Shameless Self-Promotion – What’s A Blog For?
October 30, 2007, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Compass Film Festival – 3rd/4th November @ The Watershed Cinema, Bristol

Rhymes Of Resistance – 31st October @ The Kuumba Centre, Bristol

A little off the regular hip hop tip I know, but I wanted to hip people to something else I’ve been involved with of late. My girlfriend Samantha works her arse off year round to organise a film festival which is now in its second year, and this time around I’ve pitched in by helping put together a night entitled ‘Rhymes Of Resistance’. The evening will feature performances from three local spoken word artists as well as an open mic session, so if you’re in the Bristol area tomorrow night come and check it out. The evening takes place at The Kuumba Centrein St. Paul’s, starts at 6pm and ends at 9pm. This will be followed by an after party at Mackies bar around the corner on Cheltenham Road. Beats and rhymes aplenty: it’s ‘Hip Hop Halloween’ people. I’ll be the guy looking stressed/nervous/euphoric depending on how the night goes down, come and say hello if you’re about.

The rest of the festival is taking place at the Watershed Cinema this coming weekend, have a look at the website and see if something tickles your fancy. Hope to see you there.

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FDB Interview Spot – Gnotes
October 28, 2007, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Interviews, Producers

Gnotes – ‘Check Dos’ & ‘Dodgey Bullets’
taken from Rhymes And Beats (Gnawledge, 2007)

Gnawledge Records (stream available for Rhyme And Beats)

Although I’m lacking the exclusive angle here (Tree Beats has already commented on the album over at his spot), I was privileged enough to be able to have the opportunity to chat to Gnotes, an up and coming MC from Boston, about his new album Rhymes & Beats over the phone this week. Although some of the album isn’t exactly to my taste, an overall sense of quality and detail coupled with standouts such as ‘Check Dos’ and ‘Dodgey Bullets’ mean that you’d be a fool not to check it out. The above link will take you to the Gnawledge Records website where you can stream the album in its entirety and if you’re convinced then it’s available on Amazon.

From Da Bricks: Congratulations on the album man, I hope it all turns out well for you.

Gnotes: Thank you very much man, I put in a lot of work on that album and it seems like people are starting to give a good response back, you know what I mean?

FDB: I know you’re from Boston and you obviously have quite eclectic taste in music. What were your early experiences of music?

G: I started playing the guitar when I was ten years old. I was listening to a lot of different music before I started listening to hip hop, so when I was young I was playing punk, garage type stuff and grunge. I really got into hip hop when the west coast thing started blowin’ up, so it was really Dre and Snoop that turned me onto the whole artform. From there, a lot of my influences are from the older cats on the east coast, Pete Rock and people like that. Once I got into it there was no turning back!

FDB: I noticed as well that you have had several releases out before now, but I haven’t ever caught wind of them. Can you talk me through some of those earlier releases?

G: This is the fourth release that Canyon [Gnawledge Records founder] and I put out, but it’s really the second strictly hip hop album. The first album was entitled Broken Spoke, that was a hip hop album cut from the same form with a lot of world influences, but it was kind of just a stepping stone. We put that out in 2004. From then we did a spoken word album that was kind of just a collection of poets who were all competing in slams and stuff, and we had some musicians on it as well. I did quite a lot of guitar on that album. That was primarily Canyon’s brainchild. The third album, Inthrumental, was essentially a hip hop album but it was basically dusty breakbeats with a lot of live instrumentation. There’s no words on the album, it’s strictly musical, some sample based material, lots of live trumpets and I play a lot of guitar and do the MPC drums and so on. So the album before this was essentially a blank canvas, almost lounge music.

FDB: So how did you hook up with Canyon and Gnawledge in the first place?

G: Canyon used to be a journalist and he was reviewing a poetry slam that I was doing, and my Broken SpokeLP was essentially recorded by then. I was looking for a way to put it out and trying to start my own little independent label. Canyon was coming from the other end of the spectrum. He was looking to start his own record company but didn’t really have an artist to work with. The two of us got together and it just worked out really well: we had a lot of the same goals, ambitions and influences. Shortly after we met one another we put out Broken Spoke and travelled to Cuba for the tenth annual hip hop festival, and really just the type of work ethic that he has and the way that I like to work… we just vibe really well together.

FDB: You’ve already mentioned about some of your different production roles, for the new album can you break down the production? Is it lots of live instruments, MPC based, and do you still use samples?

G: It’s a little bit of everything. There’s four outsourced beats on the album out of fourteen. Personally, as a musician as well as an MC, I take a lot of pride in making the music. I think you lose a sense of soul when you have producers and rappers who haven’t even met each other paying for music, ya know? There’s a lot of sample based stuff, although I try to chop it and make it as obscure as I can. I have a lot of Latin records, a lot of old Brazilian music, so for example ‘Samba Tryst’ is based around one of those old Brazilian songs. From there, I put it in my MPC, cut it up and put the drums over it, and then almost every track I put live bass and guitar on it as well and as much as I can I get Afro DZ Ak to come and play trumpet on the track ‘cos I feel it adds a lot of life to it. Any track you listen to the skeleton is probably from a sample and then layer it up from there. The sample used on ‘Throw Ya Nickels Up’ is a cello and then I added live bass, drums from the MPC and live guitar. There’s a mix in each of the tracks.

