Although I have a ridiculous amount of respect for the one and only Masta Ace, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know his material in the way that I probably ought to. Sure I’ve bought/downloaded the back catalogue and enjoyed it immensely, but I’d be lying if I said that I knew his discography inside out. As such, I decided to giveDisposable Arts a little spin out a couple of weeks back, and although I can’t say that I’m besotted with it in its entirety there are of course moments of both lyrical wizardry and satisfyingly bangin’ production on show that make it essential for your digital archives (the out of print CD will already set you back a pretty penny). With the sun blazing through my window it was ‘Enuff’ that made a serious impression on me, sailing through the necessary qualification for the beat deconstruction treatment.
A bouncy, upbeat and summer-tinged jam, the track is produced by Rodney Hunter, a name that had completely passed me by until a little research in preparation for this post. Originally holding an affiliation with Peter Kruder of Kruder & Dorfmeister fame, the man has a production history that is varied to say the least which makes the no frills aesthetic of this track somewhat surprising: it’s hard to imagine that this was accomplished by somebody who only dabbles in straight up hip hop production. Given the cleanliness of the bass line and Hunter’s ability with the instrument I’m assuming that the rumbling bass frequencies that underpin the main groove were also played by the man himself. Good work fella!
Sample fodder comes in the shape of Love Unlimited’s ‘Share A Little Love In Your Heart’, a pleasing yet overly lavish piece of ’70s Barry White-honed soul that at times is breathtakingly beautiful and at others cringe-worthingly corny, lifted from their album of 1974 entitled In Heat. So far looked over for the reissue treatment, I’m disappointed that someone hasn’t made the effort to put this out as I would hazard a guess that there are other delights of a similar vibe to indulge in for fans of the Walrus of Love’s meticulously executed and dramatic sound. Check the opening section of the song for the keys that form the backbone of the Masta Ace cut: you can’t miss ‘em.
Ultimately I would liked to have seen a little more of this Rodney Hunter figure within the hip hop realm, as I really do feel that this beat encapsulates that turn of the millennium production aesthetic as well as more well-established producers of the era. Still, I’m pleased that he dropped this little gem on us and so should you: if it’s sunny where you are (it certainly isn’t anymore over here), wind down the windows in the ride and enjoy. The summer’s on its way, isn’t it?!
Filed under: Miscellaneous
Jaz’s recent Beatminerz compilation reminded me not only of how great their version of DJ Krush’s ‘Meiso’ is but also of the astounding quality of two other bangin’ versions by the man himself and DJ Shadow. All three have bounced around the cavities located on each side of my head for years now, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever managed to decide on a definite favourite. Whereas the dark, brooding aesthetic of the original always instigates a relatively violent nodding of the head, the drop into the chorus on Shadow’s version is absolutelydevastating… but what about the filtered groove on Da Beatminerz’s cut? Goddammit!
There are several other remixes of this track in existence, so if you think I’m missing a trick then tell me, otherwise state your preference and help cease the whirring in my head. Please.
Filed under: Breaks
Although I don’t know a great deal about saxophonist John Klemmer, his relatively extensive discography and collaborations with artists such as Tim Buckley, Nancy Wilson and John Lee Hooker speak volumes about his contributions to music over the last 35 years or so. Having recently stumbled upon a reissue of his first solo outing Blowin’ Gold, I was pleased to discover the rousing ‘Free Soul’, a track that has received the sample overhaul at the hands of several prestigious diggers. Although the song is most closely associated in my mind with Kurious’s ‘Leave Ya With This’ and Ed O.G.’s ‘Less Than Zero’, I wanted to instead shine a light on the following selection of cuts that either qualify as under-acknowledged or display particular finesse behind the boards.
Although I’m a huge fan of MC Lyte’s earlier material, there’s no doubt that her 1993 release Ain’t No Otherleaves something to be desired. It’s not that the album is necessarily bad by any means, but when compared with the energy and originality of her defining moments in the late ’80s there’s definitely something missing here. With overt attempts to cash in on the more prevalent street aesthetics of the era, Ain’t No Other goes down for me as a relatively typical example of an artist trying to stay in line with contemporary trends but failing to do so very convincingly.
