K-Def Drop @ Vapors Magazine
December 9, 2008, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Producers

K-Def piece @ Vapors Magazine

A couple of months back I was enlisted to write a short bio of K-Def for Vapors Magazine (I’m avoiding the temptation to make some sort of lame Biz Markie reference here). Not one to turn down the opportunity to wax lyrical about one of my favourite producers of all time, I jumped on the task with the quickness. Shouts to JNOTA for sending it my way: much appreciated mate.

I actually found the piece more taxing than I thought it would be: it’s kinda hard to find the balance between overt geekiness and something that would appeal to a broader range of people when you’re bordering on obsessive with the subject matter. Still, the result is now up, ready and waiting for you to digest. Drop a comment and make me feel good why don’t ya?

If you’re yet to peep the unreleased Tragedy jam produced by K-Def himself then head on over to Robbie’s spot and check it out immediately. ‘Tidal Wave’ hasn’t sounded this good since 1993…

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Genuine Excitement – Q-Tip’s Still Got It
November 9, 2008, 6:33 pm
Filed under: Producers

Q-Tip – ‘Gettin’ Up’
taken from The Renaissance (Universal/Motown, TBC)

OK, so I know I’m never really on top of the ‘news’, but I guess that’s because for the most part I’m rarely excited by it. So what’s-his-face is dropping a new mixtape? The hottest thing this year?! Gimme a break.

However, the recently leaked single from Q-Tip has me seriously amped for his upcoming release entitled The Renaissance. The beat’s killer and Tip can unsurprisingly still out-rhyme pretty much any rapper on the current scene: bring on November 4th. If it all sounds like this (please, please, please say it does) then we’re talking album of the year status. Although I guess in 2008 that ain’t saying a great deal…

Don’t hold your breath though. If the album drops before 2009 has already started then I’ll happily chow down on my virtual headwear.

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Yes We Can – New Damu Material
November 6, 2008, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Producers

Damu The Fudgemunk – ‘Yes We Can (Election Mix)’ (Redefintion Records, 2008)

Also available at Wax Poetics Digital.

First off let me congratulate you America: I’m ecstatic and still recovering from the huge sigh of relief that I emitted yesterday morning. Let’s hope this really does bring about change in the future for all of us.

To celebrate, here’s a new track from FDB favourite Damu. Loads of samples thrown into a tight instrumental groove that’s had my head bopping all day. I can’t wait for a full length that my man John at Redefinition Records tells me is dropping in March. Watch out!

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Heavy Bronx Experience – The Gas Review
October 22, 2008, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews, Producers

P Brothers – ‘Outta Control’ ft. Roc Marciano & ‘In A Zone’ ft. Milano
taken from The Gas (Heavy Bronx, 2008)

(Excerpts at artist’s request)

P Brothers @ MySpace

Rap music in 2008 just ain’t grimy enough. Any long-winded criticism and discussion of the contemporary scene seems to conveniently pass over the fact that at a base level the aesthetics of the music have now, for the most part, become so polished and glossy that the very grittiness that defined the genre in the first place seems drowned by a swelling flood of auto-tune, pseudo-electronica and abstract postlyrical rapping. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff: it has its place and it’s taking things in an interesting (if at times questionable) direction that is clearly pushing the boundaries in order to more firmly establish hip hop’s next creative phase. Thank you messieurs West and Wayne: I appreciate the service you’re doing us all. Kinda, sorta.

However, all this stuff seems to miss the point a little for me. I listen to rap music because I want it to transport me to heaving basements where condensation licks the inside of blacked-out windows. I want it to make me body slam a pensioner through a glass table and spit in their face for encouraging me to do so in the first place. I want to be moved into throwing Molotov cocktails into abandoned tenement buildings at midnight so I can stand back and watch them burn to the ground with bass and drums as my co-conspirators. Figuratively, that is. Nevertheless, I miss the unbridled aggression and ruggedness that was such an intrinsic part of the music in days gone by. The one crew that seems to understand this sentiment more than any other in 2008 is Nottingham’s very own DJs Ivory and Paul S, collectively known as the P Brothers. Who would have thought that Robin Hood’s stomping ground could produce something as sublimely raw as The Gas? Five boroughs pay attention: it’s the East Midlands who are stepping up to bring New York back.