FDB: Obviously you do rhymes as well, so when you’re thinking of the concept for a track is that the rhymes that come first and then the beats or the other way around?

G: It kind of varies with the projects. With this album I really focussed on the music. Primarily what I’m doing now is making a beat and then from the emotion of the music I go from there for the topic of the rhymes. Sometimes the sample I use may give me a framework to go with. For example, ‘Missing You’ was a Charlie Pride sample that says ‘missing you’, so that kind of speaks for itself in terms of direction. I primarily work on the music first, then the rhymes and then go back and rework everything.

FDB: So do you still see them as on a level playing field for you personally? Are you still involved in spoken word at all?

G: The spoken word scene got pretty tired for me pretty quickly to be honest. Being lyrically taut is a huge requirement for me, it’s just that being an instrumentalist means that I want the framework I rap over to have some musical substantiation. That’s the key focus for me. It’s not that I focus less on the rhymes, but I think it’s more important to get the music correct. You know, once I’ve done a song I rework it 15 or 20 times until we get it right, and that’s the role that Canyon plays. He’ll listen to a song and say whether the snares are too loud, maybe I’m emphasising the wrong word or he might question what I mean in a particular verse and then we’ll go back and re-record it. I probably recorded each song on the album at least 7 or 8 times.

FDB: Can you tell me a little bit about ‘Throw Ya Nickels Up’, the first single from the album?

G: That’s a more political track. I try to walk the line between mentioning socially relevant topics and being too overbearing. Music is a celebration and the last thing you want to do is put out a song that’s just a downer [laughs]. You want something that challenges people’s intelligence and avoids just stating the obvious. ‘Throw Ya Nickels Up’ is a politically driven song, I think instrumentally it kind of pointed in that direction. The drums are huge and then once I put the guitar in the hook it just seemed like a motivation for a ‘power to the people’ type of song. There are 4 or 5 tracks on the album that are very politically driven but it also walks the line between mentioning what I do as well.

FDB: You have a lot of collaborations on the album. How did those relationships come about?

G: Afro DZ Ak plays trumpet and he rhymes on one of the tracks. He played 7 tracks on Inthrumental, the two of us met and just instantly clicked. He’s on kind of the same vibe as me, he’s an MC but also an instrumentalist, so he plays piano and trumpet and I do guitar, bass and drums so the two of us have actually worked together a lot and I’m producing part of his album right now. Kabir, who features on ‘Tower Of Babylon’ is an MC from the Boston area who I met through music and is a great friend, very talented guy who has been around forever and put out a number of records. They’re all kind of driving from the peace poem, revolutionary segment of my peers. I have friends who are just straight rappers, a little bit more hood style, but the people I was looking for with this album were socially relevant and intelligent. Noni Kai, she sings on ‘We Can Roll’ is a singer from a band in Boston called The Eclectic Collective and she was actually just at my apartment working with another musician and I was writing ‘We Can Roll’ at the time and I just stole her for a minute and got her to sing and it worked out beautifully in just one take. The final collaboration is Elemental Zazen, another very talented cat from Boston who has a new album coming out soon. He’s actually the MC in another band that I play for, so when I’m doing a live show I’ll do a set with my DJ and then I do a set playing guitar for Elemental Zazen as well.

FDB: You’ve toured with some big hitters recently like Devin The Dude and CunninLynguists. What was that experience like?

G: It was great man. Devin The Dude is one of my favourite MCs so the opportunity to do anything with him is great. Obviously he’s a much bigger blip on my radar than I am on his. I saw him a couple of days ago in Boston and he’s an unbelievable cat, a great person to work with, just a really talented guy. It was just a pleasure. As far as touring and playing shows goes that’s my love, so being able to rock a show with the CunninLynguists who I’ve been listening to since I was 16 is a big step forward for me to be able to get my name in the same ring as people who I listen to.

FDB: Is there any potential for collaboration there do you think?

G: Yea, I mean Elemental Zazen has already worked with Kno from CunninLynguists as he produced like three songs on Elemental’s album that’s coming out. Much like anything else, a lot of this business has to do with networking and I really do hope to have Kno make some tracks for my next album. The more people I meet in the game who are further ahead than me and more established than I am the better. They all seem to treat me with respect because they know I’m coming from a pure place with the music. As long as I continue to put out quality work there’s no reason why I couldn’t get some bigger names on my next release.

FDB: In a more general sense, what do you make of hip hop at the moment? Do you still have a lot of time for people making music now?

