FROM DA BRICKS


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ahmad Jamal & FDB Piano Mix
January 13, 2007, 4:46 pm
Filed under: FDB Mixes

It’s a bumper weekend post here at FDB, with my first homemade compilation and something a little different in the form of Ahmad Jamal’s ‘Awakening’ album, the source for countless samples utilised by some of the genre’s finest beatmakers. The piano creates such a beautiful sound and is perhaps the most versatile instrument known to man: on what other instrument can you play ten notes all at the same time? As a result of this I have pulled together some of my favourite tracks that feature a piano sample and put them all together in the originally titled ‘From Da Bricks Piano Mix’. The tracklist is as follows:

1. UMCs – One To Grow On
2. Nas – The World Is Yours
3. Main Source – How My Man Went Down In The Game
4. Gangstarr – B.Y.S.
5. Miilkbone – Keep It Real
6. Pete Rock – The Boss
7. Jay Z – D’Evils
8. World Renown – How Nice I Am
9. Common – Resurrection
10. Da Youngstas – I’ll Make U Famous
11. Lewis Parker – 101 Pianos
12. Mr Complex – C.O.R.E. Mix
13. Group Home – Up Against Tha Wall (Getaway Car Mix)
14. Binary Star – Reality Check
15. Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.

The vast majority of these tunes will be well known by the majority of you but I want to give a special mention to a couple of cuts here. Miilkbone held an affiliation with Naughty By Nature and ‘Keep It Real’ is a quality example of how well piano samples can be used. With a tasty horn loop and tight snares as well this is a demonstration of how strong Jersey’s contribution to hip hop has been. World Renown’s ‘How Nice I Am’ is off their shelved LP and was produced by the mighty K-Def. I first heard it at K-Def’s website which is nicely put together with a full discography and some videos to check out as well; peep it at http://www.kdef.biz. As an aside, if anyone has this album in its entirety then please let me know. Finally, although it is probably one of the most well known tunes on this compilation, ‘Up Against Tha Wall’ ranks as one of my favourite Premier beats of all time. Back in my less knowledgable days it took me ages to find out what it was after hearing it played in the warm up session of a Souls Of Mischief gig. I was elated when I finally got a hold of it and even the undeniably wack rapping can’t take away from the quality of the beat.

The idea for the compilation came from an idea I had back in my DJing days when I thought it would be cool to make a mix that was linked thematically by instrument. This is a concept I plan to continue in the future so stay tuned over the coming weeks.

Ahmad Jamal – The Awakening

I am not usually that up on the original sources for samples as often I find myself disappointed by the tunes in their entirety. There is an interest as a result of their usage in a hip hop context but it doesn’t usually go beyond that. However, Ahmad Jamal’s album is not only the the root of both ‘Resurrection’ and ‘The World Is Yours’ along with a selection of other hip hop tracks, but is also a beautiful jazz album that is worth a listen beyond geeky sample spotting (no hating intended). Jamal was one of Miles Davis’ favourite pianists, and his style is subtle yet highly engaging. Check this recording of the the trio in 1959 and imagine yourself in a dimly lit and smokey club with a drink in one hand and cigarette in the other. These old jazz cats had style and grace by the pound.

The track ‘Awakening’ also features the break utilised by Da Beatminerz on the track ‘Change’ by Shadez of Brooklyn. If you have the 12” then please drop me a line. I wanted to include it in the mix but don’t own it: help me out people!

Technics 1200/1210

As far as equipment related to hip hop, there aren’t many pieces of technology that are as essential as the Technics turntable. Originally manuactured in 1972, these tables have been through several incarnations with the addition of a couple of gimmicky features but basically these industry standard decks have remained the same for over 30 years. Although there are now equally capable turntables out there, particularly the Vestax range as well as the more recent Numark models, no other deck has the appeal of the Technics for me. The design is classic and the durability is untouchable. It could be suggested that the development of scratching and juggling techniques would have been significantly delayed if it wasn’t for these babies: if you own some then you know what I’m talking about. In fact, just writing about them brings me back to my torn attitude towards vinyl whereby I would love to own a massive collection but don’t have the finances to support the addiction. Who knows, maybe in the future I will return to the format but for the moment I am a CD man. I will be throwing up a few more posts on equipment essential to the genre so once again, keep checkin’ into FDB. Enjoy the weekend folks.

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Straight Ballin’ – Naughty By Nature
January 12, 2007, 4:44 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

The thing that I have enjoyed most about this blog is that it has forced me to look back through my collection and listen to albums that have been out of rotation for a long time. As with ‘Labcabicalifornia’, ‘Poverty’s Paradise’ may not be deemed classic material in the sense that the group’s earlier releases are, but personally I regard this as the most consistent and dopest of Naughty’s output.

