FROM DA BRICKS


A Lust Attack – ‘Nikki’ Beat Deconstruction
February 25, 2008, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Al Tariq – ‘Nikki’
taken from God Connections (Correct, 1996)

Otis Redding – ‘Don’t Mess With Cupid’
taken from The Dock Of The Bay (Volt, 1968)

Although I’m not gonna bitch about a free ‘holiday’ in the Alps and the delights of skiing, it’s also fair to say that being an on duty teacher for nine days straight with a troop of 49 students all undertaking a potentially life-threatening activity carries with it a certain amount of stress. As a result, I think I’m more exhausted now than I was at the beginning of the half term break, with a mound of backed-up work that is nothing short of intimidating. Naturally, rather than tackle this immediately I’m shirking responsibility and getting back on the blog tip, a pleasure that I’ve sorely missed over the last fortnight. Gotta give yourself some time off, right?!

I didn’t actually listen to a huge amount of music whilst I was away, but when I did get a minute to shut myself off with a pair of comfy Sennheisers, it was Oh Word’s Valentine Mix that remained in pretty constant rotation bar a few ‘on the road’ personal classics. Amidst a fantastic selection of tracks ‘for sensitive thugs and their shorties’ it was Al Tariq’s ‘Nikki’ that had me bopping my head on innumerable occasions, a song that may have passed CD heads by as it was a bonus cut that only saw a release on the double vinyl LP. With Psycho Les and Juju chipping in a hand on the boards, it’s one of the best tracks to be found on God Connections, an album that easily stands its own against the crew’s formally united output.

I’m always a sucker for a mellow, sun-soaked guitar loop in a hip hop jam, and the sample lifted from Otis Redding’s ‘Don’t Mess With Cupid’ is a certified gem. The song can be found on his posthumously released LPThe Dock Of The Bay, home to the song of the same name that will forever be intertwined with his legacy. The album is in fact a collection of singles and b-sides, with ‘Don’t Mess With Cupid’ actually seeing an original release in 1966 as the flip to ‘My Lover’s Prayer’. It’s a great little number in which Otis expresses his refusal to be trampled on by a member of the fairer sex with the passionate delivery that certified his place in the annals of popular soul, and also a song that seems to have been lost in the numerous greatest hits collections that many people probably assume covers the entirety of his work. Why ‘Don’t Mess With Cupid’ should have escaped the canonization process is somewhat beyond me, as it is as easily as good as his more obvious hits, but then perhaps therein lies some of its appeal. The musical snob in me lives on…

Production-wise there’s not a great deal of sample tomfoolery going on, with the first two bars receiving the loop treatment and some heavy drums, although there is some rearrangement on display during the chorus sections and the removal of the guitar’s upstroke that closes the first bar once the main beat drops is a pleasingly subtle touch. With the mellow vibe provided by the beat, Al Tariq takes the opportunity to wax lyrical about that special honey from the past with a level of sensitivity that is rarely seen amongst The Beatnuts’ camp (although a fair amount of ‘bedroom’ talk endures). The result is a rarity well worth savouring: ‘Nikki’ truly is a great hip hop love song.

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Conditioned Conditioning – ‘Brown Skin Lady’ Beat Deconstruction
November 24, 2007, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks

Black Star – ‘Brown Skin Lady’
taken from Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (Rawkus, 1998)

Gil Scott-Heron – ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’
taken from Bridges (Arista, 1977)

When Mos Def and Talib Kweli dropped their Black Star project in ‘98 on Rawkus, the album became one of several that reignited my interest in hip hop and saw me take the first baby steps towards becoming the geeky blogger that I am today. For a lot of people reading this I imagine that this album was celebrated for its return to b boy values and a more socially conscious outlook, but for me at that time it was simply some dope hip hop shit the likes of which I hadn’t heard before. References to BDP and Slick Rick were lost on my sixteen year old ears, but I knew that I had found something that felt creative, honest and musically engaging. As the years have passed by, my passion for the album has actually decreased, but it endures as a work that played a seminal role in my engagement with hip hop culture and as such will always maintain a special place in my heart.