G: I think if you talk to any MC who is cut from the same cloth as me the first thing they’ll say is ‘fuck the industry’ and stuff but I think if you look at any music whether it be punk, rap, rock, folk or whatever the stuff we are spoon fed through MTV and the radio is garbage, so ultimately it’s up to the listener. If you love the music then you find other artists who aren’t being shoved in your face with huge cars and half naked women on it: you can find beautiful music. The thing with hip hop for me is that the way it is marketed is really destructive socially. Essentially what you have is a black artform, and I realise I’m saying this from the perspective of a white MC that is now characterised by really strong stereotypes and destructive messages being sent out about the urban community that is being consumed by wealthy, middle and upper class white kids who kind of see it as their dose of reality. Unfortunately when you look at the music the labels are putting out it really just perpetuates a lot of stereotypes and a lot of negative things: that’s my biggest problem with it. But you know if I’m in a club out dancing and I hear a commercial song it can sound good, there still needs to be a niche for that, but it’s shame that it strangles everything else with stereotypical rap bullshit. I don’t hate it, it’s there and it exists in all genres. It’s a testament to how powerful hip hop can be that it’s on loads of commercials and I still have a lot of hope and I think the listenership are getting tired of all that bullshit too and seem to be leaning towards more emotive, constructive and positive music.

FDB: Obviously your main point of focus at the moment must be Rhymes & Beats, but have you got other projects lined up?

G: Canyon is out in Spain at the moment on a Fulbright scholarship and his project is to record a multi-lingual, international hip hop album kind of tracing the roots of human migration through Spain and how that affected its music. So I’m actually going out there to record an album with a bunch of MCs from Spain, France, Morocco and really all over Europe and we’re starting that in January. Beyond that I’m doing other production work and playing with my band so I’ve still got a lot going on.

FDB: I wish you the best with it man.

G: Thanks man, peace.

Not only has it been a pleasure talking to artists of late, I also think that the increasing interview activity in the blog scene in wider terms is an interesting indication of the ever-growing profile of online hip hop spots. It’s good to see artists taking the time to engage with the internet heads… long may it continue. I’ve hopefully got a few more in the pipeline in the near future, so stay locked.

Make the most of the remainder of your Sunday: beer, TV and a comfy sofa is the order of the day round my way. That’s what Sundays were made for, isn’t it?

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Where It’s Due – ‘Soft Shell’ Sample
October 24, 2007, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Breaks, Producers


Motherlode – ‘Soft Shell’
taken from When I Die (Buddah, 1969)

Gangstarr – ‘Credit Is Due’
taken from Lovesick 12” (Chrysalis, 1991)

DJ Shadow – ‘Changeling’
taken from Endtroducing… (Mo Wax, 1996)

Although it’s obvious why some breaks have achieved such popularity, my digital digging sessions occasionally uncover a break that seems significantly underused. One such example can be found on a song called ‘Soft Shell’ by late 60s pop rock/funk outfit Motherlode, whose opening two bars feature what can only be described as digger’s gold. An initial snare hit seems to hang in the air for an extended moment, building the impact of the drop into crashing cymbal hits and pounding kick drums. However, despite its ripeness for sampling it has only been interpolated a handful of times, surprising given the potential offered up by Wayne ‘Stoney’ Stone’s beautiful drum track.

Of course, it’s not been totally overlooked, and the pedigree of producers who have used it speaks volumes about the quality of the break itself: The Breaks cites DJ Shadow (incorrectly), Preem and Lord Finesse as exponents of the sample. The only two instances of its use that I actually know of first hand are on Gangstarr’s ‘Credit Is Due’, the flipside to the ‘Lovesick’ 12” from their classic Step In The Arena LP, and DJ Shadow’s ‘Changeling’ taken from the sensational Endtroducing…, arguably the ultimate digging record. (Shadow has in fact used the song on two occasions, using the sax solo on his ‘duet’ with DJ Krush, ‘Duality’.)

‘Credit Is Due’ has to be one of the best non-LP cuts that Premier and Guru ever put together. Although Guru’s braggin’ verses are essentially standard fare, they sit particularly well here, the dark, moody quality of the beat providing the rhymes with a satisfyingly gritty edge. Preem does little more than loop up the first bar of the drum break and beef it up a little, but it is enough to provide the song with texture and depth. Shadow’s approach is far more intricate, with deft chops splicing the break into innumerable pieces, and this provides him with the opportunity to play around with it ad infinitum. Using an array of delay and reverb effects throughout ‘Changeling’ keeps the groove moving with variation, and it stands as a demonstration of Shadow’s innate production genius and his ability to transform music from the past into compositions that sound intensely modern. Indeed, it’s hard for me to believe that this record was made over a decade ago: whatever direction Shadow may be going in nowadays, Endtroducing… endures for me as an album that is truly timeless.

With regards to the break’s use elsewhere, I’m ready to be schooled. I’m sure I’ve never heard a Lord Finesse album cut that uses the drums, and they don’t seem to appear on The Nonce’s World Ultimate LP either, although this is not a record I know particularly well. If you know, let the geek in you free and drop a comment: from one geek to another, it will be much appreciated.

