the world of hip hop. The SP 1200 revolutionised the way that hip hop could be put together, allowing producers the flexibility required to chop up a sample and flip it in any way that their imagination took them. Briefly re-issued in ’93 and ’97, these drum machines still change hands for considerable money secondhand due to their legendary status in hip hop circles. This was used by pretty much every hip hop producer in the late ’80s and early ’90s, eventually being eclipsed by the dawn of the MPC, a more sophisticated and verstaile piece of equipment. Its importance within the genre is demonstrated by the number of lyrical references that it has acquired over the years, name-checked in loads of classic cuts. Ultimately, the trusty SP 1200 allowed hip hop to develop into the beast that we know today: hats off to that.

I plan to post up a couple of little extras now that the equipment series (not particularly extensive I know) is done with. Fashion, graf and some other bits and pieces to come in the future: stay tuned.

Comments Off on FDB Horn Mix & John Coltrane

Representin’ For The UK – Plus One Mix
January 19, 2007, 4:53 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life

In response to a request this week I’m hitting you with a little more UK flava. Bad Magic, an affiliate of the Wall Of Sound record label, had a spate of releases around the turn of the millenium and then faded without trace. This is a pity because they successfully brought one of the UK’s stronger production teams into the limelight: The Creators. Like Richy Pitch (check the archives), The Creators not only produce some bangin’ beats, but also are not afraid to invite US MCs to provide the vocals for some of their cuts. ‘The Precedent’ was a promotional CD given away with HHC that brought together some of the label’s releases (the majority of which feature The Creators’ production skills) and allowed Scottish DJ Plus One to assemble them into a mix.

There are some nice moments on this mix, although it is not sensational. Highlights include ‘The Hard Margin’ featuring Mos Def and Talib Kweli which is a moody and intelligent piece of rap music, both lyrically and production-wise. There is also a remix of Masta Ace’s ‘So Now U A MC?’ which is good but acts more as a point of interest for fans of one of the genre’s most long-standing and well respected MCs than as a banger in itself. Generally there are some nice beats and some decent verses, more than enough to keep you entertained for its rather short half-hour duration. If you’re interested in the tracklist then check it at Discogs.

Perhaps more impressive are Plus One’s turntable skills, putting together a cohesive mix with some tight scratching that also features his well-known ‘I’m Still No. 1’ routine. This is a highly accomplished piece of turntablism that although extremely technical is still musically rewarding. Plus One used this in both DMC and ITF competitions, and in fact it was a part of his winning set in 2001’s DMC competition. If you can sit through the first four minutes of the first video below (DJs are not necessarily the most eloquent people on the planet) then he will talk you through the construction of the routine. It is also well worth watching him actually perform it live rather than just hearing it (see the second clip).

Comments Off on Representin’ For The UK – Plus One Mix

Throwin’ Rocks At Your Blocks – Nine
January 18, 2007, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

My introduction to Nine came whilst doing a brief stint of voluntary work in a local charity shop in an effort to break the habit of perpetual sitting on my arse whilst at university. This isn’t quite as altruistic as it sounds, as this particular branch of Oxfam did have a relatively large store of vinyl which admittedly contributed to my decision to volunteer in this particular shop (no such thing as a selfless act). Granted, the majority of it was absolutely awful, but one afternoon I stumbled across a 12” that caught my interest. A man with twists in his ‘fro, baggy slacks and timberlands was bustin’ a hip hop stance which instantly drew me to the record, and given that it featured a Portishead remix, it seemed like 99p well spent. I wasn’t wrong.

‘Whutcha Want?’ is a classic underground gem with soaring strings and the bass hook off ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of this guy before and hankered after more.

Unfortunately, both of Nine’s releases are notoriously hard to come by, reaching silly money secondhand on the internet having never been granted the reissue treatment. ‘Nine Livez’ still eludes me (the album that ‘Whutcha Want?’ appears on), but I was lucky enough to find his sophomore release for a paltry fiver at a local record shop and it is bangin’ from front to back.

Nine’s delivery is one of the most distinctive in this era of rap music. His gravelly rumble of a voice is incredibly forceful, but this effect is achieved without shouting or straining. In fact, his delivery feels relaxed and effortless, only adding to the rawness of his vocals which rarely grate in the way that some of the genre’s more gritty vocal performances can do. The content is relatively predictable, but Nine carries it with ease, weaving clever street narratives and boasting about his impressive displays of lyrical prowess.

