Having been heavily back into the first Beatnut’s full-length over the last fortnight or so, I realised that I’ve actually rarely touched upon their work here at FDB. This strikes me as somewhat bizarre because despite only coming around to their material after devouring the more obvious production big-hitters, they still hold a special place in my heart as one of my favourite crews to ever do it behind the boards. OK, so they’ve ended up falling off post-2000 (who hasn’t?), but I still generally find their more recent music to be more enjoyable and imaginative than other outfits who have managed to maintain that same balance between underground respectability and mainstream success (see Dilated Peoples), and that’s saying something given that the inaugural Intoxicated Demons EP dropped in 1993. It’s probably no surprise to you that Street Level has endured as my favorite album from their back catalogue, and so it is that ‘Straight Jacket’ finds itself under the figurative digital microscope today.
What I’ve learned to appreciate about the Nuts since getting into the sample side of things is that those boys dug deep in the quest for funky musical fodder (perhaps that should be ‘dig’: there’s supposedly an album coming next year). Although looking over some of their sample credits reveals a lot of familiar names and breaks, there are also a few bits and pieces nestled in there that demonstrate an individual, artistic approach to the art of digging that is made even more impressive by a handful of songs that will be immortalised as their own unique find (here’s a decent example). Of course this is a quality shared by pretty much all of the production greats, but there’s something enjoyably kooky about some of the Beatnuts’ samples choices that I find endearing as it seems to communicate a passion for unearthing something truly original before transforming it into a very different beast (see corresponding example).
Although in terms of aesthetic The Sons’ ‘Boomp Boomp Chop’ may not seem that obscure a choice – it does after all conform to the standard smooth jazz formula that so many producers turned to during the era – the record itself has proven incredibly difficult to research. It’s not helped by the fact that the album is self-titled and that the name of the group is particularly generic, but I can’t help but feel that this is also an indication of this record’s scarcity and therefore highlights the Beatnut’s originality in its discovery. And the reason for the difficulty turns out to be down to a swift name change by psychedelic west-coast rock outfit Sons of Champlin for their second LP (shouts to reader eons for the info). The sample is easy to spot as it serves as the opening four bars of the main groove in the source material, a beautifully atmospheric mix of electric piano and guitar licks, and despite being pitched-down a little this is just a straight loop. I feel like I’ve said it hundred times before by now, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Any information on The Sons or the record from which this is lifted would be much appreciated.
For drums the selection is similarly astute. Although Harry Nilsson isn’t exactly a small player in the history of music, he doesn’t come to mind immediately when you think of hard-hitting snares, and yet it is from his song ‘Rainmaker’ that the Beatnuts source the percussion that propels ‘Straight Jacket’ forwards with such ferocity. As with The Sons’ groove this also appears to be looped, although extra snares add the necessary detailing and the step up in pace makes this a break to be reckoned with: in some ways I’m surprised that it hasn’t been used a little more widely. The album from which it is taken entitled Harry comes from the earlier stages of his career, released on RCA in 1969, and although I’d like to make some comment about how this work fits into the Nilsson catalogue in all honesty I haven’t got a clue. Yet another musical avenue to explore at some stage…
The ODB vocal sample as hook works wonderfully well, but there are so many other small nuances to comment on here that certify this is a masterfully executed chunk of mid-’90s hip hop music. The running water that disappears after the first eight bars makes the drop into drums all the more glorious, and the use of an unidentifiable high-pitched chirp that intermittently appears throughout the song adds another layer of interest which despite being relatively subtle adds real character to the beat. Then you got the switch in the main groove into the bass heavy riff and some tastefully placed sax to take into account and what you’re left with a beat that is at once perfectly simple whilst masking an underlying complexity.
I’m on a serious Beatnuts tip at the moment so I wouldn’t be surprised if they crop up again in the near future. They have got the funk, after all.
Filed under: Breaks
Dexter Wansel – ‘Theme From The Planets’
taken from Life On Mars (Philadelphia International, 1976)
Given that I’m lacking a bit of time today and am in some serious discomfort (knee cartilage is officially the bane of my life), it seems the perfect opportunity to continue my new series that focuses on everybody’s favourite part of good hippity-hoppity music, the drums. Today’s percussive treat comes in the shape of Dexter Wansel’s ‘Theme From The Planets’, a great slice of space-inspired downbeat funk that offers a hell of a lot more than just three bars of particularly crispy hats, kicks and snares.