Midas Touch Live


Nas – ‘Thief’s Theme’ (Midas Touch Remix) (snippet)

Midas Touch Website

Yesterday, I was checking out Nappy Diatribe which has got to be one of the funniest blogs out there and took a look at the footage that Humanity Critic had posted of a segment from Bill O’Reilly’s show. This experience struck me for two reasons:

1. As an outsider who has only a passing understanding of American contemporary culture and politics, I found it incredible that a ‘journalist’ on nationwide television is allowed to so strongly promote/condemn a political viewpoint. Having watched the original footage, I then checked out O’Reilly’s interview with Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman, the first half of which is a ‘memo’ in which O’Reilly slanders those on the far left. Believe me, I’m not trying to get involved in anything too political here, but you would never see a broadcaster on British TV speak in such a biased fashion. That’s not to say these points of view aren’t promoted over here, but they are promoted by politicians and those who are interviewed, not by those who should be seeking to provide an overview of the issue at hand. Maybe I’m missing out on the other programming that Fox offer which evens out this argument, but it just had an impact on me because you just don’t see such blatant propoganda like that on British TV.

2. Enough of that. Far more interestingly, they played a collage of clips that were meant to expose Nas as the gun-toting, crime-promoting villain that he is: a message that passed me by entirely as I heard a remix of his song ‘Thief’s Theme’ that banged hard. A little internet research exposed the remix as a YouTube only exclusive put together by a producer called Midas, a song which I have subsequently purchased from hiswebsite. This is a remix of epic proportions, and I can’t recommend that you cop it enough. It could almost be mistaken for a Premier beat, which you know is no bad thing. Enjoy the snippet I’ve provided here and then go buy it: you’ll be bangin’ this one for days.

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Break It Off – ‘Ghetto Celeb’ Beat Deconstruction
October 22, 2007, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Funk Inc. – ‘Goodbye, So Long’
taken from Superfunk (Prestige, 1973)

YGz – ‘Ghetto Celeb’
taken from Street Nigga (Reprise, 1993)

Although the YGz EP Street Nigga has its moments, I can clearly see why the Pete Rock affiliated crew disappeared rather swiftly after their decent but unexceptional 1993 drop. Given that The Chocolate Boy Wonder handled the majority of the production duties, it’s no surprise that the majority of the beats bang here, and ‘Street Nigga’, ‘Ghetto Celeb’ and ‘Sumthin’ 4 Da Head’ all deserve to be viewed as prominent pieces in Rock’s expansive jigsaw of work.

The real problem with this release is the performances of MCs Kenny Austin and Tommy Guest, whose combination of pedestrian flows and complete submission to cliche puts the whole project at risk, and it is only through the production prowess of Mt. Vernon’s finest that Street Nigga is narrowly rescued from the jaws of total obscurity. ‘Ghetto Celeb’ represents the clear standout for me, a chunky slab of Pete Rock soul that is accompanied by some of the more palatable verses from Austin and Guest. Sticking to straight braggin’ verses suits them relatively well, and it means the crew steer clear of the ‘rhymes by numbers’ misogyny and homophobia that can be found in abundance elsewhere on the EP.

Rock gets his fingers dusty in the Funk Inc. back catalogue for inspiration here, jacking bass and horns from their track ‘Goodbye, So Long’ that appears on their fourth studio album from 1973, Superfunk. The original sample source is itself a joy, and its rumbling bass (played by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson) and funky horn stabs are tailor made for a little Soul Brother reworking. Using filters to remove the organ and guitar tracks from the opening section of the song strips the break down to its core, and the reverberation added to the horns and the way in which they playfully rebound between left and right audio channels adds a welcome depth to an otherwise simple formula. It’s also interesting to note Rock’s sung hook at the chorus, a feature rarely seen in his work that adds another of layer to the composition that helps maintain its rolling, funky vibe.

Below par lyrics + above par beats: a formula so often seen in hip hop during the second half of the genre’s golden era and one that perfectly encapsulates Street Nigga. Still, at $0.64, there’s little excuse not to add this to your collection and its highlights, most notably ‘Ghetto Celeb’, are more than worth the price of admission. Pete Rock opening proceedings here at who would have guessed it?

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FDB Interview Spot – Eddie James
October 16, 2007, 2:59 pm
Filed under: Interviews, Producers

AK Skillz – East To West’
taken from One Life Ta Live 12” (Tru Criminal, 1996)

Eddie James – ‘My Thoughts’(Unreleased)

Seth Marcel – ‘Hardcore’ ft. Aki
taken from So Necessary(Unreleased)

Eddie James @ MySpace

When I wrote my recent post on three producers who I wish I’d heard more from, little did I know that it would lead to not one, but two interviews with the artists I mentioned. I’ve waxed lyrical on two occasions about Eddie James’s work here at FDB on the sensational AK Skillz 12” from ‘96: both ‘One Life Ta Live’ and ‘East To West’ are truly slammin’. I had the pleasure to talk to him last week, and I really appreciated his openness and friendly, upbeat manner which made it a true joy.

