Nothing like an exciting sample find to bring this blogger temporarily out of stasis. I’ve been listening to The Infamous a ludicrous amount of late and enjoying it as much as ever, but it’s the undeniably great ‘Trife Life’ that has seen the most action. It’s always been one of my favourite beats on the album and epitomises the dark, murky aesthetic that Prodigy and Havoc achieved with such aplomb on this legendary LP. But then, you knew that already.
Only one key sample source at play here besides drums and it’s Norman Connor’s ‘You Are My Starship’, a sweet mid-70’s R & B cut featuring vocals by Michael Henderson, a bassist who had played with Miles Davis during the earlier part of the decade. The opening section of the song is immediately recognisable as the introductory section of the Mobb Deep cut, but it’s what happens after this that is perhaps more interesting as it represents some pretty visionary production at the hands of Havoc. Listen closely to the first couple of bars that mark the start of the first verse at 0.44 and you’ll hear that distinctive bassline nestled in amongst all the other elements of the Connor’s groove that ultimately form the backbone of ‘Trife Life’. It’s an extreme use of a low pass filter that to me is only matched by Large Pro’s work on ‘Halftime’ in terms of sheer depth, where all other components of the sample source are pretty much obliterated. Ultimately it’s this truncation that makes the melody here feel like it’s swarming around you: it’s just not possible to get a particularly clean sound when extracting the bass from such a busy source, but of course this would detract from the end result even if it was and be far less effective. ‘Trife Life’ was born to be dirty.
The other flurry that I love is the use of the two bars of sax that drop in at 1.57. A similar aggressive filter must also have been applied to remove this from the original source, so much so in fact that I’ve actually failed to acknowledge it as a saxophone until hearing the sample. The way it balances out the bass-heavy groove throughout the rest of ‘Trife Life’ is devastating, floating loftily during the chorus sections and intermittently breaking out during the verses providing that sense of space that prevents the song from monotony.
And Havoc knows how great this beat is. Just as you think it’s all over the groove comes right back at you, and when the fade out begins that sax drifts into play again. So menacing and yet so beautiful: that’s what The Infamous is all about, right?
For those of you who have been following my ‘work’ for a while, you may well remember the piece I put together for Oh Word back in February last year on Illmatic where I deconstructed all of the key sample sources that went into the production of the album. The second installment in this series is now beginning over at The Passion of the Weiss, and this time it’s Reasonable Doubt that is receiving the full album deconstruction treatment.
Part 1 is already up over at Jeff’s spot now, with further installments throughout the week. We took the decision to break this bad boy up a little because at over 3000 words in total for the whole album, I doubt your internet dented attention spans would have made it through the whole piece in one go. I know mine probably wouldn’t. Enjoy and make sure you chime in with some comments to make me feel like the labour of love was worth it. Huge props to Jeff for the opportunity to let the piece reach a wider audience than it could ever have hoped to here at FDB.
Although only a handful of cuts ever make it to the fully blown beat deconstruction process, my desire to understand the craftsmanship behind my favourite bangers means that I’m constantly on the digital dig. With such a wealth of information out there on these here internets (shouts to Dallas) it’s not often that such searches end in disappointment, but they do sometimes result in having to scrape my jaw off the floor after marveling at the revealed ingenuity of the producer behind the boards.
Clear leader in the ‘how did they do that?!’ stakes is unsurprisingly the inimitable DJ Premier whose legendary status requires no further exposition from yours truly. Instead, here are a handful of Preem-honed cuts and their sources that failed to qualify for the beat deconstruction process on the grounds that I simply have nothing intelligible to say about them that enlightens the composition process. Commentary will be sparse because – and this goes against all my blogging tendencies – the music speaks for itself. Hats off to Premier: the man’s abeast.
All City – ‘The Actual’
taken from Metropolis Gold (MCA, 1998)
Chi-Lites – ‘We Need Order’
taken from A Letter To Myself (Brunswick, 1973)
Okay, so the stabs are there at the beginning, and that percussive roll kicks in after six seconds… this flip is blinding. On a side note, half of Metropolis Gold is brilliant, half is awful. Weird album.
What?! You can hear the chimes that make up the Gangstarr track in the first few bars, but basically Latimore’s smooth groove is rendered completely unrecognisable at the hands of Premier. You’d have to know: now you do.
Common – ‘The 6th Sense’
taken from Like Water For Chocolate (MCA, 2000)
Intruders – ‘Memories Are Here To Stay’
taken from Save The Children (Philadelphia International, 1973)
Clearly this has been sped up, pitch shifted and chopped all over the place, but you can hear the solitary piano chord at 0.23 that makes it into this fine track from Like Water For Chocolate. That’s about the only sensible thing I can say about this though: ludicrous flip.
Oh, actually this one’s straightforward. Chop that section at 0.02, splice it in with that other bit at 0.05, chuck in that cheeky guitar lick… who am I kidding.