Naughty By Nature are the perfect hip hop crossover group. Catchy hooks and a lyrical focus on the benefits of a good party keep the casual listener happy, but there is also a grittiness to their beats which complements their highly accomplished flow and engages the more serious hip hop fan. The light seems to generally fall on the first couple of albums due to the presence of the classic party anthems ‘O.P.P.’ and ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ and as a result ‘Poverty’s Paradise’ does seem to get overlooked somewhat despite a Best Rap Album Grammy. It still has it’s fair share of hits with ‘Craziest’ and ‘Feel Me Flow’ which build on the groundwork made by earlier hits, but there literally isn’t a bad track on here which is perhaps more than can be said for their self-titled debut and ’19 Naughty III’.

I love the opening to the album which features a brief excerpt from a live show followed by a piano based cut that introduces the theme for the album. This is followed by ‘Clap Yo Hands’, a sensational cut featuring a sample from a Sam and Dave song and some slammin’ snares. ‘World Go Round’ features a loop from Michael Jackson’s version of ‘People Make The World Go Round’ sped up and laid over the top of some more dope drum programming and ‘Respect Due’ is also an absolute belter with more of the same: big beats and dope rhymes. Generally the production is excellent, retaining a strong street feel but whilst keeping a sense of the soulful dusty grooves that went into the construction of the songs.

Treach and Vinnie’s flows are amongst the best that the genre has ever seen, varying in tone and intonation with forays into some lines that feel almost as if they are being sung. Clever wordplay and similes mean that they not just a success because of their style of delivery; there is content here to match. The main focus remains the same as earlier releases: parties, women, street narratives and braggin’ but it is done with such quality that like all great MCs they forge an incredibly strong sense of their own identity. I can only imagine how great it would have been to see the group at this point in time, with Treach and Vinnie ripping through classic after classic and getting the crowd properly hyped: real live hip hop.

This was also one of the first hip hop albums that I ever bought, and it takes me back to when I was thirteen finishing my homework and playing ‘Lemmings’ on the PC whilst listening to my ‘Poverty’s Paradise’ tape to death. I loved it then and I love it now, a true indicator of the fact that although I didn’t really know it at the time, I had tapped into something that epitomised quality hip hop of the era. As with yesterday’s post, this personal history obviously taints my objectivity when approaching the album but I don’t care: this is undeniably dope.

Keep locked into FDB over the weekend as I have a couple of special compilations in mind as well as a little bit more stuff on some of the technology that has been so important in the world of hip hop. See you then.

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It’s 1995! The Pharcyde
January 11, 2007, 4:43 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

After posting the Dilla/J Rocc mix I was drawn back to The Pharcyde’s sophomore release ‘Labcabincalifornia’. I had forgotten how much I get out of this album despite its slightly lukewarm reception in comparison to ‘Bizarre Ride II’ and controversially I think I actually prefer this to their first effort. What the first album did so effectively was hark back to how fun hip hop could be with hilarious lyrics and upbeat party rockers. The criticism levelled at ‘Labcabincalifornia’ seems to revolve around the fact that the group got more introspective and serious on this album, losing the aforementioned sense of unadulterated fun that characterised the first release. This has never posed a problem for me and I personally feel that this album has subsequently been slept on a little.

I remember being in a friend’s older brother’s flat in Camden when I stumbled upon the ‘Runnin” CD single. I guess I might be exposing the fact that I have been involved in hip hop seriously for a much shorter time than other bloggers out there, as I had heard nothing of The Pharcyde until this point. That tune went on repeat for the rest of the night and remains one of my favourite cuts of all time. It is amazing the impact that music can have in that early stage of discovery where it can sound so fresh and new, and your feelings towards it are uncomplicated and totally free of cynicism. ‘Runnin” struck an instant chord with me with it’s guitar loop, crispy snares and sung chorus hook. The overall jazziness of the tune coupled with the MCs newfound maturity towards life and the industry still gets me to this day, and it is a classic for both myself and my circle of friends who have all found the same allure in its production and lyricism.

I could talk about ‘Runnin” all day, but there are other highlights here as well. ‘Devil Music’ lyrically explores issues surrounding the ownership of the band’s music when engaged in the modern music industry and is backed by a slammin’ beat. Other high points include ‘Groupie Therapy’ which is produced by Diamond D and features some dope xylophones that form the backbone of the tune and ‘Moment In Time’ which is a seriously laid back track where the group ponder the nature of our time on this planet. Granted, the MCs do seem slightly jaded over the course of the album but they aren’t bitchin’, they have simply gained experience and knowledge of the world around them in the three years between this and their first album and they deliver this knowledge with eloquence and style.