The production side of things doesn’t disappoint either, the lyrical rawness matched by stripped down, no frills drums and loops. The beats here are absolutely bangin’ and demonstrate the simplicity with which quality hip hop can be successfully executed. Interestingly, the majority of board duties are handled by Rob Lewis, an unlikely looking caucasian whose only other major production credits are on DJ Chuck Chillout & Kool Chip’s ‘Masters Of The Rhythm’ LP and as guitarist on PRT’s ‘The New World Order’ album. It looks like he may be one of those strange anomalies that stepped into the realms of hip hop production, put together some quality beats and then moved onto other things. This is a shame, because the man demonstrates a serious talent for the genre that could have been more heavily exploited. In all probability, I suspect that he is now working in the industry as a studio engineer or multi-faceted producer, makin’ waves behind the scenes. Whatever the case, props are most definitely in order.

If this is something that you have struggled to get a hold of or have simply slept on, you are in for a real treat. This is dark, gritty NYC hip hop with an original edge that will have your head nodding for years to come. Peep it.

Comments Off on Throwin’ Rocks At Your Blocks – Nine

Keep Your Mind In The Frame – The Herbaliser
January 17, 2007, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Founded in 1991, Ninja Tune has long been the record label of choice for the UK head interested in straight up rap music as well as more abstract beats. I have little concept of how much of the label’s catalogue has been exported, but if you’re feelin’ hip hop then trawling through their discography is well worth the effort.

Some of their releases are a little too leftfield for me, delving into the realms of electronica and downtempo beats that have grown away from the label’s foundation in hip hop. However, The Herbaliser are a UK crew that have managed to stay firmly rooted in the culture whilst adding interest that takes them beyond some of the more superficial rude boy UK hip hop that I have discussed before (see my post on Lewis Parker). ‘Very Mercenary’, the group’s third studio album saw the outfit find their feet, combining elements of hip hop and more left of centre influences that also features some tasty guest spots in the form of What What (now Jean Grae), Blade, Roots Manuva, Bahamadia and The Dream Warriors.

Core members Jake Wherry and DJ Ollie Teeba clearly pay their respects to the foundation of the culture with this release, particularly with tracks like ‘Wall Crawling Giant Insect Breaks’ which mashes together various breakbeats and features a vocal sample from ‘Style Wars’. Elsewhere the album focuses on straight up hip hop that has a spacious and atmospheric vibe. Both of the cuts featuring What What are excellent, the relatively slow tempo and warm basslines complementing her flow well. Ollie Teeba also demonstrates his ability on the ones and twos in the outro sections to both of these cuts with some tight scratching that completes the tunes with genuine style. I also highly recommend ‘Starlight’ which features one of my favourite UK MCs Roots Manuva. Manuva’s voice is relatively unique and the content of his rhymes is well thought out and exceptionally well delivered.

The album also has a choice selection of instrumental tracks which are complex enough to stand alone without the need for rapping over the top. ‘Goldrush’ has a drum track that drives the song forward with real momentum, and the string and guitar loops work well together to create an eerie yet relatively upbeat vibe. ‘Shattered Soul’ is along a similar line, but is more laid back than the aforementioned track featuring some more of those atmospheric strings as well as a dope horn track that was arranged by a live orchestra. There are in fact several tracks that utilise live instrumentation, the effect being a sense of warmth and depth to the album that is sometimes missing in more contemporary hip hop.

To wrap up: ‘Very Mercenary’ will not necessarily blow your mind, but it is a complete album that rarely warrants you reaching for the skip button. If you’re in the mood for something rowdy then look elsewhere, but in my opinion this is a fine example of how soulful and intelligent UK hip hop can be.

Comments Off on Keep Your Mind In The Frame – The Herbaliser

Enterprising, Uprising, Surprising – Afu-Ra
January 16, 2007, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

It’s crazy some of the things that you sleep on. Despite Afu-Ra’s status as a protege of Jeru and production by Primo, Da Beatminerz and Muggs, ‘The Body Of The Life Force’ slipped under my radar for a considerable period of time. I would not say that this is an outstanding album, but it is a demonstration of the fact that hip hop still had something left to give post-millenium as this was released in late 2000. Having said this, perhaps the key to its success is that it sounds like it could have emerged from the scene in the mid-’90s, with instantly identifiable Premier beats and Afu’s rhyme style that covers notions of consciousness as well as more stereotypical braggin’/maintain’ content.

