Chocolate Boy Wonder – Pete’s Jazz
March 13, 2007, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

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.

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Bomb With The Boom Bap – Prince Ali
March 10, 2007, 6:20 pm
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.

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Here Come The Hicks – Down South
March 9, 2007, 6:18 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

I’ve said before that there is always a satisfaction in finding early works by artists who have subsequently made a big impression on the genre. ‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is not only a slept on and enjoyable release from ’94, but it is also the album on which we find Shawn J. Period’s first production credits (highlighted in the picture). If you don’t know Shawn J. by name, then you will inevitably know the tracks from the late ’90s that saw him become a major player in the Rawkus boom, providing beats for Mos Def, Blackstar, and a host of other artists at a time when hip hop was still in the wake of the golden era.

Featuring production from Shawn J. himself as well as T-Ray, The Beatnuts and Stretch Armstrong, the beats here are what you would expect: horn loops/stabs, big drums and funky basslines. The album is in fact split between a ‘south’ side (the first six tracks) and the ‘north’ side (the rest of the album) but to be honest this split is rather arbitrary as the sound throughout the album is relatively consistent. Beat-wise, this is clearly oriented in the east, although there are some nice ‘southern’ touches with the odd country and western guitar appearing that provide a little twist on the stock New York sound. Favourite joints for me are ‘Southern Comfort’ (which interestingly features the same sample utilised by Da King & I on the ‘Crak Da Weazel’ chorus hook) which has a nice summery vibe to it and a slightly cheesy chorus vocal; ‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is a straight up banger with infectious horns and tight snares; and I also like the album closer ‘Open Sesame’ which features classic Beatnuts production and verses that revolve around cracking open a brew and indulging in some fine liquor (content that the Beatnuts are no strangers to).

MC Soda Pop does a good job on the mic, although I think it would be fair to say that his verses are nothing sensational. The southern influences in production carry over into the rapping with multiple references to their roots in the lands of ‘tractors, rakes and hoes’, and Soda’s flow is capable enough to be carried by the quality of the production work underneath him. The presence of DJ Myorr is also felt on the record, handling all scratch duties and even scoring himself a DJ only cut, ‘Oh My’. Ultimately, the trio work well together, and any weaknesses in specific areas of the work are easily forgotten by the cohesiveness of the record overall.

‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is unlikely to blow your mind, but it is a solid effort that stands up relatively well amongst the plethora of quality releases that ’94 witnessed. From my Google searching for images and a bit of info, it also seems like this may have gone pretty much unnoticed, as the pickings were slim. This is a shame, as this album deserves to be dusted off and given a little bit more recognition than it seems to have done since its release: give it a listen and help it along its way.

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The Accapella’s An Instrument – Da King & I
March 5, 2007, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

It doesn’t take much thought for me to realise that I am essentially a music addict. Through the purchasing of CDs and with the revelation of hip hop blogs, I am in the enviable position of simply having too much of it on my hands: there are literally not enough hours in the day to listen to everything that I acquire with the due care and attention that I would ideally like to. The upshot of this is that I regularly buy albums, give them a quick listen and then do one of three things. If it instantly grabs me, it will stay in rotation for a period of time that equates to how much I like it and in all probability I will dip in and out of it as the years pass by. If I don’t like it, it simply goes up on the shelves with the rest of my ever-increasing collection and may or may not see the light of day again for a significant period of time. Finally, and perhaps best of all, there are occasionally albums that I listen to and enjoy, but for whatever reason, I do not fully appreciate their greatness at the time and it is only at a later date that I am struck by their true quality.

Da King & I’s ‘Contemporary Jeep Music’ is a perfect example of an album that falls into this latter category of my music-listening habits, and has ultimately become one of my favourite albums of the era combining slammin’ production with masterful wordplay that perhaps contradicts the image of the band presented by the album artwork and title: this is fun, uplifting, positive, party hip hop at its absolute finest.