According to the liner notes, ‘Brown Skin Lady’ was in fact the first song that Mos and Kweli recorded as Black Star, a beautiful ode to the ‘kind of girl you meet at a 4th of July backyard cookout and she’s wearing like a real pretty floral dress and she’s just real real nice’. Although this experience unfortunately passed me by as a North London dwelling teenager, it’s a fitting image to accompany the song and it encapsulates the easy, laid back vibe of the track which seems to drip with a sense of warm ghetto nostalgia. One of the two J Rawls’ contributions to the LP, ‘Brown Skin Lady’ remains one of my favourite songs from the album for it embodies the aesthetic that the Brooklyn duo tried to capture on the album: it’s what Mos Def and Talib Kweli aresupposed to sound like.

J Rawls does a fantastic job with the beat, sampling Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ to devastating effect. The song comes from his album with long time collaborator Brian Jackson entitled Bridges, an infectiously cool track laced with lilting guitar riffs and some subtle electronic twists. As I’ve mentioned before, my knowledge of Scott-Heron’s body of work is relatively limited, but what I do know is that every time I come across a song like this it makes me wonder why the hell I haven’t already submerged myself in his full discography. I gotta get my act together on this one…

Back to the beat. Taking various chops from the opening of the first verse (check for the sample around the half minute mark), J Rawls successfully rearranges the guitar track to create a suitably nostalgic feeling beat that acts as the perfect accompaniment to Mos’ and Kweli’s musings on a particular brand of ghetto hotty. His use of the electronic sounds that open the Gill Scott-Heron original are well placed and add another layer of interest that slips cohesively into the mix, thus demonstrating that this is much more than a simple drums and loop composition. To add to this, the numerous changes in the groove throughout help maintain a steady pace and keep the beat feeling pleasingly organic.

Even in the depths of the British winter, ‘Brown Skin Lady’ makes me feel like the sun is setting on a warm summer’s night as I take a slug from a nice cold beer. With temperatures now hovering around freezing that’s no mean feat, and it’s a testament to the easy mood created by the song. Imagine it’s still August and ignore the winter: ‘Brown Skin Lady’ will help get you there.

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It’s A Must – ‘Put It On’ Beat Deconstruction
November 2, 2007, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Buster Williams – ‘Vibrations’
taken from Crystal Reflections (Muse, 1976)

Big L – ‘Put It On’
taken from Livestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (Columbia, 1995)

Given that I’m now approaching the one year mark in the blogging game, I’ve been feeling a little reflective of late. Although I feel I’ve covered the majority of my favourite artists during this period, there have of course been others who have slipped through the net one way or another. One such artist is the late Big L, who to my mind was undoubtedly one of the most naturally gifted MCs to emerge from the New York scene during the dying phases of the golden era. Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous ranks as one of my favourite albums from the DITC camp, an unforgiving portrayal of ghetto existence whose success relied on both exceptional production work and L’s inimitable attitude and swagger. Of course, the album is not exactly one for the faint of heart, but it executed that gritty mid-’90s sound as well as any other album from the era, and twelve years on its status as classic material remains fittingly intact.

Today’s beat deconstruction focuses on the album opener ‘Put It On’, a Buckwild produced number that served as the perfect introduction to the album as a whole. Although the adage ‘they just don’t make ‘em like they used to’ is perhaps somewhat played out when referring to a genre which seems caught in a constant state of reminiscence, it rarely feels as applicable: ‘Put It On’ embodies a bangin’ simplicity that will sadly never be seen again within the genre.

