Some Things Change – ‘Decepticons’ Beat Deconstruction
September 1, 2008, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

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 SoulThe 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.

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Coming Through – ‘The Force’ Beat Deconstruction
July 29, 2008, 4:09 pm
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)

Audio bonus!

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.


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Jump Up! ‘Enta Da Stage’ Beat Deconstruction
July 4, 2008, 4:12 pm
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.


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Independent Woman? ‘Downlo Ho’ Beat Deconstruction
June 23, 2008, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Scientifik – ‘Downlo Ho’
taken from Criminal (Definite, 1994)

John Klemmer – ‘Touch’
taken from Touch (ABC, 1975)

After getting into a little John Klemmer a little while back care of the magnificent ‘Free Soul’, I’ve been keen to explore the man’s discography in more depth. Unfortunately this exploration led me first to his Touch LP from 1975, a release that I didn’t really connect with and which quashed my initial enthusiasm, meaning my acquaintance with his wider body of work has been fleeting to say the least. However, the purchase was salvaged for me by a combination of the title track itself and my insatiable sample-spotting geekery, an unfortunate affliction that has inevitably led to some duff buys on my part in recent times. But then that’s all part of the fun: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jacked by Buckwild for one of the less celebrated cuts from Scientifik’s fantastic Criminal, ‘Downlo Ho’ rarely seems to receive a mention when discussion of the album comes up, but for me it’s one of the clear standouts. Whereas the beats elsewhere on the LP tend to be a little darker in tone, ‘Downlo Ho’ manages that perfect equilibrium between the raw and the smooth, an infectious combination that never fails to instigate a healthy bounce of the cranium. The sample itself is a straight loop of the first couple of bars of the song slowed down, thereby falling in line with the majority of Buckwild’s production aesthetic during the period where big drums and loops prevail. When it’s this dope in the first place, the man knows as well as anybody else when to leave it alone and let the groove shine.

There’s plenty of other touches to the beat with various vocal stabs, sax loops and other somewhat unidentifiable noises thrown into the mix to give it a little extra flava, but it’s the bang of the drums that ultimately set the groove off so well. The snare hits are particularly prominent in the mix, with a healthy dose of reverb allowing them to breathe for nearly a quarter of a bar before fading, and to avoid the mix getting too messy Buckwild keeps the kick drum pattern pleasingly restrained and straightforward. It’s these simple yet incredibly effective moments of flair that certify the man’s place in the boom bap hall of fame (if only such a place existed).

Ultimately, Klemmer’s original is well worth a listen as well, but it is in all honesty one of those songs that I would probably very rarely choose to listen to if it wasn’t for the hip hop connection. With so much other music to explore I don’t imagine I’ll be delving too far into his discography any time soon, but if you know of something that I need to hear then please let me know. In the meantime it can be Buckwild who serves up my Klemmer fix: lazy I know, but sometimes a bout of self-indulgence and a heavy lean on your musical crutches is no bad thing, a sentiment that must pretty much define the online hip hop community whose members in general still can’t let go of the ’90s. But then with beats as good as this, why would you want to?

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Gimme Some Of That – ‘Clap Yo Hands’ Beat Deconstruction
June 12, 2008, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

Naughty By Nature – ‘Clap Yo Hands’
taken from Poverty’s Paradise (Tommy Boy, 1995)

Sam & Dave – ‘I Thank You’
taken from I Thank You (Stax, 1968)

Ronnie McNeir – ‘In Summertime’
taken from Ronnie McNeir (RCA, 1972)

It’s been a little while since my last beat deconstruction, but given that I’m experiencing a renaissance with some of Naughty By Nature’s greatest cuts it feels fitting to offer up the Jersey legends their due propers. I’ve written before about the group’s third album under the Naughty moniker back in the days when I was still offering up whole album downloads (seems like a long time ago now) and there’s been no change in my perspective on the quality of Poverty’s Paradise or one of its standout cuts, ‘Clap Yo Hands’: even internet time can’t distort this banger.

There are a couple of samples to pick apart here, although the first only serves as an intro skit to the main jam, care of soul legends Sam & Dave. I’m ashamed to say that beyond ‘I’m A Soul Man’ and ‘Hold On, I’m A-Comin” I don’t actually know a huge amount about the vocal duo, but ‘I Thank You’ has without doubt made me realise that theirs is a discography well worth exploring. Released in 1968 the song was both the lead single from the album of the same name and another hit for the group, peaking at No. 9 in the Billboard charts and marking the end of Sam & Dave’s relationship with Stax after disputes over distribution with Atlantic who released the remainder of their work. It’s a great song, so if you’ve slept on it like I have then be sure to add it to your digital archives: I’ll be tracking down the LP with the quickness.