From Da Bricks: As I said to you the other day, that AK Skills 12’’ has been one of my discoveries of the year. Does it surprise you that 11 years later someone living in the UK is writing about it on a blog?

Eddie James: You know, it’s funny because Skills [director of Tru Criminal Records] called me up and was like, ‘Yo, you’re never gonna guess what I’ve seen. There’s this blog, and it’s about you!’ You never really know… I knew that I was doing something special back then. I talk with Just Blaze who I met essentially through MySpace, and we had met a couple of times before but he didn’t know that I was the guy who did that record. I asked him for some advice, and he was like, ‘Is this the Eddie James who did ‘East to West’ on Tru Criminal?’ He remembered my name from then even though he didn’t remember who the other artists were. I haven’t actually heard ‘East To West’ or ‘One Life Ta Live’ since ’97/’98.

FDB: Can you talk me though the construction of those songs?

EJ: I was using an MPC 60 through college and I was a part of a group called Channel Three, kinda like Main Source in a way where we were all DJs and producers. When I graduated from college I couldn’t take the equipment! Syracuse is about four hours from the metropolitan NYC area, so when I moved back down I copped an SP 1200 and the 950. The problem with the SP1200 was that it didn’t have a lot of sample time, maybe a total of about ten seconds. For ‘One Life Ta Live’ I multi-pitched a note from a Minnie Riperton song or something like that. I just took the keys. Part of my thing is that I’ve always been known to have drums: neck snappin’ and clean. If you listen closely ‘One Life Ta Live’ reminds me of a Pete Rock track, and the high hat is one that got used a lot, taken from an O.J.s’ record called ‘Give The People What They Want’. Listen to that record and you’ll hear the high hats, that’s where everyone used to rape them from during the early ‘90s.

FDB: It’s interesting that you’ve picked Pete Rock because the producer it really reminds me of is Buckwild. Would you say that’s a fair comparison? Has he been an influence on you?

EJ: Buck is my friend man. There were only three producers responsible for the Tru Criminal movement: myself, Buck and Domingo. I really loved Buck’s production on the AK Skillz track that was on the EP. It was a hard, hard record.

‘East To West’ was one of the first times I ever used the 950. It was simple, the drums were hard and the melody was soft. My father was a jazz artist and so I got a lot of my influences from his records. Pete Rock flipped the same sample and he used to play my record followed by his on the Future Flavas show with Marley Marl. We did the same thing with it, filtered it and let it run. AK was great on the vocals again and it feels like we were doing something special at that time.

FDB: Whatever happened to AK Skillz? I heard at one stage that he’d done a little time in prison. Is that right?

EJ: Yea, he did some time. AK was a strange guy man. He was good people, but he was the type of person that would talk in riddles all the time. You never really knew what the hell he was sayin’! [laughs] When it came to rhymes he was incredible. He reminds me of Nasty Nas, but you know the early stuff. If you listen to his verse on ‘Live At The BBQ’ it really reminds me of AK, you know the Queens rappers, they have the same cadence. Unfortunately, the streets are the streets and some people can’t get out of it. I haven’t spoken to him in about eight years bro. I wish him well, wherever he is.

FDB: How did you hook up with the Tru Criminal label and get your start in the production game?

EJ: The guys who ran Tru Criminal were my college buddies. We all went to Syracuse together and they kinda brought me along with them. I’m actually from Syracuse so I wasn’t actually in the tri-state area so it was hard for me to get a hold and compete with the producers. I used to DJ a lot in battles and stuff like that, and I knew I could do the scratches that Jazzy Jeff was doing and I carried that approach over to production. If your beats didn’t sound remotely like Pete Rock, Extra P or Ali Shaheed Muhammad then you really wasn’t doing it right. It wasn’t like I was bitin’, but any person who says they’re not a reflection of somebody then they’re fucking lying.

FDB: I guess that’s the nature of all art. There is always a basis on things that have gone before.

EJ: Take someone like Timbaland. He’s one of my favourite producers but there’s someone in the UK he’s jacking samples from: I don’t think anybody is truly original. I’d like to think of myself as a good collage of a lot of producers.

FDB: How come the label released such a limited amount of material?

EJ: That whole movement came at a time when things were changing. The music changed around ‘97/’98: I’d say Puffy really fucked shit up! Really, that’s when underground records started becoming really underground. Tru Criminal actually got a deal with New Line, and received some national coverage on some Rush Hoursoundtracks.

For me, I started to produce for some other groups like Born Suspicious who were Derrick Coleman’s cousins from Detroit. Derrick was also a friend of mine from college. Those records were alright, but nothing really to go crazy about.

FDB: It’s clear from your MySpace and your more recent material that Dilla has been a big influence for you. What do you think it was about his production style that made it so special?

