About a month or two ago I copped Kool & The Gang’s seventh studio album Light Of Worlds, albeit with the sole intention of getting my hands on a high quality version of the undoubtedly brilliant and heavily sampled ‘Summer Madness’.
To my delight I stumbled upon ‘You Don’t Have To Change’, which is both a fantastic song in its own right and the basis for one of the standout beats from NY’s Finest, ‘We Roll’. Granted, the track isn’t exactly soul in the more traditional sense of the word, but ‘Slice Of Soul’ was never conceived to be constrained by petty genre definitions: deal with it.
The song details the plight of a man who like a “zombie in the night” has been awakened by love only to be struck down by the realisation that his object of affection harbours concerns over her own worth within the relationship. Alton Taylor’s lead vocals are beautifully delivered over a soulful groove that runs through several different sections, all contained within a pleasingly compact two and half minutes or so that proves when done right, there ain’t nothing wrong with a dose of brevity.
Inevitably, I particularly like the section that begins at the 1.43 mark as the track gathers a sense of pace with the introduction of a more prominent drum track, but as a whole this is a perfectly crafted number that has had a smile plastered across my face all week: here’s hoping it has the same effect on you.
As a brief aside from the music, I’m off to enjoy the delights on London town over the Easter weekend. Have fun, I’ll catch you on the other side.
Although I have little doubt that the majority of people reading this post will have a similar appreciation of the wonders of Show’s production style as I do, it strikes me as a gross oversight that he is rarely mentioned in the inevitable and never-ending G.O.A.T. conversations that relentlessly crop up amongst the online hip hop community. For me Show’s back catalogue is not only one of the strongest in the game, but it also demonstrates an ear for samples and breaks that is both devastatingly effective and truly unique. Need proof? Look no further than the following deconstructions that attempt to argue that the Bronx bomber should without doubt be considered a part of the elite group that are more widely acknowledged as the best to ever do it behind the boards.
Ear For A Groove – ‘Sally Got a One Track Mind (Showbiz Remix)’
Given that ‘Sally…’ in its original incarnation is one of the standouts from Diamond D’s rightfully celebrated solo debut Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, Show’s achievement in producing a remix that gives the track a different twist whilst keeping the slammin’ vibe that made Diamond D’s version so successful is nothing short of sensational. Backed by a forceful drum track of relentlessly pounding kicks and multiple snare hits, the secret to Show’s success here is in the pairing up of the brutal percussion with a decidedly mellow loop, a characteristic juxtaposition that permeates many of his finest beats.
The loop is sourced from Jack Bruce’s Things We Like, a record that has been spliced up and rearranged on multiple occasions by the genre’s more discerning diggers. Most widely known for his role in legendary ’60s outfit Cream, the album was his chance to break away from the group and pursue his lifelong interests in jazz in greater depth. Interestingly, the whole LP took its inspiration from songs that Bruce himself had written when he was as young as twelve, and it features performances by John McLaughlin and a host of other musicians who took part in the emerging jazz fusion boom of the early ’70s. I actually find the record itself a little hard to take, my untrained ears unable to pick apart the subtleties of what can fairly be described as an experimental piece of work. Having said this, ‘Born To Be Blue’ is one of the most cohesive songs to be found on the album for a non-jazz specialist (read: me), and it is here that Show, amongst many others, finds his inspiration.
The moment to look out for drops at the 1.19 mark, a seemingly innocuous couple of seconds from the song that is masterfully plucked by the hands of Show and placed into the ‘Sally…’ remix. It’s really his ear for a groove that impresses me most here, with the majority of other producers focusing on the opening sax solo or more obvious two bar loops such as the section jacked by Da Beatminerz for the Smif-N-Wessun banger ‘Bucktown’ that appears just before the three minute mark. I’m not sure where Show sourced the screeching horns that are added into the chorus sections of the remix, but when combined with this sample from Bruce’s original composition and the slammin’ drum track the result is undoubtedly one of his finest moments ever committed to wax.
Flippin’ Styles – ‘Next Level’
Although I imagine most people favour Premier’s remix of this cut from the sophomore drop by Show & A.G.Goodfellas, this particular hip hop geek gravitates towards the original as the better of the two versions. Featuring a more uptempo and sumptuous quality than the highly revered remix, Show’s production work on the cut is brilliantly executed and stands as a prime example of his deft ability to rearrange sample material into his grimy yet melodic aesthetic with seamless ingenuity.