However, more significant in the Naughty composition is Ronnie McNeir’s ‘In Summertime’, lifted from his self-titled debut LP released on RCA in 1972. The track in question is one of the more downtempo numbers to be found on the album and is all the better for it: McNeir’s proclamations of the benefits of the summer season sit beautifully over the hazy glow of the music that supports it. The section jacked for ‘Clap Yo Hands’ isn’t exactly hard to spot, located right at the beginning of the song after the initial quarter-bar guitar lick, although Kay Gee goes to work with some filters and pitches the track up to give it some momentum. Other than that it’s chunky drums and a low-pass filter that seem to do all the hard work, with intermittent horn stabs adding another layer of depth to complete the instrumental. For the true geeks out there, it’s also interesting to note that the spoken vocals heard in the original song are still present in the Naughty joint, an element to the groove that I’d failed to notice until listening to the source material. It’s all in the detail people…

Ultimately, ‘Clap Yo Hands’ is exactly what Naughty always did best: a no frills banger that encourages a ludicrously ferocious head nod. With Treach and Vinnie ripping through typically tight verses, it’s tracks like this that bring out the ‘God, I wish it was 1995′ attitude in me and forget that in doing so I’m falling victim to one of the most boring cliches that hip hop fans over the hump of their mid 20s are prone to spout. Sometimes you gotta just let it all hang out, right?

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Minerals & Vitamins – ‘Time’s Up’ Beat Deconstruction
May 23, 2008, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

O.C. – ‘Time’s Up’
taken from Word… Life (Wild Pitch, 1994)

O.C. – ‘Time’s Up’ (Original Buckwild Instrumental)
available on ‘Time’s Up’ VLS (Fat Beats Reissue, 2004)

Les De Merle – ‘A Day In The Life’
taken from Spectrum (United Artists, 1968)

What I’ve noticed about my beat deconstruction series is that it’s always the discussion of truly classic jams that seems to get people most excited (deduced by the highly scientific equation of more comments equating to greater reader enthusiasm). To be honest it’s understandable, because I know that for me there are certain cuts that will essentially always engage my interest, regardless of how many times I listen to them or how old they get. ‘Time’s Up’ is one such number, undeniably a key component of the boom bap canon with its deeply hypnotic vibe and devastatingly delivered lyrical attack on those endlessly criticised fake emcees. Eff ‘em: they deserve it.

In listening to the source material, the simplicity of Buckwild’s composition is immediately apparent, a straight forward jack of two two-bar sequences lifted and looped from drummer Les De Merle’s ‘A Day In The Life’. The song is of course a cover of the Beatles’ final cut from their Sgt. Pepper album, although De Merle and his band give it a complete overhaul that provides the track with a totally different and awesomely funky flavour. Finding out information on both De Merle himself and the Spectrum album from which it is taken is surprisingly difficult, particularly given that it appears to be a record much lauded by serious diggers due to several tight drum breaks. The only enlightening material I came across seems to focus more heavily on his release in 1978 on Dobre entitled Transfusion, home to ‘Moondial’ which has been sampled most notably by De La on ‘Stone Age’ and Shadow on ‘Entropy’. Spectrum however has managed to escape a listing on Discogs (an easily indexed one anyway), and De Merle himself is yet to be given even the relatively token glory of a Wikipedia entry. Sometimes even my most intrepid digital digging skills come frustratingly unstuck…

What I particularly love about ‘Time’s Up’ in terms of Buckwild’s production is that it represents a departure from his usual techniques. Although the DITC legend tended to favour loops and hard-hitting drums during his heyday in the mid-’90s (and this isn’t intended to discredit his later work), I can’t think of a single other instance in which all elements of one of his beats come from the same single source. What is ultimately so surprising about the groove here is that it still sounds so distinctly like Buckwild, even though for all intents and purposes there’s no denying that it does not demonstrate the layered craftsmanship that you can find in his production work elsewhere during the period. What it ultimately proves is not only can the man get deep in the crates, but also that he knows when he’s onto something: any messing around with this break would be entirely superfluous.

I’m also throwing up the original Buckwild instrumental for your listening pleasure, although I can’t remember exactly where I stumbled across it and am unable to find out conclusively at what point it received a release. The Fat Beats reissue of 2004 seems to be the most likely source, although I’d be surprised if it hadn’t found its way to wax at a much earlier date. Although I really enjoy the inclusion of the horn tracks from the De Merle original, I actually feel that the final LP mix is still better, as it provides absolutely no distractions from the intense, head-nod inducing groove that is so infectious on the officially released LP version. If you haven’t treated yourself to a dip back into this classic of the mid-’90s era then consider this your excuse: I dare you to just listen to it once. I know that for me, the intoxicating vibe of the joint makes the task prove completely impossible. Don’t front, I know you feel the same way.