EJ: The first record of his I ever heard was the ‘She Said’ remix for Pharcyde. That record really hit me. As well as that there was Beats, Rhymes & Life, which to me was a fucking incredible album. A lot of people say it’s too dark for Tribe, but that album is incredible. I knew there was something different about their sound: the melodies were still the same but the basslines had more sub-bass that really attracted me to it. I checked the insleeve and saw that some cat called Jaydee had been involved in the production. My old manager used to work for Jive Records and I can remember meeting Dilla years ago at Battery Studios while he was working on the Keith Murray record. He had a sense of not really giving a fuck when it came to basslines and drums. I used to quantise my drums just to be on the safe side but he was the first producer to not really do it and if you listen to his music the bass kicks are sometimes a little bit off or maybe the high hat, but always on time and the basslines were just incredible. I’d never heard anything like it, and from that point on I was a fanatic. I finally wound up meeting him again because we recorded at the same studio in Detroit. He was a constant professional and just a good person man.

The music speaks for itself; the guy was way ahead of his time. Everybody is using the hard kicks and the claps now but if you listen to the Slum Village albums he’s rockin’ those same claps that everybody eventually used. The D’Angelo Voodoo album uses a clap that ended up on everybody’s records like three years ago. The Trakmasterz ran that clap to the ground! I saw him work as well and at the beginning it sometimes looked like a song wasn’t going to work but when they were finished they were incredible.

FDB: According to Discogs your output is limited to that Tru Criminal phase, but what else have you done between then and now?

EJ: Since then I’ve gone onto work with the likes of Jadakiss, Joe Budden, Obie Trice and my cousin Seth Marcel on On Point Recordings owned by Derrick Coleman. Seth is one hell of an MC man. I was working on a project with him that started in 2000. I didn’t really do that much between ’97 and then. I was still working in the industry, I worked for Def Jam for a while, and I just compiled a library of beats. It’s not like I hit hard times, but it was just a funny time and a lot of guys didn’t want to hear the backpack shit at all. People were sampling big ‘70s records and I just wasn’t with that shit, but I was always producing. Unfortunately the Seth Marcel record was never released. About 2003, a lot of money was spent but no real results followed so it never came out. I did a couple of remixes, like I did a Britney Spears ‘Toxic’ remix, and I worked with R Kelly’s old group Public Announcement; I did a remix for them that featured Big Daddy Kane. It’s just been a case of odd production jobs here and there.

I’m now working with someone called Candice Jones, and I think she’s going to be that one. It’s kind of funny, you go full circle from hip hop to R ‘n’ B but I keep the same approach to making music now as I did in ’97. She’s gonna be my claim to fame, for real. I’m doing about 50% of the upcoming album, and I think she’s also working with Raphael Saadiq on the project right now. There’s also somebody called Sinatra who I’m gonna be working with and he is definitely going to be somebody.

I also do music for television; I’ve been doing that since 2004. I license music for different shows like the Oprah Winfrey show, CSI, MTV Cribs… different avenues bro!

I got a wishlist of people I want to work with in the future when I finish my projects. I got the right person to broker my tracks now in Skills so I’m trying to get on some bigger projects. More soulful, you know like Angie Stone, hopefully Bilal and maybe Common, so I’m just trying to get with the right guys.

FDB: How do you view the culture in this phase of its development? Where do you see it going from here?

EJ: Hip hop is definitely not dead! It can’t be dead. Kanye sold damn near a million copies in a week. Two months prior to that Finding Forever was the number one record in the country. I mean Finding Forever? Common?! Two weeks after that Ear Drum was number two. However, things have changed man. The A & Rs pretty much want to be the fucking artist now, and they glorify some of the fucking shit coming out now. I guess it’s a reflection of our youth right now; I DJ and sometimes I find myself playing bullshit records. All that South shit I just can’t get with it at all. I like some of it, I like T.I., I like Jeezy because they keep it real gutter and I can believe them, you know what I ‘m sayin’? I like UGK and Eightball. I can fuck with that because they’ve been doing it for a long time but all these other guys, I don’t even know their names, but it’s fucked up. But then you look on any corner, every ‘hood and the suburbs and this is what young people are listening to man. I guess my shit is old now, our shit is old. Finding Forever and Ear Drum, there’s the hope right there. Common sold like 200,000 records in the first week, that’s pretty amazing.

There’s only a couple of producers in the game now who I’m really checkin’ for. I still think Dr Dre is amazing, I don’t care what anybody says. His shit is always cutting edge, his drums and basslines are crazy, you know that theatrical hip hop that he does. I put him high up on a pedestal. I think Madlib is absolutely incredible. I heard bits of the Percee P jump off, I got the India Beat Konducta album. It pisses me off all the Dilla fans who hit him up on his website like ‘we miss you’ and ‘you were fucking God, but where the fuck were these people when he was alive and doing it. It’s the same thing with Madlib, he’s big amongst his community but to the masses it’s like, whatever. I guess you’re never really nothing until you pass away. It is fucked up.