This is not to say that this is a totally consistent album and I do find myself skipping a few tracks here and there. However, the strength of individual joints carries the album for me and I am confident that I will come back to this and still enjoy it in the future. I simply cannot separate ‘Labcabincalifornia’ from a stage in my life when the whole of hip hop was laid out in front of me, waiting to be discovered and cherished. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to that time when you got your hands on an album that genuinely changed how you felt about music and perhaps even your perception of the world around you. This represents that phase in my introduction to real hip hop and for that reason it will forever remain a personal classic. I can sit here and deliberate about the pros and cons of albums until the cows come home, but you can’t be totally objective about everything can you?

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Let’s Get It On – Kenny Dope Nervous Mix
January 10, 2007, 4:33 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life, Album Reviews


Although the majority of you will know these tunes inside out, there is always something highly satisfying about a mix that brings together some quality beats with skill and finesse. These are the sort of albums that I throw on when friends are around as they appeal to even casual hip hop listeners due to the high standard of cuts throughout. However, there is also something here for your more serious head as the mix puts a unique spin on otherwise familiar tunes. This Nervous Hip Hop compilation fits nicely into this bracket, with Kenny Dope selecting some classic Boot Camp joints and a few other bits and pieces to keep that head nodding.

I love the way that this mix has some extended instrumental sections that blend seemlessly with other cuts that have vocals over the top. Big beats and funky horn loops are the key link between the selections here and the mix as a whole is dope. In all truth I don’t have a great deal to say about this album, although perhaps ‘Six Million Ways To Die’ deserves a special mention. I love Nine’s gritty delivery and there are very few non-LP appearances by the man so this is a bonus in a quality mix. There is some nice back spinning at the beginning of the tune that extends the intro and when the vocals kick in it is as good as any track off ‘Nine Livez’ or ‘Cloud 9’. Skip to the bottom of this post for the link and enjoy.

MPC500:

Thought I’d chuck in a couple of other bits today due to the slightly short post. Saw this in a magazine aimed at those involved in the production game today and couldn’t resist sharing it with you. As I imagine is the case for many a diehard fan, the dream of delving into beatmaking at times seems all to appealing. This new mobile MPC would be top of my gadget hitlist if I had bottomless pockets and hours of time to kill pressing little rubber pads and pretending that I had moved up in status from avid listener to bangin’ producer. Fortunately I have enough awareness of myself to know that I have neither the record collection nor the musical ability to warrant owning one. Still, you can’t stop a man from dreaming and this battery powered unit has me sat on a late night train putting together beats that sound like Pete Rock c. ’94. Check out the Chocolate Boy Wonder doing his thing, close your eyes and imagine people…

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Virginia In Da House – Madd Skillz
January 9, 2007, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Amazingly I haven’t seen this posted up anywhere else so I’m grabbing the chance and throwing up a true classic of the mid-’90s era. ‘From Where???’ is straight bangin’ from start to finish and is an essential addition to your collection if you’re feeling that second golden era flava (of course you are!).

What makes this album really stand out for me is that both production and Skillz’s mic handling abilities are as strong as one another; a rarity within the genre. I seldom find an album that combines the two arts with such finesse but ‘From Where???’ seems to do it with ease and pounds of style. Buckwild, Dilla, Shawn J. Period, The Beatnuts and Large Pro all contribute on the boards, an astonishing dream team of mid-’90s producers that speaks for itself. The beats are polished but retain that gritty straught up vibe that characterises quality hip hop. ‘Move Ya Body’ is the only cut on this album that I skip as it is a little cheesy, but every other track is absolutely slammin’. From the crazy horn loop on ‘Tongues Of The Next Shit’ to the summertime flava of ‘Get Your Groove On’, through the neck snapping ‘Nod Factor’ and the eerie sounding album closer ‘Inherit The World’, the beats here are truly on point. Crispy snares, big kicks and simple yet subtly flipped samples mean that this album represents the pinnacle of east coast hip hop production.

Skillz is tight on the mic as well, verbally throwing less accomplished MCs onto the scrapheap and then kicking them whilst they’re down. Although the content is essentially made up of bragging verses, Skillz’s delivery feels fresh and original. I always thought that there was a similarity in tone and delivery to Big L which in itself should be seen as highly complimentary, but Skillz has a unique and engaging delivery that is all his own. He has also (very publicly) ghost written for a whole host of mainstream rappers which demonstrates his lyrical prowess and ability to switch his game up without selling out his own on-mic persona.

I try to resist the temptation to label albums as ‘classic’. As I have said before this term gets banded about a little too much in this here hip hop game for my liking, taking away from those albums that truly warrant the tag. However, I’m willing to put my neck on the line with this one. This is a shining example of how great rap music can be and if you haven’t heard it you are in for a serious treat. Get your volume maxed out and bop your head until you can’t bop it anymore: this is classic material for all you true heads out there.

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Spell It With A J! Rocc & Dilla
January 8, 2007, 4:30 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life, Producers

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.

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