Filed under: Beat Deconstructions
Aim – ‘The Force’ ft. QNC
taken from Cold Water Music (Grand Central, 1999)
Various Artists – ‘Easy To Be Hard’
taken from Hair OST (Polydor, 1969)
Galt MacDermot – ‘Easy To Be Hard’
taken from Hair Cuts (?, 1969)
So I’m blasting back onto the scene by leaning back on one of my favourite stimulus subjects: the British weather. The weekend just gone by was nothing short of beautiful, with blue skies and blazing sunshine making for some of the finest couple of days of the year so far. Throw this into the mixing pot with the dawn of my five and a half weeks of summer holiday and you’ve got a situation approaching fiesta status. Eff the torrential rain since then, ‘The Force’ is one of my go-to summer classics and well overdue for the deconstruction treatment.
I’m not sure how far Andrew Turner, more commonly known as Aim, has managed to extend his influence beyond British shores but he is without doubt one of the most high profile hip hop artists within a certain demographic here in Blighty. Teetering dangerously on the edge of what could be considered coffee table music, what’s surprising about Aim as an artist is that he has always managed to maintain a sense of credibility despite his particular aesthetic possessing clear mass appeal: yea, that trendy looking student likes to rock it at his afternoon shift behind the bar on a Saturday, but there’s enough substance to his discography to stop such incidents tainting the music for the more discerning listener (read: music snobs like me). All three of his studioalbums are worth copping and his mix for the Fabric Live series was jaw-droppingly good: quite a musical career for a man hailing from Cumbria.
‘The Force’ is one of the most unabashed bangers in his discography and sees him team up with ex-JVC Force member Curt Cazal and long-term affiliate Q-Ball (who I don’t think ever played a part in the crew) who drop satisfyingly accomplished rhymes over a beat that has depth and momentum. The main groove is lifted from ‘Easy To Be Hard’ which can be found on Galt MacDermot’s widely-used soundtrack to the late ’60s musicalHair, a track and theatre production that I’ve mentioned before when discussing the Three Dog Night cover that formed the backbone of Nice & Smooth’s ‘Old To The New’. It’s a straight up loop of the first two bars with low pass filter applied that acts as the foundation of ‘The Force’, steadily built upon with multiple other layers that escape my realm of knowledge. This is frustrating as there’s plenty more at play here, with squealing horns, vocal sample and bouncy piano loop all featuring throughout the composition.
As such, this ‘deconstruction’ is a little redundant because it clearly doesn’t do justice to the musicianship on display. However, as a means to easing myself back into the blog game and presenting a track that may have passed you Yanks by, it suffices perfectly. To ease the guilt of my shallow analysis I’ve also thrown in an alternative version of the source material that I picked up on my digital travels at some point from MacDermot’sHair Cuts, an equally enjoyable version of the song that is well worth the space on your hard drive. Let’s hope the clouds disperse again soon: ‘The Force’ is far too glorious to bump when it’s raining.
Filed under: Miscellaneous
Freddie Foxxx – ‘Can’t Break Away’ & ‘So Tough (Mellow Mix)’
taken from Crazy Like A Foxxx (Fat Beats, 2008)
It’s frustrating that hip hop as a genre seems to have suffered from industry nonsense more than any other over the last two decades or so, but thankfully it seems we’re reaching a point in time where people are realising that there is a demand for out of print and shelved releases from rap’s most dynamic years. The highlight for me in 2007 was the surfacing of the Ultimate Force LP, and it looks like 2008 will have a few treats in store as well, no less so than Freddie Foxxx’s previously unreleased sophomore outing Crazy Like A Foxxx, scheduled to drop at the end of this month.