FDB: Just to wrap things up Eddie, I know you’re a family man now. How has that affected you as a musician?

EJ: I appreciate you saying musician because I like to consider myself as one. I had to cut the sampling out because a couple of times I did do some work and I got taxed on it and in about 2002 I started playing keys. The whole family thing really hasn’t really changed my approach because I find myself still listening to the same shit. The good thing is that I’ve matured a lot and I think my music is now as mature as it’s gonna get. If you listen again to ‘One Life Ta Live’ or ‘East To West’ I had the same approach: if it’s ’97 or 2007 I still have the same approach. I call it ‘hard love’, hard drums with melodic keys and that has always been my approach.

I had a death in the family when my son Morgan passed away in 2005. The record on my MySpace page called ‘Perfect Angel’ is dedicated to him.

FDB: I’m really sorry to hear that.

EJ: It was a crib death, and if there’s such a thing as rock bottom then that’s it. I guess if I can get through that then I can get through anything. My music has gotten a little more meaningful now, and with the next body of work I do you’ll see a growth in it. It’s still gonna be the same hip hop shit, R ‘n’ B or whatever. Children will do that to ya. As long as my four year old keeps bobbin’ his head when he comes in the lab then I know I’m doing alright.

FDB: It’s been really great to talk to you Eddie.

EJ: It’s good to talk to you too man, stay blessed.

Let’s hope we hear more from Eddie in the future and that he gets the recognition he deserves. I’ll be hipping you to anything that he drops, and make sure you go and check out his MySpace and show him some love. Damn shame that Seth Marcel joint never made it out: ‘Hardcore’ is real tasty street record. Props to the man for sending me over some of his unreleased material as well; I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.

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FDB Meets Oh Word
October 16, 2007, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After my rather bold assertion of an increased rate of activity here at FDB on Sunday, I have of course ended up with egg on my face with another slow start to the week. Unfortunately, ignoring the responsibilities of ‘real life’ this week hasn’t been possible: I’m in the process of applying for a new role at work. I have however got myself together to get another drop up at Oh Word which is essentially an extension of my Q-Tip Beat Series but with a focus on the mighty Tribe. Gocheck it out and let me know what you think.

Floodwatch Kicks Some Ass…

As I brief aside I just wanted to hip you to Flood’s latest drop which is one of the best posts I’ve seen around these internets for a while. Flood’s attention to detail is always phenomenal, but his analysis of the importance of the kick drum in hip hop production really is something special. Get there now.

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I Need A! I Want A! Q-Tip Beat Series IV
October 16, 2007, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Monty Alexander – ‘Love & Happiness’
taken from Rass! (MPS, 1974)

Lonnie Smith – ‘Spinning Wheel’
taken from Drives (Blue Note, 1970)

[Note: Thanks to reader ‘jaycee’ it is clear that my ears did not deceive me. The drum loop in question is Little Feat’s ‘Fool Yourself’ as made famous by ‘Bonita Applebum’, although it remains a possibility that the sax sample comes from ‘Spinning Wheel’. If you know, I’d appreciate the info.]

Apache – ‘Gangsta Bitch’
taken from Apache Ain’t Shit (Tommy Boy, 1993)

Lack of inspiration and a heavy workload have kept me admirably occupied over the last week or so: apologies for the lack of activity here at FDB. I’ve had this post in the vault for a while, but it is the magnificent series of recent drops over at Soul-Sides that has finally lit a fire under my arse and inspired me to roll it out. If you’ve missed out on the ‘Who Flipped It Better?’ series that Oliver Wang has been churning out at a rate that puts this here blogspot to shame then make sure you check it out: O-Dub is indisputably one of the kings of the blog scene. Tuesday’s installment covered the Monty Alexander break ‘Love & Happiness’ and contrasted the way in which it had been used by both The Beatnuts and Q-Tip, and with my ongoing analysis of The Abstract’s deft production style, it feels fitting to finally get around to his work on the Apache track ‘Gangsta Bitch’. Let the proceedings commence…

Originally released as a 7 inch by Tommy Boy in 1992, ‘Gangsta Bitch’ eventually found its place on Apache’s release from ‘93, the humourously titled Apache Ain’t Shit. To be honest with you this particular album has always left me a little cold: all the ingredients seem to be in place for something of quality (decent production roster, Flavor Unit affiliations etc.), but as a whole it lacks something that means it has not received a massive amount of airplay from me. Of course, there are still some treats here to savour, no less so than with the aforementioned cut that features Tip on the boards. I believe that Ego Trip rates this song as one of the best single tracks of the year, and although I feel this is an over-exaggeration, it is without a doubt a solid jam whose success relies on the beat as opposed to Apache’s lyrical ode to the fly, street-savvy honeys of the ghetto which for me occupies the realms of the mediocre. It’s not that the rhymes are bad by any means, but the chorus hook in particular grates, and the result is a tarnishing of the track in its entirety that I struggle to get over.