Much in the same way that Jeru was brought up by Gangstarr, Afu’s come-up was aided by his closeness with everybody’s favourite dreaded hip hop MC. Making appearances on both ‘The Sun Rises In The East’ and ‘The Wrath Of The Math’ introduced him into the hip hop conscience, and with 1998’s ‘Whirlwind Thru Cities’ he looked all set up to break into the scene with vigour. The album as a whole rarely reaches the standard set by his first 12” release, but there is enough here to keep your average head interested with a well-timed skip here and there.

‘Defeat’ is a bangin’ track that could not have been produced by anyone but Premier and Afu’s intelligent wordplay twinned with a relatively aggressive delivery suits the production well. ‘D&D Soundclash’ utilises a skanking guitar and roots-style vocal sample paired up with a heavy drum track and is a fine example of how when done well, the two genres can be combined to great effect. ‘Mic Stance’ and ‘Equality’ are two of the other Premier joints on the album and as you would expect are highly enjoyable. I particularly like the Ky-Mani Marley vocal on ‘Equality’ which continues the rap/reggae crossover feel that permeates some of the album with real flava. In fact, given that I feel that these are the strongest cuts on the album, I realise that it is essentially Primo’s presence on ‘The Body Of The Life Force’ that really makes it.

I wouldn’t really call any of the tracks genuine skipping material, but there are a handful of cuts here that when sat next to the stronger selections on the album feel a little weak. Still, this is well worth a purchase and is an album that will have you boppin’ that head and refuting the notion that hip hop died somewhere in the mid-’90s. For that fact alone it is a work that demands coppin’. Copy and paste the link, hit return and enjoy.

Comments Off on Enterprising, Uprising, Surprising – Afu-Ra

Temples Of Boom – Cypress Hill
January 15, 2007, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Although I am not a massive fan of latin rap, there are still of course a few groups that it is impossible to front on. Undoubtedly, hip hop’s most famous latin rap outfit are the creators of such killer cuts as ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ and ‘Insane In The Brain’: Cypress Hill. The albums from which these joints came managed the dual success of commercial viability as well as underground credibility, no mean fit in a genre which so often substitutes one for the other. Although ‘Temples Of Boom’ may not have managed the same achievement to quite the extent of their previous two releases, it is still a quality example of weed-induced stoner rap and features some of the best tracks that the group have ever made.

The cover art alone hints at a change in style from both their self-titled debut and ‘Black Sunday’. A solitary monk walks a long, stone staircase towards a temple that looks like it could have been a propsective location for an Indiana Jones film, and this dark and moody monochrome image is reflected in the sound created by the group over the course of the album. Cypress Hill have little intention of covering up their heavily blunted image, with ‘Spark Another Owl’ featuring a list of the various strains avaliable of every weed smoker’s favourite sticky green substance. This album opener sees the group emerge from a cloudy haze of smoke to deliver a seriously head noddy track that I rate as one of the highlights on the album.

The other choice selections for me include ‘Illusions’ and ‘Boom Biddy Bye Bye’, both of which are variations on the same heavily stoned theme. I once remember seeing an interview in which B-Real stated that the crew did not want to be known simply as the go-to guys for every discerning pothead, but this assertion seems slightly short-sighted given their consistent and positive representation of marijuana consumption. Unsurprisingly, this release is best enjoyed late at night with spliff firmly in hand, the beats perfectly complementing an exceptionally chilled vibe (although the evil weed needn’t be a prerequisite for enjoying the album).

In my opinion, the album is marred by a lack of consistency, and beyond the aforementioned tracks and ‘Everybody Must Get Stoned’, I do not feel that this is a particularly strong work. Even though they might try and argue to the contrary, Cypress Hill are at their best on ‘Temples Of Boom’ when sticking to what they so obviously know best: the creation of beats that are intrinsically linked to ‘high times’. Sit back, grab your nickelbag and lose yourself in the weed-induced highlights of one of hip hop’s most successful crews.