Having said this, ‘Lil Paul’ is an enjoyable enough number that incorporates the main sax refrain from Klemmer’s original to produce one of the standouts from the album. Honed by the essentially unknown Funk (anyone know anything about this Sweet N Lo’ album that features contributions from Funk and members of the Alkaholiks’ camp?), there’s enough bounce to the beat and variation in the production to keep things interesting and provide Lyte with a palatable platform to get verbally aggressive. Groundbreaking this ain’t, but bump it loud and that head will develop a satisfying and all-too-familiar nod: rock the house, L to the Y and the T to the E!
Picking favourite beats from Akinyele’s solo debut is nigh on impossible due to Large Pro’s devastating realised craft on Vagina Diner, but I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Exercise’ and Ak’s somewhat goofy debunking of the virtues of exercise. In terms of the production, ‘Exercise’ features a trademark Large Pro manoeuvre with the succinct use of a low pass filter applied to the first couple of bars of the sample, although it is uncharacteristically stripped down with only drums to act as a bolster for the song’s three minute duration. Still, with that bass rumbling underneath the cymbal-heavy percussion you won’t hear me complaining: this is slammin’ early to mid ’90s production at its very finest.
Yea, you guessed it: yet another ‘isn’t Pete Rock great’ diatribe. However, in this particular instance I feel comfortably justified in saying that both ‘Blah Uno’ and ‘The Life I Live’ really are amongst his best work and am thereby absolved of the nagging feeling that maybe there’s a little too much Soul Brother focus here at FDB (as if).
Pete was obviously digging on Klemmer’s LP back in the mid ’90s, using carefully selected sax loops from ‘Free Soul’ for both of his shelved projects of the era that were subsequently released on BBE in 2003. Despite my love of the InI project, my preference here lies with the Deda beat that features the same filtered bass that can be found on the Akinyele joint. In addition, Mt. Vernon’s finest adds a flurry of sax jacked from the 1.25 mark that gives the production a magnificently warm, jazzy feel that is vintage Soul Brother. Of course, the InI track is still fantastic, incorporating a couple of bars of Klemmer’s squealing sax from the 0.47 mark to sit over the Rotary Connection sample and neck-snappingly fierce drum track in the creation of a certified banger (a link would be much appreciated if you’re fortunate enough to own this album released on Cadet).
Although purists would undoubtedly cite Mecca & The Soul Brother as his finest moment on wax, this particular fan would argue that there is a sophistication to the beats in this period of Rock’s career that is unparalleled in his broad discography. It’s a damn shame that these albums fell victim to the same old industry bullshit because to my mind both Center Of Attention and The Original Baby Pa would otherwise have rightfully asserted their places as classic material. Discuss/contest/crucify at will dear readers: I’m poised and ready.
Filed under: Producers
With the end of the holidays now in sight full-time employment looms once again. As such, I’m gonna be pretty busy over the next couple of days with work as well as having a short break away with the lady (gotta make the most of the holidays while they last, right?).
As a result of this I’m doing something I rarely do which is simply present you with a couple of songs that are back in heavy rotation around my way without saying a great deal about them. UK producer Ghost is easily one of the shining lights of the British scene and his debut LP Seldom Seen Often Heard is exceptional, permeated from front to back with a moody and captivating vibe that is intoxicating. Here are two of my favourite cuts for your listening pleasure, the more characteristically brooding ‘Basic Instinct’ supplemented by a dose of spring-infused fun in the shape of ‘Talk To Me’. Enjoy and cop the album if you haven’t already.
Filed under: Slice Of Soul
[Shouts to Beeboy at the Pete Rock forum for putting me onto this.]
My knowledge of the Blaxploitation era of film-making and the soundtracks that they spawned is painfully limited, and it’s only when I stumble across records such as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s score for The Education of Sonny Carson that I realise how badly I need to step my game up in this field of musical history. According to my fam at the Pete Rock forum this is a very rare record, so props go out to Tony for posting it up in the first place (I got a feeling I’m going be digging around his archives for the foreseeable future).