Buckwild finds his inspiration in Buster Williams’ ‘Vibrations’ track taken from his 1976 release Crystal Reflections, a smooth jazz/funk cover of a Roy Ayers cut that features a vibes track as its central melodic focus. Although the opening section of the song will seem immediately familiar, it is in fact the octave jump that leads into the section at the 0.31 mark that forms the backbone of ‘Put It On’. The sample contains a multitude of components: vibes, Williams’ deftly executed doubles bass, rim hits, synth strings and a subtle Fender Rhodes track, although in reality it is only the vibes, strings and bass that feature prominently in Buckwild’s beat. Naturally, the drums hit hard, and despite an extremely simple kick pattern they provide the song with a tremendous sense of momentum. Indeed, I find it almost impossible to understand how anybody could listen to this song with their head still: this is boom bap at its absolute finest.

When paired up with the Kid Capri chorus shouts and Big L’s rapid fire braggin’ verses, the track succeeds in taking itself up yet another notch. There is something particularly cohesive about the feel of ‘Put It On’ as whole; the track is a perfectly balanced mesh of beats and rhymes that is truly infectious. Grab your neck brace and indulge yourself people: things really will never be the same again.

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Where It’s Due – ‘Soft Shell’ Sample
October 24, 2007, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Breaks, Producers

 

Motherlode – ‘Soft Shell’
taken from When I Die (Buddah, 1969)

Gangstarr – ‘Credit Is Due’
taken from Lovesick 12” (Chrysalis, 1991)

DJ Shadow – ‘Changeling’
taken from Endtroducing… (Mo Wax, 1996)

Although it’s obvious why some breaks have achieved such popularity, my digital digging sessions occasionally uncover a break that seems significantly underused. One such example can be found on a song called ‘Soft Shell’ by late 60s pop rock/funk outfit Motherlode, whose opening two bars feature what can only be described as digger’s gold. An initial snare hit seems to hang in the air for an extended moment, building the impact of the drop into crashing cymbal hits and pounding kick drums. However, despite its ripeness for sampling it has only been interpolated a handful of times, surprising given the potential offered up by Wayne ‘Stoney’ Stone’s beautiful drum track.

Of course, it’s not been totally overlooked, and the pedigree of producers who have used it speaks volumes about the quality of the break itself: The Breaks cites DJ Shadow (incorrectly), Preem and Lord Finesse as exponents of the sample. The only two instances of its use that I actually know of first hand are on Gangstarr’s ‘Credit Is Due’, the flipside to the ‘Lovesick’ 12” from their classic Step In The Arena LP, and DJ Shadow’s ‘Changeling’ taken from the sensational Endtroducing…, arguably the ultimate digging record. (Shadow has in fact used the song on two occasions, using the sax solo on his ‘duet’ with DJ Krush, ‘Duality’.)

‘Credit Is Due’ has to be one of the best non-LP cuts that Premier and Guru ever put together. Although Guru’s braggin’ verses are essentially standard fare, they sit particularly well here, the dark, moody quality of the beat providing the rhymes with a satisfyingly gritty edge. Preem does little more than loop up the first bar of the drum break and beef it up a little, but it is enough to provide the song with texture and depth. Shadow’s approach is far more intricate, with deft chops splicing the break into innumerable pieces, and this provides him with the opportunity to play around with it ad infinitum. Using an array of delay and reverb effects throughout ‘Changeling’ keeps the groove moving with variation, and it stands as a demonstration of Shadow’s innate production genius and his ability to transform music from the past into compositions that sound intensely modern. Indeed, it’s hard for me to believe that this record was made over a decade ago: whatever direction Shadow may be going in nowadays, Endtroducing… endures for me as an album that is truly timeless.

With regards to the break’s use elsewhere, I’m ready to be schooled. I’m sure I’ve never heard a Lord Finesse album cut that uses the drums, and they don’t seem to appear on The Nonce’s World Ultimate LP either, although this is not a record I know particularly well. If you know, let the geek in you free and drop a comment: from one geek to another, it will be much appreciated.