The guitar sample used in the original version of ‘Next Level’ can be found on Wes Montgomery’s track ‘Angel’ from his 1967 album A Day In The Life, recorded towards the tail-end of his career. I imagine it’s a record that would have appalled purists at the time given its blatant attempt to crossover to a more commercial market, but there are enough enjoyable moments to warrant picking it up if you are interested in the smoother side of jazz from the era (although the covers of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘When a Man Loves A Woman’ are perhaps best avoided).
Show actually jacks two separate sections from ‘Angel’ in putting together ‘Next Level’, taking both the two bars that end in a flurry of strings found at the very beginning of the song for the verse sections and the gradually descending chords that introduce the first verse for the choruses. The tempo is slowed down somewhat from the Montgomery original and it seems as though there must have been some subtle chopping involved to get the sample to sit right over the drum track. Whereas his use of Bruce’s ‘Born To Be Blue’ demonstrates Show’s ability to choose samples that would have passed the less discerning producer by, the way in which he flips the Montgomery break provides us with another perspective on his technique, displaying his proficiency at incorporating elements into his work that are not immediately and easily transferable into a hip hop context.
Filed under: Producers
The first time I heard of Frank-N-Dank was on ‘Pause’, one of the standout tracks on J-Dilla’s Welcome To Detroit album. The LP still stands as one of the best producer led albums ever.
Frank-N-Dank signed a recording deal with MCA, but their 2003 album entitled 48 Hours was shelved by the label. Dilla produced all 15 tracks for the album and showcases some of his best sample-free beats. This was due to the fact that the album was re-recorded after MCA rejected the first version of the album, probably because the label didn’t want to clear all the samples. This version was later released by the group, but without a great deal of promotion the album is one of the lesser known Dilla projects that obviously deserves some shine.
If you’d told me a couple of years ago that in 2008 I’d be spending as much time listening to other genres of music as I do hip hop, I would have pointed towards the large piece of swine hovering above your head and told you to get outta here in a rather aggressive manner. However, times change, and with the progression of the blog and a continually growing infatuation with sample sources I’m currently listening to a wider range of music than ever before: it’s great.
Of course, due to its assimilation into the beast that is hip hop, a lot of my listening habits currently revolve around soul, hence a new weekly feature that will put forward a choice cut that has had me reaching for the rewind button on numerous occasions over the course of the previous seven days or so. Although there will be some reference to its use in a hip hop context, the intention here is really just to put forward a track that I’m feelin’ and fill you in on a bit of background that I will almost certainly have just discovered myself: it’s gonna be as simple (and as manageable for me) as that.
First up in this new series we have ‘It’s Time To Break Down’ by The Supremes. Lifted from their 1970 albumNew Ways But Love Stays, the LP was the second outing for the group after the departure of Diana Ross (excluding their album with Four Tops, The Magnificent 7). The album is most notable for housing their smash hit ‘Stoned Love’, but it also clearly marks a shift into the ’70s both in terms of musical aesthetic and the appearance of the group, constrained somewhat by Motown who were concerned that the new black power look deviated too far from their established image, hence the more traditional pictures inset in the circles below the ‘fros and black turtlenecks.
Sampled by Premier on Gangstarr’s ‘JFK 2 LAX’, ‘It’s Time To Break Down’ is a clear standout on the album, a deeply soulful burner that details the difficulties of distancing yourself from a lover who still holds your heart captive. Jean Terrell (sister of Tammi) does a fantastic job on lead vocals, and the production and arrangement by Frank Wilson is nothing short of outstanding, with a particularly well-crafted opening 30 seconds before the drop into the first verse. All in it’s a fine example of dusty groove soul and goes down as an essential addition to your digital archives.
This first edition of ‘Slice Of Soul’ is especially dedicated to my Dad whose love of all things Motown runs deep: thanks for making Marvin, Martha, Diana et al. such a significant part of my adolescence Shaggy. Now it’s your turn to embrace some of that good ol’ New York rap! I’ll keep dreaming…
Q-Tip’s contributions to Mobb Deep’s seminal sophomore LP are without a shadow of a doubt some of the very best examples of his work behind the boards. Nestled in amongst the dark and grimy soundscapes created almost exclusively by Havoc, The Abstract’s three additions to The Infamous are priceless, aptly providing the listener with moments of melodic respite in the midst of a collection of songs that are otherwise deeply shrouded in the shadows of the Queensbridge housing projects. With ‘Give Up The Goods (Just Step)’, ‘Temperature’s Rising’ and ‘Drink Away The Pain (Situations)’, Tip not only provides the LP with a depth that it would otherwise have lacked but also solidifies his status as a producer who was able to effortlessly switch his game up when the opportunity arose during the heady days that were the mid-‘90s.