I’ve been making do with the ridiculously hissy rip of the promo tape for a while now and even though the sound quality is incredibly poor, the caliber of the music still shines through: the whole album typifies the kind of rough, no frills, New York boom bap that made me fall in love with hip hop in the first place. I’ve tried to clean up the audio a little on the two tracks offered here to make them a little more listenable, but I’m literally busting to hear them in all their remastered glory. ‘Can’t Break Away’ features a lovely Curtis Mayfield guitar lick and beautifully rolling bass line that serves as the perfect opener to the album, and although the original mix of ‘So Tough’ that features Queen Latifah is slammin’, I’ve always preferred the ‘So Tough (Mellow Mix)’ that was also included on the promo tape. Whether this is the same ‘mellow’ mix as the one featured on the 12” or not is unclear to me, but Hip Hop DX suggest that there was a remix put together by Pete Rock so I guess this could be his work (although it doesn’t sound like the Chocolate Boy Wonder to me particularly). Ultimately, I can’t wait to see how the production roster is laid out track by track as the album is pretty much filler free and it’s something that has intrigued me ever since I stumbled across Crazy Like A Foxxx at the beginning of last year.
The album is due to drop at the end of the month on Fat Beats alongside the original demo version produced entirely by Buckwild, Showbiz and Lord Finesse (I think I just let out a dribble of sex wee), so there’s going to be plenty on offer for fans of that official rap business. I’ve linked to the DJ Monster preview mix above that features largely the DITC-honed originals as opposed to the final album versions which gives a tasty overview of what to expect from the bonus disc.
Wipe the drool off your keyboard and brace yourself for one of the most exciting musical events of the year so far. I can only hope that 2008 holds more treats like this in store: Pete Rock Future Flavas remixes perhaps? I won’t hold my breath…
Filed under: Slice Of Soul
Marvin Gaye – ‘Cleo’s Apartment’
taken from Trouble Man OST (Tamla Motown, 1973)
I’ve been on a soundtrack tip pretty hard of late and although the vast majority of the albums that I’ve copped have been more than worth the price of submission, none have stood out for me as whole works as fervently as Marvin Gaye’s score to Trouble Man. The title track was one I was already familiar with as it stands as one of my favourite Marvin cuts of all time, but I’m ecstatic that I’ve now shaken myself out of a deep slumber to enjoy the complete score as it is excellent from front to back.
‘Trouble Man’ itself and of course the classic ‘T Plays It Cool’ are likely to be familiar material to you even if you’re not particularly up on Gaye’s discography, but there really isn’t a misstep to be found here. To me this is staggering, as music that is scored to be specifically twinned with the moving image can often suffer when removed from its visual counterpart, but the soundtrack to Trouble Man really does manage to stand on its own two feet and goes down for me as essential work from one of soul’s most charismatic and enduring figures. ‘Cleo’s Apartment’ is the song that has received the most rotation of late, a track that begins with harrowing strings before dropping into one of the most delightfully soulful pieces of music to have graced my ears in a minute ever. The layering of vocals is to die for, as is the gently twinkling piano part and booming claps that punctuate the groove.
As bonus material, you should definitely check out the first of the following videos from Denver’s Boon Doc, who does a fantastic job of flipping the sample with real finesse. I think it was probably Dart that probably put me onto this guy, but I’m now a real fan of his sequence of YouTube videos where he displays genuine talent behind the boards; let’s hope he can make a full transition into the game ‘proper’. The second video is his latest installment, and although it has nothing to do with the post at hand, it’s so damn fresh that I’m chucking it in anyway…
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions
Black Moon – ‘Enta Da Stage’
taken from Enta Da Stage (Nervous, 1993)
Onyx – ‘Shifftee’
taken from Bacdafucup (JMJ, 1992)
Cannonball Adderley – ‘Eye Of The Cosmos’
taken from Black Messiah (Capitol, 1971)
James Brown – ‘It’s A New Day (Live)’
taken from Revolution Of The Mind (Polydor, 1971)
Lonnie Smith – ‘Spinning Wheel’
taken from Drives (Blue Note, 1970)
Alice Coltrane – ‘Journey In Satchidananda’
taken from Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse, 1970)
Shouts to my man Beeboy from the Pete Rock Forum for sourcing this last one.