Midas Touch Live

midas.jpg

Nas – ‘Thief’s Theme’ (Midas Touch Remix) (snippet)

Midas Touch Website

Yesterday, I was checking out Nappy Diatribe which has got to be one of the funniest blogs out there and took a look at the footage that Humanity Critic had posted of a segment from Bill O’Reilly’s show. This experience struck me for two reasons:

1. As an outsider who has only a passing understanding of American contemporary culture and politics, I found it incredible that a ‘journalist’ on nationwide television is allowed to so strongly promote/condemn a political viewpoint. Having watched the original footage, I then checked out O’Reilly’s interview with Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman, the first half of which is a ‘memo’ in which O’Reilly slanders those on the far left. Believe me, I’m not trying to get involved in anything too political here, but you would never see a broadcaster on British TV speak in such a biased fashion. That’s not to say these points of view aren’t promoted over here, but they are promoted by politicians and those who are interviewed, not by those who should be seeking to provide an overview of the issue at hand. Maybe I’m missing out on the other programming that Fox offer which evens out this argument, but it just had an impact on me because you just don’t see such blatant propoganda like that on British TV.

2. Enough of that. Far more interestingly, they played a collage of clips that were meant to expose Nas as the gun-toting, crime-promoting villain that he is: a message that passed me by entirely as I heard a remix of his song ‘Thief’s Theme’ that banged hard. A little internet research exposed the remix as a YouTube only exclusive put together by a producer called Midas, a song which I have subsequently purchased from hiswebsite. This is a remix of epic proportions, and I can’t recommend that you cop it enough. It could almost be mistaken for a Premier beat, which you know is no bad thing. Enjoy the snippet I’ve provided here and then go buy it: you’ll be bangin’ this one for days.

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Break It Off – ‘Ghetto Celeb’ Beat Deconstruction
October 22, 2007, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers

Funk Inc. – ‘Goodbye, So Long’
taken from Superfunk (Prestige, 1973)

YGz – ‘Ghetto Celeb’
taken from Street Nigga (Reprise, 1993)

Although the YGz EP Street Nigga has its moments, I can clearly see why the Pete Rock affiliated crew disappeared rather swiftly after their decent but unexceptional 1993 drop. Given that The Chocolate Boy Wonder handled the majority of the production duties, it’s no surprise that the majority of the beats bang here, and ‘Street Nigga’, ‘Ghetto Celeb’ and ‘Sumthin’ 4 Da Head’ all deserve to be viewed as prominent pieces in Rock’s expansive jigsaw of work.

The real problem with this release is the performances of MCs Kenny Austin and Tommy Guest, whose combination of pedestrian flows and complete submission to cliche puts the whole project at risk, and it is only through the production prowess of Mt. Vernon’s finest that Street Nigga is narrowly rescued from the jaws of total obscurity. ‘Ghetto Celeb’ represents the clear standout for me, a chunky slab of Pete Rock soul that is accompanied by some of the more palatable verses from Austin and Guest. Sticking to straight braggin’ verses suits them relatively well, and it means the crew steer clear of the ‘rhymes by numbers’ misogyny and homophobia that can be found in abundance elsewhere on the EP.

Rock gets his fingers dusty in the Funk Inc. back catalogue for inspiration here, jacking bass and horns from their track ‘Goodbye, So Long’ that appears on their fourth studio album from 1973, Superfunk. The original sample source is itself a joy, and its rumbling bass (played by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson) and funky horn stabs are tailor made for a little Soul Brother reworking. Using filters to remove the organ and guitar tracks from the opening section of the song strips the break down to its core, and the reverberation added to the horns and the way in which they playfully rebound between left and right audio channels adds a welcome depth to an otherwise simple formula. It’s also interesting to note Rock’s sung hook at the chorus, a feature rarely seen in his work that adds another of layer to the composition that helps maintain its rolling, funky vibe.

Below par lyrics + above par beats: a formula so often seen in hip hop during the second half of the genre’s golden era and one that perfectly encapsulates Street Nigga. Still, at $0.64, there’s little excuse not to add this to your collection and its highlights, most notably ‘Ghetto Celeb’, are more than worth the price of admission. Pete Rock opening proceedings here at fromdabricks.com: who would have guessed it?

