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.