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The World Is Fallin’ – ‘Up Against Tha Wall’ Beat Deconstruction
May 12, 2008, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Group Home – ‘Up Against Tha Wall (Getaway Car Mix)’
taken from Livin’ Proof (Payday/ffrr, 1995)

Young Holt Trio – ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’
taken from Wack Wack/On Stage Reissue (Diablo, 2000)

It stands as a relatively obvious point, but delving into the world of sample sources now stands for me as the only way in which one can truly appreciate the producer’s craft. Sure, I always loved a Dilla banger or appreciated the multiple layers of sound carved together by Pete Rock, but it’s only now that I’m at a stage in my listening habits where I am able to more clearly define what constitutes a specific individual’s or group’s style in greater depth: Da Beatminerz were all about sourcing loops and lacing them over thumping drum breaks during their heyday in the mid to late ’90s; the aforementioned Soul Brother continues to have a knack for drawing together samples from a diverse range of sources and amalgamating them cohesively; Showbiz was flippin’ material like no-one else back in the day and playfully manipulating the structure of the classic hip hop jam. The list goes on. But for all my recent discoveries it really is DJ Premier who begins to endure for me as the genre’s most consistent and genuinely original beatmaker. Here’s one reason why.

‘Up Against Tha Wall (Getaway Car Mix)’ has long been for me one of the finest cuts that Premier has ever put together. Haunting, simple and richly textured, the beat possesses a more melancholy edge than the other cuts that can be found on the lyrically dubious crew’s debut LP, Livin’ Proof (besides perhaps the almost equally fantastic ‘Suspended In Time’). Having found out via the usual means the sample source, I’ve actually been on the hunt for the Young Holt Trio’s ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’ for a while and was lucky to stumble across the reissued Wack Wack/On Stage double release in my local second hand CD shop a month or so ago. Given the clarity of the piano groove in the Group Home joint, I was left astonished upon hearing the source material for the first time: Premier knocks it out the park with this one.

In order to spot the sample you’re going to have to listen relatively hard, as Preem’s ability to isolate the piano from the rest of the Young-Holt groove mean that its essence is altered significantly when placed in its new context. The point to listen out for crops up at the 0.43 mark, with a single piano note followed by a slow trill lifted from the rest of the track and restructured. It’s difficult to know if Premier perhaps pitch shifted the first note to provide him with the eventual pattern found in the Group Home composition, but it seems plausible given that the higher note cannot be easily discerned elsewhere in the Young-Holt original. It’s both this rearrangement of the sample and the expertly executed filtering of double bass and percussive elements from the break that testify to the man’s genius here and there remains little doubt for me that no other producer in the game is quite as adept at sourcing and chopping up a groove. The result is the perfect combination of bang and beauty, a masterfully realised musical equilibrium between a deeply soulful sentiment and the harsh realities of life on the street.

Before I get lost too deeply in Premier’s figurative rectal passage, I’d also like to make note that Young-Holt Unlimited (the name they adopted after the first album) are emerging for me as the suppliers as some of the finest loops and grooves that hip hop has ever seen. The overview for the group on The Breaks speaks volumes about the calibre of beatmaker who has mined their material (you may have missed my previous post on theircover of ‘Light My Fire’ over at Oh Word), and although Young-Holt’s output is varied in quality when considered apart from its affiliation with hip hop, I would recommend getting the relatively cheap reissues as a means of understanding why Premo in particular has tended to use their work so frequently.

It seems all too easy to fall back on analysis of the indisputable greats’ back catalogues as fodder for content at this here corner of the internet, but when it sounds this good and is so indicative of a particular individual’s production processes then I don’t feel like I even need to make an attempt at justifying why this remains relevant. Open your ears and appreciate: DJ Premier’s unquestionable genius rules supreme.


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Tell Me What The Deal Is – ‘Enuff’ Beat Deconstruction
April 29, 2008, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Masta Ace – ‘Enuff’
taken from Disposable Arts (JCOR, 2001)

Love Unlimited – ‘Share A Little Love In Your Heart’
taken from In Heat (20th Century, 1974)

Shouts to Floodwatch for the hook-up and Travis for the info.

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?!

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City Under Siege – ‘Ain’t No Love’ Beat Deconstruction
April 11, 2008, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

Real Live – ‘Ain’t No Love’
taken from The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama (Atlantic, 1996)

Bobby Bland – ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’
taken from Dreamer (Dunhill, 1974)

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.