Tip turns to Monty Alexander’s cover of ‘Love & Happiness’ for the main groove here, yet another example of an artist and song who I have only very recently stumbled across as a result of virtual digging and who I know very little about (oh, to be a genuine, dusty-fingered crate-digger!). The section of the song to focus on arrives at the 4.06 mark with a stripped-down two bars of percussion, electric piano and guitar tracks, although it is really only the electric piano part that survives Tip’s use of filters to draw out the main groove for ‘Gangsta Bitch’. The Breaks also notes the use of ‘Spinning Wheel’ by Lonnie Smith, a sample source that Tribe mined on two separate occasions with both ‘Can I Kick It?’ and ‘Buggin’ Out’ to great effect, but I can’t hear it myself: answers on a postcard folks.

There are other subtleties to the composition that fill the beat out, giving it a plush, melodic feel. The echoing horn stabs (perhaps taken from ‘Spinning Wheel’?) that appear intermittently throughout the cut provide an extra layer of sound that works very well nestled in between the other samples, and scratches at the chorus add a necessary interest to what is essentially a simplistic piece of production work. What particularly interests me about this song is that although it contains many trademark Q-Tip production touches, it is by no means instantly recognisable as a piece of his work, thereby serving as yet another demonstration of his ability to modify his production style in subtle ways that really affirms his skill and versatility behind the boards during his most prolific period of beat-making.

I’m going to try and sort my priorities out this week (read: I’m going to ignore the responsibilities of the rest of my life in favour of some committed internet time), so stay tuned this week for an increased frequency of posts (just don’t hold me to it). Sunday afternoon lazin’ awaits: I’ll catch you later.

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Tru Master – Pete Rock Live @ Jazz Cafe, London
October 16, 2007, 2:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After months of eager anticipation and an all day battle with the London Underground (a reminder of the perils of living in our nation’s capital), last Saturday night heralded my first experience of Pete Rock live. The scope for disappointment in this particular case was massive: The Chocolate Boy Wonder is without a doubt one of my favourite recording artists of all time, and I have rarely, if ever, felt as excited about a gig. Would it live up to expectation, or would I walk away feel cheated? Let’s find out…

Rather expectedly, there’s a hell of a lot of good things to report. With doors opening at 11pm, it was a pleasure to see Pete grace the wheels of steel almost immediately as we got in, and with a set that lasted for just over two hours, there could never be any complaints that the performance was too brief. The set ran thematically, with the crowd being initially treated to a slew of late ’80s classics before the transition into early ’90s bangers and several sections covering key artists of the genre. These sections were particularly enjoyable: I mean, you can’t go far wrong with a generous helping of Tribe, EPMD and the mighty Wu, and it was clear that Pete had read the crowd correctly as much lip-syncing and vibrant movements ensued (particularly from me). Finishing up with a half hour section of his own material was always going to get the Jazz Cafe rockin’, and it did just that in fine style. Clearly a DJ of the true school persuasion, it was also great to see Mt. Vernon’s finest make sure he made his presence felt on the mic as well with traditional call and response shouts going down a treat given the nature of the night. With a few beat juggles thrown in just to increase the flava, Pete’s set was killer throughout. Phew, all good so far.

Inevitably, there were a few elements to the night that griped. First of all, it had been publicised as a DJ/MC set, so in all honesty I was expecting Pete to kick a few verses over instrumentals, but this never happened. No big deal, but the event would have felt all the more complete with some live rhymes, particularly over the classics like ‘T.R.O.Y.’. However, the definitive low point of the event was rather frustratingly in the gig’s dying phases, where Pete showcased some of his new material. Now I’ve already highlighted the fact that I really like the recent a-side ‘914′, and it did go down well with the crowd, but unfortunately the remainder of the new joints were simply not uptempo enough to keep the high energy levels of the evening going effectively. I’m also sorry to admit it, but my first impressions of the three or four songs he played were not good, as they lacked the immediate punch that characterises so much of his extensive back catalogue. Bottom line? They didn’t work in a club. I sincerely hope that this was a result of circumstance rather than a true indication of my feelings of the songs themselves: here’s hoping they leave a more distinct impression on me when absorbed for a while at home after I cop the album in January.

Despite these factors, there is absolutely no taking away from Pete’s skill as a true party rocker. The songs played and the way in which they were sequenced was masterful, clearly the result of years of perfecting the craft. The vibe of the crowd and Pete’s astute DJing abilities made for something truly special: myself and crew had a sensational time. I even managed the obligatory end of night photo with the man himself after muttering something to the tune of ‘your music has really made a difference to my life’, but the smile on Pete’s face alleviates my worry that I made a total dick of myself. However, I am vaguely concerned that I may have an abnormally small head given the proportions displayed below.

It goes without saying that if Pete Rock rolls through your town then you’d be a fool to miss it: I have rarely seen a set put together with such an confident sense of style and finesse. The obsession with all things Chocolate Boy Wonder lives on… rejoice!

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