The album itself is a wonderful collection of both instrumental and vocal tracks, and ‘Girl, Girl, Girl (Sonny & Virginia)’ is the song that instantly jumped out at me for this particular post as it features staggeringly beautiful arrangement by Perkinson and an equally impressive vocal performance by Leon Ware. It’s always satisfying when a little internet research starts to open up a new web of understanding to my knowledge of the era, and it turns out that Ware has worked with numerous high-profile artists such as Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton and Quincy Jones. A foray into the depths of the internet is in order for both of the artists involved here: trust me, I’m on it.
In the meantime, enjoy. This is one of the most delectable slices of soul that I’ve come across in recent times, and as indicated above, I imagine that this won’t be the last time you hear about either Perkinson or Ware around these parts. Any specific recommendations for music or reference guides to Blaxploitation films in wider terms gratefully received: school me readers!
To round off the week’s celebration of all things K-Def here at FDB, today’s beat deconstruction picks apart what is for me one of the greatest cuts that he has ever put together: Real Live’s ‘Ain’t No Love’. So much more than just a ‘banger’, the track in question exemplifies that mid-‘90s sound to such a degree that it serves up a veritable lesson in boom bap aesthetics, a flawless realisation of how emotive, sonically rich and downrightbeautiful hip hop music can be when executed by a master.
Let’s begin with the sample. K-Def’s inspiration comes in the shape of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s song ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ lifted from his album of 1974, Dreamer. Essentially his one hit from a relatively extensive back catalogue, the song is a fine mix of blues and soul that also finds its way into the Kanye West-honed cut ‘Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)’ from Jay-Z’s highly celebrated return to form, The Blueprint. It’s the chorus hook from Bland’s composition that is the most instantly recognisable of the elements that find their way into the Real Live joint, but notice also the jangling guitar riff that runs below it as it clearly contributes to the song’s highly developed layers of texture. The strings are of course another key element to the K-Def beat that I assume have been lifted from the same source, although it’s impossible to discern from exactly what point given that if they are, they have been rearranged and distorted significantly during the production process.
And herein lies the complexity for your resident ‘deconstructer’, readers. The strings are just one element to ‘Ain’t No Love’ that prove difficult to pick apart given the simple fact that there is so much going on here. The opening section is a case in point, with the first four bars featuring both the main vocal hook and strings as well as a recurring ‘yeah’ that echoes out in preparation for the main beat drop, only to be followed by the inclusion of what I can best describe as the wail of a neutered pterodactyl swooping overhead at the beginning of bars six, eight, ten and twelve (not my most eloquent of moments, I know). The result of these various elements coming together is a feeling of being completely surrounded by the song, the listener plunging ever deeper into a bottomless lake of constantly shifting musical water only to surface four and a half minutes later with an almost irresistible desire to take a breath and dive again.
There is a risk when undertaking these deconstructions that such an analytical approach to the production process detracts from the experience of simply listening, that it removes the scope for an emotional response that truly great music can evoke. With ‘Ain’t No Love’, as much as I have tried to sit back and assess the intricacies of K-Def’s composition, all too often I’ve realised that I’m no longer paying attention to these details anymore and am lost in the song’s swirling brilliance. If ever you needed proof that K-Def was amongst the best that ever did it, take a minute to indulge yourself in one of the most sumptuous slices of hip hop production ever committed to wax. Just make sure you don’t forget your swimming trunks.
So here we go with the second installment of my interview with the mighty K-Def. This time around we talk in more depth about how his creative process has changed over the years with a particular focus on computer technology, an overview of how The Article EP (what do you mean you haven’t downloaded it yet?! Get on it!) came about as well as reminiscing over some of his extensive back catalogue. I’ve also thrown in one of his lesser known cuts in the shape of Mic Geronimo’s ‘For Tha Family’ for your listening pleasure, a beautiful slice of K-Def orchestral phatness.