You can actually pick up on the one bar that becomes the main loop with this one (check the 0.40 mark), but those chops at the beginning? Get outta here.
AZ – ‘The Come Up’
taken from A.W.O.L. (Fastlife, 2005)
Lawrence Hilton Jacobs – ‘Holdin’ On’
taken from Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (?, 1978)
I need my mate Geoff to tell me if this is tremolo or vibrato on those strings at the 0.10 mark. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll be able to shed much light on the construction of Preem’s loop though. I’d forgotten how good this track off A.W.O.L. was: I bet you had too.
Mr Martin, you blow my mind.
Supreme NTM – ‘Tout N’est Pas Si Facile’
taken from Paris Sous Les Bombes (Epic, 1995)
Ethel Beatty – ‘It’s Your Love’
taken from The Uno Melodic Story (Charly Schallplatten GmbH, 1998)
I’ve been meaning to put something together about this particular song for a long time now, but it’s Sach O who’s acted as catalyst as he has just dropped an excellent overview of Supreme NTM’s third studio album over at The Passion. Paris Sous Les Bombes is in fact an album that I covered during my blogging infancy and it endures as one of my favourite releases from the French hip hop canon. Get familiar if you’re not already: this album bangs.
The reason I’ve held off for such a long time on covering this particular song is due to my relatively fleeting knowledge of the sample sources used here, as the production by DJ Clyde and DJ Max is notably dense and multi-layered on ‘Tout N’est Pas Si Facile’. As such, I’m unable to offer up quite the level of nerdy detail that I tend towards when putting tracks under the proverbial microscope, but the strength of this cut and the beauty of the key sample source are enough for me to temporarily eschew my anal tendencies. So deal with it.
Sample fodder comes in the shape of Ethel Beatty’s ‘It’s Your Love’, a dazzling piece of Roy Ayer’s production work that is now highly sought after by folk who still dig in crates of the non-virtual variety. Released in 1981 on Ayer’s own Uno Melodic imprint, ‘It’s Your Love’ was the flip to the more boogie-oriented ‘I Know You Care’, but the luscious, jazzy groove of ‘It’s Your Love’ is the clear winner on this 12” and an essential piece of early ’80s classic groove. It’s the first couple of bars that are of note in relation to the NTM track, a straight loop jack with some EQing to really bring out the strings and bass and create the fittingly hazy vibe for Kool Shen and Joey Starr to reminisce on days gone past when “le hip hop n’a jamais eu besoin de gun”.
As previously stated there’s actually quite a lot more to ‘Tout N’est Pas Si Facile’ than just the Beatty loop, with irritatingly familiar sax running throughout the song as well as extra percussive flourishes and scratches during the chorus that fill the beat out; sometimes even the most fervent digital digger can come up empty handed. However, regardless of my own shortcomings here, this song – and indeed Paris Sous Les Bombes in more general terms – is a clear indication of the sophistication of French hip hop music from the period and proof positive that the language barrier needn’t be a complete sticking point in appreciating rap from non-English speaking lands. Vous pigez?
LL Cool J – ‘Doin’ It’ (Instrumental)
taken from Mr. Smith (Def Jam, 1995)
Grace Jones – ‘My Jamaican Guy’
taken from Living My Life (Island, 1982)
Audio Two – ‘Top Billin” (Instrumental)
taken from What More Can I Say? (First Priority, 1988)
Everybody knows about Rashad Smith, right? Well, if it’s any consolation it’s not a name that particularly resonates with me either and yet I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you’ve been bumping your head to his music for more than a minute. Describing his back catalogue as illustrious would perhaps be forcing the point a little, but credits on Project: Funk Da World, Mr. Smith, Beats, Rhymes And Life, The Coming (‘Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check’ no less) and It Was Written ain’t nothing to sniff at by anybody’s standards and yet it was only in my research for this particular post that I even truly acknowledged his existence, having always mistakenly thought of ‘Doin’ It’ as a Trackmasters’ production. Hardly earth-shattering news I know, but sometimes even a music blogger’s ostensible omniscience is flawed.
It’s a shame that I feel the need to justify today’s selection for deconstruction but given that this is admittedly a pretty corny crossover hit, here it is in four words: the beat knocks hard. Take away the cringe-inducing bedroom talk and what you’re left with is a dark and gritty piece of production work that would rock a basement party in Hollis as viciously as it did the Billboard Top 100 in 1995. Those on the come-up take note: the power and commercial viability of the irritatingly catchy chorus hook delivered by the fairer sex should never be underestimated.
In terms of sample manipulation there’s not too much to discuss here as Smith basically loops up a couple of bars from the opening of Grace Jones’s ‘My Jamaican Guy’, the lead single from her sixth studio album that enjoyed commercial success in its own right. I kind of like this song in all of its reggae/disco/electro mashed up weirdness, but I can’t say that this particular track or indeed Living My Life in more general terms have particularly encouraged me to delve further into her work. However, I’m all ears so hit me with recommendations if you have them and school my sorry behind. It’s interesting to note that Smith imitates the drum pattern found on the Jones’s record, setting the second snare in each bar slightly before the beat and pretty much replicating the kick drum pattern as well, albeit with a few extra flourishes for increased momentum.