The crew is made up of MC Izzy and DJ Majesty and although Izzy makes some contribution on the boards, the majority of the beats are produced by Majesty. Released in ’93, the album is horn heavy, featuring squealing saxophones and trumpets that root this firmly in the early ’90s era. However, there is a subtlety to the beat crafting here that takes it beyond the simple drums and loops formula. With each track, various samples come and go throughout four, eight and sixteen bar sections, seamlessly weaved into the compositions to create a highly engaging sonic landscape. The marvel of the album is that these transitions do not feel forced, each coming at exactly the right moment in time to keep your head noddin’ and the smile plastered firmly across your face. It is a signifier of the work’s brilliance that all too often I find myself reaching for the rewind button as a track ends: at times, I feel like I just can’t get enough of it. Just check out ‘Mr. All That’ and ‘Let’s Take A Trip’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Incredibly, MC Izzy is more than up to the task of matching the beats with his skills on the mic. The subject content here is varied, swinging between more reflective numbers like ‘Tears’ where Izzy details the trials and tribulations of lost love with heart-warming honesty all the way through to straight up braggin’ verses such as those found on ‘Flip Da Script’. His uptempo delivery is highly accomplished, splattered with internal rhymes and complex rhythmical patterns that carry the listener along the paths of his intricately spun narratives. Perhaps one of the tracks that captivates me most is the album closer ‘What’s Up Doc’ which takes the standard ‘shouts’ track to another level:

I give thanks to my Pops for being around,
Used to be seeing a frown when I let him down,
But on this day I apologise,
I’m 20 so I don’t see things through a child’s eyes,
I was rough but I wasn’t bad,
I had more of a relationship with my Mum than with my Dad,
‘Cos I was used to seeing Daddy stressed,
Which means that I wasn’t seeing Daddy’s best,
If I could turn the clock back ten years I would,
I guess it was for my own good,
‘Cos I believe that God gives you what you can stand,
You’re only in training to be a better man,
I thank God for my loving family and I plan to be
A family man myself, what else, check it,
When I blow up, my boys blow up,
I ain’t selfish, thinking of yourself you better grow up
And get off that foul mentality…

Far from coming across as corny, these lines feel so genuine and heartfelt that I would challenge anybody to resist their charms. In a genre that is all too often associated with the darker sides of ghetto existence, Izzy makes you bop your head and feel warm inside with wonderful eloquence, steering well clear of the stereotypical gangsterisms that were beginning to take a firm hold of hip hop during this period. At the ripe old age of 20, the maturity and fun that he brings to the album are invaluable, and help to set it apart from other works released during the second half of golden era rap.

I could honestly rant and rave about this album until the cows come home, but the bottom line is that ‘Contemporary Jeep Music’ comes highly recommended here at From Da Bricks. Unfortunately, this was the only output by the crew save a few production credits scattered here and there, but I like to think that Izzy and Majesty may have fulfilled their dreams of comfortable and soul-enriching family life and look back on their time in hip hop with happiness and nostalgia. What they have left behind is a demonstration of how wonderful, uplifting and musically creative hip hop can be, and I know that this is an album that I will continue to enjoy for many years to come. I can only hope that it brings you the same amount of joy that it has brought me: check it.

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Hello My Name Is… Sconeboy
March 4, 2007, 6:16 pm
Filed under: 12" Reviews

First off, an introduction. Dan has mentioned me a couple of times on his blog, and I was very happy to accept his invitation to start contributing to this site. With albums steadily being thrown up, he has asked me to submit some 12”s from my collection to be profiled on the blog. My ethos is much the same as a lot of bloggers (but not all, which is a shame) which is to only put up music which is hard to get a hold of, promo only or out of print. Hope you enjoy the upcoming selections.

Buckshot Lefonque – Breakfast At Denny’s
So with that said, here is 12” #1. This project is very well known but this 12” isn’t; a promo only release of ‘Breakfast At Denny’s’ written by Branford Marsalis under his collaboration guise of Buckshot Lefonque (pictured above). In addition to Marsalis it was co-produced by DJ Premier whose scratches also feature. What is great about this promo find is the ‘Rap’ version featuring Uptown: the same Uptown who released the great ‘Dope On Plastic’. The beat is (as to be expected) a jazzy affair; my opinion of this track is positive, but with Uptown riding the beat it simply gets a lot, lot better. I can only assume Branford, who is by trade a saxophonist, plays sax on this track. The 12″ also features live and album versions. They are good, but as I stated previously, the version with Uptown’s verses is the choice cut here.