Just to give you an overview of things to come from the K-Def camp, these are the releases pencilled in for 2008:
Beats From Da ’90s (Instrumental)
Collard Greens (Instrumentals with some guest MCs)
Analog Past (Instrumental)
Digital Future (Instrumental)
Rest assured that as soon as I know more about them, so too will you. Enjoy the rest of the interview and check in on Friday for a beat deconstruction that focuses on one of my favourite K-Def produced joints of all time: see you then.
From Da Bricks: You’ve spoken a lot there about new technology. How has using Logic and other digital programs changed the creative process for you? Did it take a complete shift in mindset?
K-Def: I can tell you this much. If I hadn’t jumped on the computer in ’98 I wouldn’t be doing tracks no more, I would have just been known as K-Def the producer from the ‘90s that did these hits and that’s it. I wouldn’t have did Ghostface, I wouldn’t have did the KRS One or the UGK or the Diddy, none of that stuff would have ever come out. I would’ve given it up because the computer and Logic taught me how to play. I don’t know how to play a whole full song but I know how to program play. I can actually hear what I’m listening to and replay it back which I couldn’t do when I was on the MP, it just wouldn’t allow me to do that. Now everything is keys and I get to hear music better now and I get to see my music better now and do complex things that I could never do on my machines. I love it, I love it to death. I feel like I’m a Logic expert now, I’ve been on it for twelve or thirteen years now since it was version 2.5 and Cubase since it was version 3.0 and I just love the computers man. I love the technology, I love the virtual instruments. They’re making great, great sounds now, they’re getting better and better and the more you learn how to play the instruments the better they sound when you record them so it’s really great.
That gives me all the happiness in the world to be able to turn on my computer and know that I can produce a track that day. I can have EQs, I can have compression on my tracks, edits, I can have it mastered and mixed. Those are things I couldn’t do when I was on the MP unless I went upstate to Marley’s studio and get on the SSL board and waste a whole bunch of electricity, and all that just to make a beat that probably wouldn’t have ended up on nobody’s album. There was a whole bunch of extra time that was being taken that I don’t have to take no more and I get better results than I did then. I’ll never go back. I use the MP for drums every now and again or when I’m in the mood for an MP beat I’ll do it but anything that I produce is going to be pretty much on the computer. I’m sold on that. That keeps me going, it keeps me happy and helps me not to have to rely on having a band or getting hired musicians. I got everything I need in my own little studio in my house and I can do anything that my brain tells me to do. I couldn’t pull that off before, I’ll be honest with you. It was just too expensive and too time-consuming.
FDB: Are you happy with the changes they made for Logic 8?
KD: Logic 8 is actually great. They did a lot of overhauls to it. Put it like this: the way it looks for a new user it’ll be great because he doesn’t know, but for me, coming from the earlier versions, Logic 7 Pro is actually a lot more stable than 8, but 8 has the greatest plug-ins of all time. I did the American Gangster album through Logic 8 as far as the final mixing and mastering and it definitely makes a difference in sound. The sound is a whole lot better than Logic 7. The compressor plug-ins, the EQs… they are fantastic, I love ‘em to death.
I use Logic for the more complex stuff, but then I use Cubase if I want to sound like my old stuff from my MP days. Cubase is more my analogue funk machine, whereas Logic is my digital composing machine. I use them both as tools, I don’t pick one over the other and I know them both on expert level. The best thing about Logic is that when I get my mixes done they really sound good compared to any other program, even Cubase doesn’t sound as good as Logic when I get to mixdown. Logic is my inspiration, but Cubase is like my tool when I want my drums to sound funky and MPC style, with quanitzing and the right fills and those really intricate loops where if I was on a machine it would take a lot of edits to get it really tight. On Cubase it’s just a case of warping or time stretching where it just snaps everything right to your beat where you don’t even hear it. It’s the best. Cubase is my main program for making the hot beats. UGK was done in Logic, KRS One was done in Cubase as was Diddy’s ‘We Gon’ Make It’, Ghostface’s ‘Over’ was done in Cubase, Jayo Felony’s record was done in Logic. It just varies: anything that came out was one of those two programs. Believe you me, I’ll never turn back man. They make me happy and wanna keep on making beats everyday. I don’t knock anybody who uses what they use but I just think that with technology that those two programs are the best of the best. If it wasn’t for them I would have stopped making beats a long time ago.