For this special edition of the Q-Tip Beat Series I present to you all three Abstract-produced cuts from The Infamous with key sample sources and discussion for your listening and reading pleasure. Let the deconstructing begin…
‘Give Up The Goods (Just Step)’
Esther Phillips, born Esther Mae Jones, lived a turbulent life that was ultimately cut short by a long-term heroin dependency and a substantial dose of heavy drinking on the side that caused her liver and kidney to fail in 1984. Having been discovered by legendary musician and bandleader Johnny Otis in the late ‘40s, Phillips progressed through a range of styles that saw her release numerous albums over a career that spanned 30 years. Amongst her most successful was From A Whisper To A Scream, an album that received a Grammy nomination and which acts as home to ‘That’s Alright With Me’, the inspiration for the first of Tip’s Queensbridge flavoured beats, ‘Give Up the Goods (Just Step)’.
As is the case with all three of these selections (and indeed his back catalogue in general), Tip holds back from rearranging the sample too heavily, jacking a couple of bars from the opening section of the Phillips’s original. It’s interesting to note that the bass also makes its way into the Mobb Deep cut, although its depth suggests that there is either some heavy EQ-ing going on or that The Abstract simply followed the pattern with a beefier sound that he sourced elsewhere.
In terms of its context within the album as a whole, ‘Give Up The Goods (Just Step)’ is the song that seems to bridge the gap between Havoc and Tip’s production style most obviously, with both the sample and ridiculously crispy snare hit smoothly fitting into the Queensbridge aesthetic. It’s a clear demonstration of Tip consciously adopting a slightly different approach for the project in which he realises a grittier style with devastating effect.
Mobb Deep – ‘Temperature’s Rising’ (Remix)
taken from ‘Temperature’s Rising’/’Give Up The Goods (Just Step)’ 12” (Loud, 1995)
Although the sung chorus hook may have inevitably alienated the more steadfastly hardcore heads, ‘Temperature’s Rising’ endures as my favourite Tip produced cut on the album. The soulful melody of the sample and chorus are underpinned by a neck-snappingly fierce drum track, and the result is a musical backdrop that perfectly suits Havoc and Prodigy’s no frills account of trife life in the city.
The source material comes care of Patrice Rushen, a Grammy award-winning musician who is probably best known for her hit ‘Forget Me Nots’ (as sampled by Poke & Tone for Will Smith on the Men In Black soundtrack). ‘Where There Is Love’ is lifted from the same LP as the aforementioned track, entitled Straight From The Heart, and constitutes an enjoyable slice of ‘80s R & B flavoured pop that holds value beyond just sample-spotting geekery. It’s the first couple of bars after the initial drum fill that are of note, another straight loop that is masterfully dropped into the mix at the 0.39 mark of ‘Temperature’s Rising’ by The Abstract.
Inspiration for the chorus hook comes from Quincy Jones and his song ‘Body Heat’ from the album of the same name released in 1974 on A&M. It always amazes me how prolific and adaptable Jones has been during a lifetime in the music industry: from humble beginnings playing trumpet in Dizzy Gillespie’s band to the release of his own material and onto work with powerhouses of popular music, the man’s status is nothing short of legendary. As with ‘Where There Is Love’ the song is enjoyable in its own right, but pay particular attention at the 0.25 mark to hear the vocal hook in its original incarnation.
The remix of the song uses the same key sample source, and although not drastically different, it’s a pleasing rendition of the track with a more overtly radio friendly twist. With the drums toned down somewhat and lyrics cleaned up and re-recorded it manages to hold its own against the LP version and the incorporation of the ubiquitous ‘UFO’ sample provides it with an added depth. All in it acts as gratefully received supplementary material to what I believe is one of, if not the, greatest Q-Tip produced joints of all time.
‘Drink Away The Pain (Situations)’
And so we make our way to the final instalment of The Abstract’s Infamous odyssey. ‘Drink Away The Pain (Situations)’ once again falls in line with the Queensbridge formula, although the heavy drum track is backed up by an uncharacteristically funky break that sets it apart from the other songs that can be found on the LP.
The groove is snatched from a song by The Headhunters called ‘I Remember I Made You Cry’ which appeared on the group’s sophomore release Straight From The Gate. Essentially a loose conglomeration of constantly changing musicians who had worked with Herbie Hancock during the early ‘70s, this album saw the band further step out of his shadow and continue their experimentations into jazz-funk fusion, although the group disbanded after this release only to reform in 1998 with the triumphantly titled Return Of The Headhunters!.