So here’s my brief, entirely ripped–off summary of Wansel just to set you on your way into further exploration. A keyboardist raised in Philly, Wansel made his name alongside Gamble & Huff at Philadelphia International Records during the ’70s, eventually collaborating with artists such as MFSB, Grover Washington Jr. and Lou Rawls amongst many others. ‘Theme From The Planets’ comes from his most successfully commercial album Life On Mars which will now set you back a few bob if you hanker after original vinyl as a result of the presence of the track offered to you here: diggers love it. There’s little point in me regurgitating much more info, so follow the links and fill in the gaps yourselves.
As a brief aside, although whipping out the Spock costume does inevitably increase the inherent joy of the listening experience, it’s far from a necessity. However, if you do choose to take the plunge then be wary: those fake pixie ears can be a bitch to remove.
Filed under: Slice Of Soul
El Michels Affair – ‘Too Late To Turn Back’
taken from Sounding Out The City (Truth & Soul, 2006)
Despite lurking within the outer edges of my consciousness for a significant period time, it’s only within the last month or so that I’ve taken the plunge and actually decided to part with some hard cash and check out Brooklyn’s El Michels Affair for real. Up until this point I’ve only heard bits and pieces from their live Wu-Tang collaboration, the root of said lurk, so I was pleased when I received my copy of their first studio outing to find that it was brimming at the edges with the kind of beautifully executed retro soul/funk that has managed to find its place in a more commercial market over the last few years whilst staying admirably pure.
Not being any kind of aficionado means that I’ve really enjoyed listening to Sounding Out The City, although I can easily see how long-standing funk/soul heads may despise how blatantly derivative it is given that it is essentially an exact replica. It’s a damn good one though, and despite the band not really being able to maintain my interest over the course of an album that only just exceeds half an hour, plucking tracks out and enjoying them on their own merit is an easily achieved and joyful task. ‘Too Late To Turn Back’ is one of my current favourites and is representative of the album’s aesthetic as a whole, so if you dig it make sure to pick up the complete LP for more of the same sun-blissed musical goodness. Get me a late pass whilst you’re at it, will ya?
Just a shame the summer’s over. Oh wait, it’s OK, we didn’t have one anyway. I need to get my arse of this miserable island.
Gangstarr – ‘2 Deep’
taken from Daily Operation (Chrsalis/EMI, 1992)
Eddie Harris – ‘Lovely Is Today’
taken from Plug Me In (Atlantic, 1968)
James Brown – ‘Funky Drummer’
taken from In The Jungle Groove (Polydor, 1986)
So perhaps a ‘renaissance’ was forcing the issue a little… I’m still in the throws of Flood’s recently coined late summer lethargy. Expecting the worst, I even checked my visitor numbers today only to discover that they’re higher than ever: what am I meant to take from that? Sometimes the internets make no sense to me.
Anyway, I’m gradually falling back into the habitual and my listening habits have been recently boosted by a rediscovery of the early Gangstarr albums which are of course pretty much flawless slices of boom bap goodness. I’ve actually got Semantik to thank for this rather pleasant spell, as his recently posted video of Pharrell and Premo reminded me of how incredibly dope ‘2 Deep’ is (Pharrell’s pretty enthusiastic about it as well). It didn’t take long before I had my digital dig on, and although the track in question is by no means a demonstration of Premier at his most skillful, the quality of the Gangstarr joint and the source material make it more than worthy of coverage. But then if you can’t turn to Mr Martin whilst drowning in the murky depths of bloggers’ block, then who can you?
What surprised me upon hearing the sample source in this instance was that in terms of production ingenuity, Preem barely needed to lift a finger here. Looping up the bar that kicks off the main groove of Eddie Harris’ ‘Lovely Is Today’ is probably the most straightforward piece of production that I’m yet to hear from the Premier catalogue, and I’m struggling to think of another cut honed by the master that relies so heavily on just one key source. Drums, bass and horns are all in here, and although there is some variation during the chorus sections with a different loop and a ‘Funky Drummer’ scratch this is basic to say the very least. However, let’s not forget that Daily Operation dropped sixteen years ago (!) in a time when it was exactly this sort of simplicity that produced the greatest music that the genre will ever see, and what ‘2 Deep’ really reinforces is the genius of Premier’s ear for a lost bar here or there that perfectly translated into the hip hop aesthetic of the day.