When I’ve discussed Da Beatminerz’ production in the past, I’ve tended to focus on their employment of loops, a feature of their aesthetic that applies to both drums and grooves during their most treasured period of productivity in the mid ’90s. In some ways I’m concerned that this almost comes across as derogatory because what I’ve perhaps failed to emphasise in these instances is that their work is so much more than a simple cut and paste job: their dense and brooding soundscapes are highly sophisticated demonstrations of the power of a measured, multi-layered and subtle approach to the art of beatmaking. Enta Da Stage must go down as their magnum opus, and today’s deconstruction shines some light on the album cut that shares the LP’s name and emphatically demonstrates this particular facet of their craft.
Even the opening section of the cut is laced with material from no less than three separate sources, and that’s before we even get onto the drums and main groove. The rather aggressive cries of “Buckshot!” bolstered by the rumble of a rowdy entourage come care of Sticky Fingaz and crew on the skit that follows Onyx’s excellent ‘Shiftee’ from their debut LP Bacdafucup, although I think I might be right in guessing that in its original form it was intended as a relatively frightening call to arms as opposed to a nod to Black Moon’s lead emcee (what exactly did 5ft ever do?). Next up is the voice of jazz legend Cannonball Adderley who explains that what’s about to happen “has nothing to do with an arranged piece of music or a set-up as far as our attitude is concerned,” which achieves its purpose of sounding ridiculously cool despite not necessarily making a great deal of a sense… but then when was cool ever particularly coherent? Finally, the panned shouts of “soul” come from the introduction to James Brown’s live rendition of ‘It’s A New Day’, throwing another layer of interest into the mix before Buckshot’s triumphant command to “jump up!” kicks off the lyrical wizardry: woe betide the man that resists the temptation to follow suit immediately.
What these elements ultimately provide the track is a gradually shifting texture in the intro section but it is of course the bass and drums that give the track its ferocious momentum. Percussion is lifted from the ubiquitous Lonnie Smith ‘Spinning Wheel’ break that also crops up on ‘Black Smif-N-Wessun’, its clean and hard-hitting construction at the 4.42 mark making it perfect for transposition into a rugged hip hop jam. Low pass filters have of course always been a speciality of the Dewgarde brothers, and their use of Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ is a prime example of their love for all things low-end. It’s the first couple of cars here that are of note, sped up and then fed through a filter to develop the rumbling bass line that establishes the ear-warbling thrust of ‘Enta Da Stage’.
What’s incredible is that even with this relatively detailed exploration of the various components that go into the making of the track, there’s still several stones left unturned. The prominence of the bass is balanced perfectly by the higher pitch of the other key sample that crops up halfway through the first bar of every two bar sequence, but trying to identify what instrument it is proves hard enough, let alone the source from which it came. There’s also a single, siren-like note that runs intermittently throughout the song that first crops up during the Adderley vocal snippet, adding yet another layer to what is a deceptively complex piece of production work. Ultimately, it’s the way in which these various elements sink into each other that demonstrates the artistic genius behind the track.
Whilst you finish up taking your notes, the final thing I’d like to say about ‘Enta Da Stage’ is that it seems to me a gross oversight to not have made this the first song on the album, the crew instead burying it halfway through the second half of the LP. Whilst ‘Powaful Impak!’ can hardly constitute a poor introduction to the album as a whole, the semantic suitability of this song and its bangin’ vibe seem to scream album opener. Still, this is a minor quibble for an album that is otherwise faultless, and certainly doesn’t detract from the quality of ‘Enta Da Stage’ itself. Need reminding why the brothers from Brooklyn are considered amongst the best that ever did it? Indulge yourself in a nugget of Beatminerz’ gold: ‘Enta Da Stage’ is as good as they come.