Shure M44-7

In my continuing series of equipment that is essential to hip hop, I’m sticking with the ones and twos today. The Shure M44-7s are to the cartridge world what the Technics are to the ever expanding range of turntables available in today’s market: an industry standard. Given their endorsement by the Piklz, there is little doubt about the quality of these needles; if they can handle the punishment that Q-Bert must give them then you know they must be all that. I love the industrial, no frills look of these cartridges in the same way that I appreciate the simple yet classic design of the 1200/1210s: they are there to do a job and they do so better than any other piece of equipment available on the market. If you watch any DMC competition it is almost guaranteed that 50% of the competitiors have got these running through the grooves of their battle wax, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them skip in competition (I’m happy to be proven wrong). Of course, there are other cartridges out there that would in truth perform as effectively, but there seems to me an essence to the M44-7s that is distinctly hip hop.

More to come in the equipment series very soon: hope you’re feelin’ it.

Comments Off on Temples Of Boom – Cypress Hill

Just Let It All Out – Onyx
January 14, 2007, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Onyx’s vision of the realities of inner city life are amongst the grittiest and most terrifying ever laid down on wax. As a collective, they are paranoid, incredibly angry and have resigned themselves to the fact that in all likelihood they are going to die imminently as a result of their lifestyle choices. To add to this, they don’t give a fuck. The album begins with a short skit in which one man convinces the other to kill himself, despite the protestations of the soon to be dead, whimpering man with a gun pointing at his own head. The philosophical conclusion here is that ‘you’re better off dead’, and this theme is essentially continued throughout the duration of ‘All We Got Iz Us’, with various allusions to suicide, guns, drug dealing and murder.

In my opinion, this incredibly hardcore aesthetic cannot be successfully carried over the course of a whole album and it is for this reason that ‘All We Got Iz Us’ falls down. Interestingly, I really rate the first half of the album and feel that the second half is significantly weaker. Perhaps this is simply because I can’t make it beyond ‘Shout’ before feeling that I have to reach for something else to lighten the mood and remind myself that life is in fact worth living. As with ‘Poverty’s Paradise’, this is also one of the first albums that I ever owned on tape as a young fan of the genre. It is no wonder that my parents struggled to see the appeal of rap music with ‘All We Got Iz Us’ blaring out of my bedroom, with Sticky Fingaz and co. roaring and growling over neck snapping beats.

Despite its shortcomings there are some standout cuts here that make the album worth owning. ‘Shout’ is an almost carbon copy of ‘Slam’, adopting exactly the same structure in composition and with the same message: Onyx are the best that the genre has to offer and you need to get off your sorry arse and unleash your frustrations like there’s no tomorrow. I actually prefer this to ‘Slam’ although this is probably due to the fact that the group’s signature tune has been overplayed somewhat and lost some of its original impact. ‘Last Dayz’ is moody and brooding, transporting the listener to the metaphorical dungeon in which the MCs dwell painting their pictures of violence and the rest of society’s ills. Sticky Fingaz’s verse demonstrates the recklessness with which the group’s on-mic personas handle a ghetto lifestlye, throwing all humanity to one side and embracing the darker side of living in the city:

Thinking about taking my own life,
I might as well,
‘Cept they might not sell weed in hell,
And that’s where I’m going ‘cos the Devil’s inside of me,
They make me rob from my own nationality.

I also like the track ‘All We Got Iz Us’ which features a warm bassline, drums and little else beyond the snarl of the MCs over the top with more details of their experiences on the streets of New York. ‘Purse Snatchaz’ also comes recommended, featuring some nice strings and more hard hitting drum programming. These four songs are the best on the LP, and because I can’t really bring myself to listen to more than fifteen minutes of the album in any one sitting, these are the tracks that I come back to whilst the remainder of the work has drifted away from me somewhat.

In some ways I have to laugh at some of the lines because as a nice middle-class boy from north London, hip hop doesn’t come much further away from my own experiences of life. Still, therein lies the appeal of the group. I don’t listen to Onyx to engage in a world that I know, I listen to it because it transports me to a fantasy world in which every man fends for himself and faces the world around him with an unerring sense of rage and brutality. Pull your fiercest screwface, raise your hands to the sky and jump around to one of hip hop’s darkest and most unforgiving outfits. You might not last more than five minutes, but you’ll have a damn good time whilst doing so.

Comments Off on Just Let It All Out – Onyx