FDB: Let’s talk a little more about The Program project with Dacapo. How did you guys hook up?
KD: He came through from a friend and he was telling me his story; he’d be working with a bunch of guys and they’d go into the studio and it would seem like it would never get to him when it was time to record and he wouldn’t get a chance to get his songs done. The first time I heard him he reminded me of Large Professor, this guy reminds me a little bit of C.L. Smooth… he started reminding me of too many guys who I used to like and I was just like, I got a lot of soul records, I got a lot of breaks and a lot of stuff that would fit his style so we decided to work on something. We did a song and he sounded pretty good man and I thought we could do something together. For some reason, he just had an ear for the tracks he was hearing and was like “I want to do that… I want to do that,” and my style of music just fit his style of rhyming.
We wound up doing an EP that we’re gonna have for free download and we have an album also that we just finished completing. It’s looking really good and we’ve actually started on another album as we speak, we’ll probably be recording again this week. We just gonna keep movin’ because I just feel like he’s a dedicated guy and he really loves his craft. You can tell he’s been into hip hop and the real essence of hip hop, the songs that made a real difference in his life and has influenced him as a person. All I try to do is just complement him by giving him tracks that make him sound the way he would want to sound and not somebody else dictating to him what he should sound like. He’s got the freedom and the opportunity to kind of pick what he wants to pick and that gives him the chance to do it the way he wants to do it. I’m really pleased with that, and I think in time he’s gonna get better. He’s a young guy, this is new for him and hopefully with my guidance and coaching and him having the understanding to make a great record we’ll have a couple of hits under the belt soon.
FDB: I think it’s great stuff. With the downloads you are obviously addressing an online market. Is that something that excites you or worries you?
KD: It excites me more because the physical products are very tough to sell now. I look at some of the biggest artists like Kanye and 50 Cent, and if these guys are not selling no more like that… I’m not even on that level they’re on. I feel like there has to be a better way where the music can get to the people without them having to physically go to a store and buy it. Those days of going to the store and going to buy vinyl and all that… the DJs are always gonna do it, but most people are lazy, everybody got credit cards now so pretty much everybody wants to sit at home and browse around on their computer and see what the can find and have it mailed to their house. Everything’s got so simplified now.
I look at it that it should be a plus as far as I’m concerned, because as far as selling CDs and vinyl through major labels, there’s a lot of red tape involved in that and you have to wait a really long time to see any profit or money back from that, when everybody else is trying to get paid before you do. I think that there are just too many people involved in projects that have to get paid before you get paid and then if the project doesn’t really fly off then you don’t get paid. That’s the part that scares me more, dealing with those companies that don’t give you that 110% push where you can see a little profit and you can look forward to having a second or third album with the company. It’s not like that anymore. At the moment you’re lucky if you come out with an album and if you do, they’re only looking at pushing one song off the album. For me personally, if I got the digital downloads and people are buying it I don’t have to pay all these people out. If it only generates 5000 sales, that’s 5000 sales that came to K-Def, not 5000 sales that came through the company and have to go to this person and that person… by the time it gets down to you, you’re looking at pennies. I think it’s a better way to go and I think it’s only gonna get better because there are more and more big companies getting involved in it and I really want to take advantage of this moment before it gets too big and they figure out a way to rob the artists and the producers online. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in. It’s hard to get into record labels now with deals and everything because they’re not signing any groups or giving any deals out and that’s destroying the future of hip hop and the music. Online is definitely the way to go.
FDB: What about your label Ghetto Man Beats, us that just a vehicle for you to release stuff or do you have other artists signed as well?