Harris’ ‘Lovely Is Today’ is a fantastic song in its own right and has successfully opened up yet another door down a musical corridor that I need to explore. The only other time I’d come across the Eddie Harris name was when I stumbled upon ‘Carry On Brother’ whilst on some obscure and forgotten tangent in my digital travels, so essentially his body of work is completely new to me. A multi-instrumentalist from Chicago, Harris leaves behind him a legacy that is both auditory and innovative within the realms of instrument-based evolution having invented the reed mouthpiece for the trumpet, coronet, trombone and flugelhorn and experimented with hybrid instruments such as the saxobone which combined a trombone mouthpiece with a sax (weird, but true). I got a long way to go before I get my head around this man’s various achievements, but needless to say the prospect of doing so fills me with a warm glow in my belly: suggestions for exploration gratefully received.
Stay with me people. If you’re lucky I may even post again before we hit the weekend: the renaissance continues to simmer…
One Be Lo – ‘Decepticons’ (Pete Rock Remix) & ‘Decepticons’ (Pete Rock Remix Instrumental)
taken from Decepticons VLS (Fat Beats, 2005)
Isaac Hayes – ‘One Big Unhappy Family’
taken from The Isaac Hayes Movement (Stax, 1970)
Lafayette Afro Rock Band – ‘Darkest Light’
taken from Malik (Makossa, 1976)
Although the vast majority of my sample ‘knowledge’ comes from you know where, I’m glad that my explorations into the soul and funk that laid the foundations for hip hop music have gone far enough at this point to mean that from time to time I stumble across something all by myself. Granted, Isaac Hayes isn’t exactly the most obscure of sources, but I was pleased to discover ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ on my current (rather obsessive) journey through the entire Isaac Hayes’ back catalogue as it forms the backbone of one of my favourite Pete Rock remixes of the last decade ever. Given that a discussion of the ‘Decepticons’ remix also ties into certain ‘issues’ I’m having with the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s production style of the moment, it seems apt to jump on the happy coincidence of the Hayes’ sample discovery and serve up a little beat deconstruction, FDB style. The renaissance is in motion people.
Let’s start with the sample. ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ can be found on Hayes’ third solo studio outing The Isaac Hayes Movement which goes down as essential material from the late master arranger and composer. Although I’ve still got a way to go until I make my way through all of Hayes’ work, it really is the late ’60s/early ’70s output in the lead up to Black Moses that captures me most emphatically. The trio of albums that precede this seminal double LP are nothing short of sensational, and if you’re yet to indulge in a posthumous Hayes craze then I’d strongly suggest that Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued act as jumping off points into the veritable ocean of material that he leaves in his wake. For me, this is probably the weakest of the aforementioned LPs although Hayes’ exceptional cover of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ is worth the price of admission alone. ‘One Big Unhappy Family’ is pretty glorious in its own right, an achingly sentimental number that has me crunching up my face and gyrating on my desk chair like I’m slow dancing with Beyonce in some soul-drenched Harlem basement (damn, that’s an image and a half), but it’s the bar and a half at the 0.24 mark that manages to break the trance and turn my facial scrunch into a broad – if rather brief – smile. Pete doesn’t do a huge amount with the break despite layering the snare hits and adding kicks and bass, chopping it into several neat sections that get flipped in various ways throughout the One Be Lo cut. It’s a great beat that feels beautifully spacious and demonstrates the restrained, soulful PR sound that I feel is sadly lacking at the moment… more of that later.
On top of the Hayes’ sample you get a nicely executed panned flip of Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s classic ‘Darkest Light’ horn intro to add a little interest during the chorus sections and they sit rather nicely here adding to the ‘gazing over the cityscape at sunset’ vibe that the track captures so well. However, there’s no denying that using it could be perceived as a little lazy and it’s a trend that’s developing in Pete’s current output that concerns me a little. Although ‘914′ was a standout for me from NY’s Finest, using ‘UFO’ and ‘It’s A New Day’ is hardly rocket science, and his recent ‘Nautilus’ sampling outing with The L.O.X. must have been something he put together in about five minutes. In his sleep. Now I don’t want to go too far with this as these are admittedly relatively isolated cases, but it all contributes to my feeling that Rock is struggling to find his fire of late. The Kurupt and Vast Aire collaborations earlier in the year clearly lacked something and when you take this travestyinto account it becomes pretty clear that it’s not a particularly good time to be a Soul Brother fanatic. Just gocheck out some of the chat at the PR forum if you need further proof. Disgruntled doesn’t even begin to cover it.
However, let’s not let my geeky panic at the state of Pete Rock detract from his work on the One Be Lo cut featured here. I’ve thrown up the instrumental as well because it’s the version that gets most plays from me, with the vocals sounding a little harsh in the mix on the vocal cut (poor mastering or crappy mp3? I’ll let you decide). Pump this one loud on the train and you’ll be bopping your head maniacally with little care for the welfare of others around you: this is what real Pete Rock is supposed to sound like.