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Why Showbiz Is The Man
March 16, 2008, 4:43 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

Although I have little doubt that the majority of people reading this post will have a similar appreciation of the wonders of Show’s production style as I do, it strikes me as a gross oversight that he is rarely mentioned in the inevitable and never-ending G.O.A.T. conversations that relentlessly crop up amongst the online hip hop community. For me Show’s back catalogue is not only one of the strongest in the game, but it also demonstrates an ear for samples and breaks that is both devastatingly effective and truly unique. Need proof? Look no further than the following deconstructions that attempt to argue that the Bronx bomber should without doubt be considered a part of the elite group that are more widely acknowledged as the best to ever do it behind the boards.

Ear For A Groove – ‘Sally Got a One Track Mind (Showbiz Remix)’

Diamond D – ‘Sally Got A One Track Mind’ (Showbiz Remix)
taken from ‘Sally Got A One Track Mind’ 12” (Chemistry, 1992)

Jack Bruce – ‘Born To Be Blue’
taken from Things We Like (Polydor, 1970)

Given that ‘Sally…’ in its original incarnation is one of the standouts from Diamond D’s rightfully celebrated solo debut Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, Show’s achievement in producing a remix that gives the track a different twist whilst keeping the slammin’ vibe that made Diamond D’s version so successful is nothing short of sensational. Backed by a forceful drum track of relentlessly pounding kicks and multiple snare hits, the secret to Show’s success here is in the pairing up of the brutal percussion with a decidedly mellow loop, a characteristic juxtaposition that permeates many of his finest beats.

The loop is sourced from Jack Bruce’s Things We Like, a record that has been spliced up and rearranged on multiple occasions by the genre’s more discerning diggers. Most widely known for his role in legendary ’60s outfit Cream, the album was his chance to break away from the group and pursue his lifelong interests in jazz in greater depth. Interestingly, the whole LP took its inspiration from songs that Bruce himself had written when he was as young as twelve, and it features performances by John McLaughlin and a host of other musicians who took part in the emerging jazz fusion boom of the early ’70s. I actually find the record itself a little hard to take, my untrained ears unable to pick apart the subtleties of what can fairly be described as an experimental piece of work. Having said this, ‘Born To Be Blue’ is one of the most cohesive songs to be found on the album for a non-jazz specialist (read: me), and it is here that Show, amongst many others, finds his inspiration.

The moment to look out for drops at the 1.19 mark, a seemingly innocuous couple of seconds from the song that is masterfully plucked by the hands of Show and placed into the ‘Sally…’ remix. It’s really his ear for a groove that impresses me most here, with the majority of other producers focusing on the opening sax solo or more obvious two bar loops such as the section jacked by Da Beatminerz for the Smif-N-Wessun banger ‘Bucktown’ that appears just before the three minute mark. I’m not sure where Show sourced the screeching horns that are added into the chorus sections of the remix, but when combined with this sample from Bruce’s original composition and the slammin’ drum track the result is undoubtedly one of his finest moments ever committed to wax.

Flippin’ Styles – ‘Next Level’

Show & A.G. – ‘Next Level’
taken from Goodfellas (Payday/ffrr, 1995)

Wes Montgomery – ‘Angel’
taken from A Day In The Life (A&M, 1967)

Although I imagine most people favour Premier’s remix of this cut from the sophomore drop by Show & A.G.Goodfellas, this particular hip hop geek gravitates towards the original as the better of the two versions. Featuring a more uptempo and sumptuous quality than the highly revered remix, Show’s production work on the cut is brilliantly executed and stands as a prime example of his deft ability to rearrange sample material into his grimy yet melodic aesthetic with seamless ingenuity.

The guitar sample used in the original version of ‘Next Level’ can be found on Wes Montgomery’s track ‘Angel’ from his 1967 album A Day In The Life, recorded towards the tail-end of his career. I imagine it’s a record that would have appalled purists at the time given its blatant attempt to crossover to a more commercial market, but there are enough enjoyable moments to warrant picking it up if you are interested in the smoother side of jazz from the era (although the covers of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘When a Man Loves A Woman’ are perhaps best avoided).

Show actually jacks two separate sections from ‘Angel’ in putting together ‘Next Level’, taking both the two bars that end in a flurry of strings found at the very beginning of the song for the verse sections and the gradually descending chords that introduce the first verse for the choruses. The tempo is slowed down somewhat from the Montgomery original and it seems as though there must have been some subtle chopping involved to get the sample to sit right over the drum track. Whereas his use of Bruce’s ‘Born To Be Blue’ demonstrates Show’s ability to choose samples that would have passed the less discerning producer by, the way in which he flips the Montgomery break provides us with another perspective on his technique, displaying his proficiency at incorporating elements into his work that are not immediately and easily transferable into a hip hop context.

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