However, the true genius of this track lies in the bass because there are actually two separate parts at play. The most prominent doesn’t drop until a whole 53 seconds into the track and its arrival clearly adds an extra bounce to ‘Doin’ It’ that is beautifully judged and weighted. From this point onwards its dropped in and out of the mix with aplomb, creating those necessary change ups that save the beat from overt monotony. But it’s the alternate bassline run through a gate with the kick drum that really seals the deal. For those not necessarily up on production jargon, a gate allows the signal from one track to be activated by the signal on another, so when the kick hits the bassline is allowed to play as well. This subtle touch fills the beat out masterfully and explains why it feels so rich even before the main bassline drops. As always, success lies in the minutiae folks.
Chuck in Audio Two and Daddy O’s “Go Brooklyn!” shouts from the timeless classic ‘Top Billin” during the chorus sections and the joint’s a wrap. But it’s that bass… I guarantee that if you’ve never noticed that detail before you’ll hear this banger with a fresh new pair of ears, as it completely changed my perception of ‘Doin’ It’ once I’d locked into it. If it does the same for you I’ll consider this a job well done: thank me later.
Notorious B.I.G. – ‘Machine Gun Funk’
taken from Ready To Die (Bad Boy, 1994)
Black Heat – ‘Something Extra’
taken from Keep On Runnin’ (Atlantic, 1975)
Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns – ‘Up For The Down Stroke’
taken from A Blow For Me A Toot For You (Atlantic, 1978)
Lords Of The Underground – ‘Chief Rocka’
taken from Here Come The Lords (Pendulum, 1993)
I’ve tried to always keep things honest and upfront when it comes to my knowledge of breaks and sample sources here at FDB because it’s far too easy to front like you know everything when you run a music blog. Sure I’ve got a handle on some of the major sources of inspiration for the hip hop canon but it’s a constant learning process for me that often begins with an idea for a beat deconstruction. I’ve been spinning Ready To Die ad infinitum around my way at the moment and decided a few days back that I wanted to take on one of my favourite beats from the album ‘Machine Gun Funk’, so I set about my research, downloaded acquired what I needed and sat down to absorb what pieces Easy Mo Bee had thrown together in its construction.
Long story short (I’m omitting the numerous rewinds, note-taking and what’s-he-done-there?! moments that pleasantly consumed an hour of my life) Easy Mo’s production work here is nothing short of spectacular. Although I’d always realised there was a little chopping at play in the main guitar sample that forms the melodic core of the beat I really wasn’t prepared for the obvious ingenuity displayed behind the boards upon hearing Black Heat’s ‘Something Extra’, taken from their third and final studio album which I honestly haven’t had a chance to fully absorb. However, it’s a welcome discovery on the strength of this track alone, a sweeping ballad that houses that hugely important guitar lick that occupies a mere three quarters of a bar at the 0.34 mark. What Easy Mo Bee does with it I really can’t be sure, although I’d assume there was some pretty rigorous chopping in order to achieve the desired effect.
For that extra layer of flyness during the chorus Easy Mo dug out his copy of Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns’ cover of Parliament’s ‘Up For The Down Stroke’, a sizzling nine minute funk workout that gets my rear end jiggling in a hugely inapporpriate (and deeply disturbing) manner for a nice young man from North London. It took some time to work out exactly what section of this song had been incorporated into ‘Machine Gun Funk’, but pay particular attention at 2.49 when the male voices help bolster the ladies on the “I don’t care about the cold, baby/’Cause when you’re hot you’re too much” refrain which gets dropped during the chorus of the Biggie cut. The chorus’s horns are tucked away in this sample as well but as with the Black Heat chop, I can’t really get my head around exactly what Easy Mo’s done here but since it’s generally nodding violently at this stage I guess it doesn’t really matter that much.
The final addition during the chorus is of course taken from the Jersey classic ‘Chief Rocka’ and some of My Funky’s parting rhymes in the final verse. I can only congratulate him on living and dying for the funk, but regardless it makes for a great little hook during the song’s most sonically climatic moments. All in ‘Machine Gun Funk’ represents an incredibly detailed yet beautifully simplistic piece of production work that has taken my appreciation for Easy Mo Bee’s abilities up to the next level. I bet even Premier wishes he’d thrown this one together.
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions
I’m fully aware that the beat deconstructions have been a little thin on the ground as of late, so if you’re missing some of that geekery tomfoolery then hit up Passion Of The Weiss where I pick apart Stretch Armstrong’s mix of Big Noyd’s ‘Usual Suspect’ with the quickness.
Writing it made me realise how much I miss doing these kind of posts more regularly. Expect more in the near future digital diggers.