KD: Definitely. It’s there to let people know that I have a company, I put stuff out and I love to do joints with other companies that are doing stuff. I take it seriously and I have skills that are just more than just making beats when it comes to the music. Me having a company solidifies that. There’s graphic design in this company, there’s photography, music, DJing, editing, mixing, mastering… pretty much everything involved in the music the company Ghetto Man Beats can get down and do. That’s one of the main focuses right now, having the company stand on its own and be able to do things other than just K-Def making beats for the company there are other things that can transpire from it.
FDB: Jersey is obviously your home and you still live there. How do you think it has managed to establish such a strong sense of its own identity regarding hip hop when it is in such close proximity to New York?
KD: There’s an old saying that states that although it started in the Bronx, hip hop made money in Jersey. Jersey was around the money makers and New York was more the culture end of it, you know what I’m saying? The cultural aspect of it was New York bound and Jersey took that culture and figured out how to make money and a profit from it. That’s what I’ve been around. I was around the Sugarhill Gangs and I saw all that era and for me, I’m not from New York but I got footprints all over New York. From day one when I was a kid when The Rooftop and the Latin Quarter and Union Square and all those spots was open I was a young kid and that’s where I learned a lot as far as the culture. When I came back to Jersey I was looking at the bands and rappers coming in and they were actually doing records over that were really breaks at the time.
Now that hip hop has turned so big the way it is today, people forget that even though I’m from New Jersey, don’t think I’m country, don’t think I’m corny, don’t think I’m lame, don’t think I don’t know what time it is because me and my peoples were only ten minutes away from Manhattan. Going to Manhattan was just like going to another town: it was nothing. I learned a lot, you picked up your dos and your don’ts, street codes… New Yorkers feel like we were trying to be like them or better than them but I just want to clarify that I’m from Jersey, but everybody from New York lived in New Jersey so don’t talk about it, be about it. If you gonna represent New York then go live in New York, I represent Jersey and I still live here. I think I know as much as any other New York guy with producing and DJing and everything else, I just happen to live in Jersey. I wasn’t dumb enough to stay in Jersey all my life, I did get out. That’s the difference: I got out when I was a kid. I got put in situations in New York where I was scared for my life, and from that point on it made me realise how seriously I had to take hip hop and the culture. I don’t think a lot of these new cats understand that. I was at the Raising Hell tour at Madison Square Garden where I saw people get cut and stabbed and beat up, and that was at a rap concert! I was there when KRS One threw PM Dawn off the stage at Sound Factory. I’ve seen a lot of things that show that the only way you get respect is not where you from but actually how nice you are doing what you do and where you at to do it. I felt like if I was as nice as I could be I could show New York that I could do it as well because I was in New York every other day, be it record shopping, being down in the Village, the Bronx, Queens, wherever it was, I was always a part of seeing how they looked at the culture. I vibed from that. There’s not a lot of people in Jersey who could be how I am. As far as I’m concerned you might as well say I’m from New York because I spent my share of time over there.
FDB: When you look back over the last 15 years or so, what do you identify as the best records that you’ve made?
KD: The best records to me? I would have to say the Real Live album. The early stuff, I didn’t look at myself as a producer because I was young, it was going so fast and I was doing so many projects, and it was only when I did the Real Live that I got serious about being an artist and taking on a lot of the business responsibilities that I didn’t have to take when I was just making beats for everybody else. I would say that the Real Live project was a real good project. I don’t have too much to say about the early ‘90s stuff because I really wasn’t paying attention like I am now. My mind wasn’t even set as like being a producer because I was under Marley Marl’s wing at the time and I was really doing everything for the company and not really for me. The Lords Of The Underground and Da Youngstas and the Tragedy, the Sah-B, the World Renown, I was just looking at it like whatever, to be honest with you. It was only when Real Live came into the picture and you know, Jayo Felony, the Ghostface and all the newer stuff I was doing gave me more seriousness in making it happen. I felt good about everything I did after I left Marley Marl. I felt good about those projects because I was on my own two feet doing it by myself and it felt better having been underneath somebody else for so long and not getting the full recognition that I should have got. The Real Live made me feel good because I’d never done a full album except that one.