The break can be found at the very beginning of the track and is particularly notable as a result of its three bar structure. It’s a technique that I’ve discussed as a feature of Tip’s production work before over at Oh Word, and it works just as well here as it does in the Tribe joints. The effect of it is difficult to define, but it gives the cut a distinctive and captivating vibe that once again demonstrates The Abstract’s ability to create beats with a subtle complexity that is masked by superficial simplicity. Although there are few changes to the groove throughout its five minute duration, the use of filters that originally appear at the 0.30 mark and a dope verse from Tip himself make this one of the standouts from an LP that is almost impossible to falter: ‘classic material’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Although in internet terms I’m kinda late on this one, the bottom line is that this wouldn’t be FDB if I didn’t throw in my two cents concerning the latest Pete Rock full length NY’s Finest. You’re unlikely to find any particularly original thinking here, as a few blogosphere notables have already said their piece (and said it very well), and for the most part you can probably second guess what my reactions to the record are going to be. Still, for what it’s worth, here is how I’m left feeling after a week or so of getting familiar with the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s latest outing, which easily stands as my most eagerly anticipated release of 2008.
Let’s start with the good. Unsurprisingly, the elements to savour in the record are almost exclusively rooted in the album’s production, which on the whole is beautifully executed. The groundwork laid by Soul Survivor II and his numerous credits on major releases over the last four years or so is clearly built upon here, with Rock having gradually fine tuned his cleaner, more overtly modern aesthetic to the point of near perfection. Tracks such as ‘We Roll’, ‘Best Believe’, ‘Bring Ya’ll Back’ and ‘Comprehend’ are unmistakably Soul Brother penned whilst managing to sound current and involving, and that’s no mean feat for an artist who is rapidly approaching his third decade in the game. Studio engineer Young Guru also deserves a mention, aiding the Chocolate Boy Wonder in achieving a level of clarity with the sound that is for the vast majority of the LP masterfully realised. Although fans with their heads still firmly rooted in the sands of the golden era may take issue with these developments, for me there’s no faulting the beats on offer here (for the most part…), and I’m left with a feeling of warm satisfaction that NY’s Finest still ultimately feels like a Pete Rock record.
Unfortunately, things ain’t all rosy, and even my glaringly biased perspective can’t ignore numerous shortcomings that tarnish the release. Already heavily documented, the guest vocal appearances range from the good to the undeniably wack, with only ‘The PJ’s’ featuring verses that actually match the quality of the musical backdrop care of Rae and Masta Killa. In this context, Rock’s unusually high frequency of vocal contributions is actually a blessing, but there’s little doubt that in terms of both delivery and content his style of rhyme isn’t really up to extended periods of such prominence, and his somewhat clumsy flow begins to feel tired relatively quickly when exposed to such substantial opportunities for dissection. Despite this, I’d still rather listen to Pete Rock rhyme than the majority of the other guests on the album, and when it comes down to it, this is a sad indication of the lack of lyrical finesse on offer.
The other key issue with NY’s Finest for me is that it seems to attempt to do too much at the same time, and this results in a lack of overall cohesion. I don’t actually dislike ‘Ready Fe War’ as much as other respected bloggers seem to, but there’s no denying that it is completely out of place and only serves to disrupt the flow of the album when listened to from front to back. Elsewhere, the more heavily R & B tinged numbers ‘That’s What I’m Talking About’ and ‘Made Man’ are surprisingly weak, particularly given that Rock usually has a knack for incorporating these elements into his grittier aesthetic with a sense of enduring quality (see ‘Take Your Time’ from the first installment of the Soul Survivor series). I’m also not completely sold on the radio friendly ”Til I Retire’, which for me deviates too far away from the traditional Pete Rock sound and again feels a little at odds with the content that can be found elsewhere on the LP.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the initial 12” release featuring ‘914′ and ‘The PJ’s’, there’s no getting away from the fact that NY’s Finest ultimately leaves this particular Pete Rock sycophant a little underwhelmed. As much as I want to think that various cuts on offer here will grow on me with time, the combination of essentially dull vocal performances and an uneven level of quality leaves me feeling otherwise. It goes without saying that NY’s Finest still goes down as a must have in my book, but if this is an indication of things to come from Pete Rock, the sad likelihood is that I’ll be relying on his back catalogue with increasing vigour whenever I feel the need for a little Soul Brother fix. The Main Ingredient for lunch tomorrow? Aw, go on then…