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I Need A! I Want A! Q-Tip Beat Series IV
October 16, 2007, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Breaks, Producers


Monty Alexander – ‘Love & Happiness’
taken from Rass! (MPS, 1974)

Lonnie Smith – ‘Spinning Wheel’
taken from Drives (Blue Note, 1970)

[Note: Thanks to reader ‘jaycee’ it is clear that my ears did not deceive me. The drum loop in question is Little Feat’s ‘Fool Yourself’ as made famous by ‘Bonita Applebum’, although it remains a possibility that the sax sample comes from ‘Spinning Wheel’. If you know, I’d appreciate the info.]

Apache – ‘Gangsta Bitch’
taken from Apache Ain’t Shit (Tommy Boy, 1993)

Lack of inspiration and a heavy workload have kept me admirably occupied over the last week or so: apologies for the lack of activity here at FDB. I’ve had this post in the vault for a while, but it is the magnificent series of recent drops over at Soul-Sides that has finally lit a fire under my arse and inspired me to roll it out. If you’ve missed out on the ‘Who Flipped It Better?’ series that Oliver Wang has been churning out at a rate that puts this here blogspot to shame then make sure you check it out: O-Dub is indisputably one of the kings of the blog scene. Tuesday’s installment covered the Monty Alexander break ‘Love & Happiness’ and contrasted the way in which it had been used by both The Beatnuts and Q-Tip, and with my ongoing analysis of The Abstract’s deft production style, it feels fitting to finally get around to his work on the Apache track ‘Gangsta Bitch’. Let the proceedings commence…

Originally released as a 7 inch by Tommy Boy in 1992, ‘Gangsta Bitch’ eventually found its place on Apache’s release from ‘93, the humourously titled Apache Ain’t Shit. To be honest with you this particular album has always left me a little cold: all the ingredients seem to be in place for something of quality (decent production roster, Flavor Unit affiliations etc.), but as a whole it lacks something that means it has not received a massive amount of airplay from me. Of course, there are still some treats here to savour, no less so than with the aforementioned cut that features Tip on the boards. I believe that Ego Trip rates this song as one of the best single tracks of the year, and although I feel this is an over-exaggeration, it is without a doubt a solid jam whose success relies on the beat as opposed to Apache’s lyrical ode to the fly, street-savvy honeys of the ghetto which for me occupies the realms of the mediocre. It’s not that the rhymes are bad by any means, but the chorus hook in particular grates, and the result is a tarnishing of the track in its entirety that I struggle to get over.

Tip turns to Monty Alexander’s cover of ‘Love & Happiness’ for the main groove here, yet another example of an artist and song who I have only very recently stumbled across as a result of virtual digging and who I know very little about (oh, to be a genuine, dusty-fingered crate-digger!). The section of the song to focus on arrives at the 4.06 mark with a stripped-down two bars of percussion, electric piano and guitar tracks, although it is really only the electric piano part that survives Tip’s use of filters to draw out the main groove for ‘Gangsta Bitch’. The Breaks also notes the use of ‘Spinning Wheel’ by Lonnie Smith, a sample source that Tribe mined on two separate occasions with both ‘Can I Kick It?’ and ‘Buggin’ Out’ to great effect, but I can’t hear it myself: answers on a postcard folks.

There are other subtleties to the composition that fill the beat out, giving it a plush, melodic feel. The echoing horn stabs (perhaps taken from ‘Spinning Wheel’?) that appear intermittently throughout the cut provide an extra layer of sound that works very well nestled in between the other samples, and scratches at the chorus add a necessary interest to what is essentially a simplistic piece of production work. What particularly interests me about this song is that although it contains many trademark Q-Tip production touches, it is by no means instantly recognisable as a piece of his work, thereby serving as yet another demonstration of his ability to modify his production style in subtle ways that really affirms his skill and versatility behind the boards during his most prolific period of beat-making.

I’m going to try and sort my priorities out this week (read: I’m going to ignore the responsibilities of the rest of my life in favour of some committed internet time), so stay tuned this week for an increased frequency of posts (just don’t hold me to it). Sunday afternoon lazin’ awaits: I’ll catch you later.

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