Rugged Scientist – Shaolin Anthem b/w Lights, Camera, Action
I found this 12″ whilst working in a thrift store in Bristol a couple of years ago. Some records are too hard to find/unknown for their own good, and this is one of them. All I can tell you is that Rugged Scientist is GZA’s cousin, and passed that, I really cannot help you! Just listen… it has a classic sound (early ’90s, at a guess) with simple beats and a simple flow. ‘Shaolin Anthem’ features the New Born Click, who had a track with MF Doom on one of his projects; again, very little info for you. The other side, ‘Lights Camera Action’ is more of the same but without New Born Click this time. Rugged Scientist flows and crafts a beat which is everything I like about this time in the genre: it’s simple. He produced both beats on this 12″ too. I can only find info on one other 12” that he did, and that’s it, so if you have anymore info please let me know!

Reckanize & Mr Sta. Puff – Hip Hop Don’t Stop b/w Massive Weight
This is a west coast 12″, released in 1996, and it is my favorite and most played of the three. I found it in a Bristol record shop for about £3 a long while ago (Eat The Beat, RIP!) and I have never seen it appear ever again, anywhere. Again, it’s unknown by a lot of people. The people who have noticed me with this record have offered me money for it too, so I dunno what the deal is – it’s just good rap to me! The A-side is the best track, a demonstration for me of what hip hop should be all about. A sick beatbox laced beat, with a husky sounding rapper running off lyrics from start to finish. I will hazard a guess that the MC on this track is Reckanize. The B-side, ‘Massive Weight’, features both MCs. This is a slower affair, with both MCs trading bars; I think I prefer Reckanize to the other chap, but he doesn’t detract from the cut in any way. This is produced by two guys called 7th Sunn and G-Clef. The latter is actually Joey Cavaseno, who is also a well known jazz musician who did a 12” with Weldon Irvine (RIP), which as soon as I can find it within my collection, I will do a post for.

That’s it for now, please let me know what you think of the writing style and reviews; this is my first go at doing such a thing!

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Long Live The Rugged Female – Heather B
March 1, 2007, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Hip hop is such a male dominated musical genre that there is no denying that women have struggled to make a credible impression upon it. Of course you’ve got your Foxy Browns and Lil’ Kims, but I think it would be fair to say that their rise to fame may have been due to a little timely arse shaking here and there as much as it has been about their musical prowess. Bottom line, they’re marketable: they look good (if that’s your thing), can hold a microphone and deliver some verses all at the same time. Imagine that! The scope for genuinely talented female artists within hip hop is regrettably limited, and as such, there have been very few quality releases from the fairer sex that are on par with their male counterparts.

Heather B.’s 1996 release ‘Takin’ Mine’ is an exception to this rule, pairing quality production with Heather’s tight flow that makes for an enjoyable, if not mind-blowing, release. Da Beatminerz pop up on the production credits for a track, but the majority is handled by BDP affiliate and brother of KRS One, Kenny Parker. ‘All Glocks Down’ was the lead single off the album, and does a good job of flipping the well used ‘People Make The World Go Round’ sample that has appeared on numerous cuts within the genre. It is without doubt the highlight of the album and sees Heather B. in strong form advising all comers to be aware of her role as the ‘bulletproof lyricist’

There are other good cuts here too, but it is really the consistency of this release that wins me over. There really isn’t a bad beat on here and although Heather’s style is nothing phenomenal, she carries the material well over the course of the album. ‘Takin’ Mine’ can be played from front to back with no need to skip, and this is more than can be said for a lot of albums released during this period. Thankfully, she also avoids over-playing the ‘female card’ and instead sticks to some boasts and brags that she pulls off with a gritty and accomplished delivery. You go girl!

The great thing about this album is that it does not feel like a novelty. This in itself is a success: when I listen to ‘Takin’ Mine’ I am simply enjoying a decent quality hip hop album that removes itself from the ‘female rapper’ tag. With no sign of breasts or an arse in sight, this goes down as a slept on release that I imagine most heads will appreciate: cop it and find out.

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