Despite Robbie’s coverage of the crew over at Unkut, it seems valuable to briefly reflect on their output so far. Despite remembering Malcom McLaren’s ‘Buffalo Girls’ as “a big point early on” in this interview with from a couple of years ago, this is surprisingly the Brothers’ first full length album of their career. This isn’t to say that they haven’t been busy though, steadily dominating the well-established scene in Nottingham and pleasing more discerning UK heads with their Heavy Bronx Experience EPs and through regular collaborations with the Out Da Ville crew and protege Cappo, most notably on the overlooked 2003 release Spaz The World. They’ve dipped their toes into cross-Atlantic ventures as well, most recently working with Sadat X on Experience & Education on top of the string of 12″s that have preceded the release of this album with Boss Money, Milano, Smiley Da Ghetto Child and Ress Connected. Despite all of this you’d be forgiven for letting them slip under your radar, as it’s a position outside of the spotlight that feels entirely intentional. Showboating media-courters they ain’t and they’ve also managed to stay admirably clear of the tangible insecurities of the British scene that have been brought on by the towering shadow of its all-conquering older sibling. They just make great, universal hip hop music with no hidden agendas or chest-beating jingoism.

Onto the album. From start to finish (that’s right, the whole thing) The Gas represents a coherent cluster of cuts that are unabashedly hard and completely devoid of trend-pandering or gimmicks. ‘Cold World’ successfully sets the tone with a soulful vocal hook, melodic keys and crunchy drums that serve as the perfect platform for E.C. and Bago to get busy in style. From this point on there’s no letting up and although a discussion of every song on the album would be warranted, I’m going to stick to my personal highlights for the sake of your attention spans: ‘Outta Control’ puts forth the most mesmerising bassline I’ve heard since ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop’; ‘Digital B-Boy’ marries together brutal drums and twisted digital noise in a veritable assault on your inner ear; ‘In A Zone’ is what Pete Rock should sound like in 2008 but doesn’t; ‘Don’t Question Me’ combines swirling guitar licks with downtempo drums so beautifully that I can’t even listen to it without closing my eyes. The guest MC spots are pleasingly restricted to a small handful of underground Bronxites giving the whole work a sense of continuity and in an age where most people don’t even care about albums anymore, The Gas literally demands a front to back listening experience to be fully appreciated. Ultimately, it feels like the whole package is bolstered by a sense of unwavering confidence: this is music made by aficionados, for aficionados. Don’t like it? Then screw you.

Except you will do. A lot. And it’ll be with good reason because this is hands down the most honest, genuinely slammin’ rap album I’ve heard all year. Granted it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but when it sounds this good who cares? The P Brothers certainly don’t, and that’s exactly why The Gas is a collection of some of the very best beats and rhymes you will hear all year.

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Please Don’t Do This To Me Pete
October 9, 2008, 6:30 pm
Filed under: Producers

Charles Hamilton – ‘Stay On Your Level’

So I just came across the latest bit of Pete Rock production at 2 Dope Boyz via the PR Forum. Having recently voiced my concerns over the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s current direction, this nonsense only serves to take another swipe at the already withered shreds of my optimism when it comes to contemporary Soul Brother material.

Pete, I’m still there for you, but there’s only so much one man can take.

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Boom – ‘Straight Jacket’ Beat Deconstruction
September 23, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

Beatnuts – ‘Straight Jacket’
taken from Street Level (Relativity/Violator, 1994)

The Sons – ‘Boomp Boomp Chop’
taken from Sons (Capitol, 1969

Harry Nilsson – ‘Rainmaker’
taken from Harry (RCA, 1969)

Wu-Tang Clan – ‘Da Mystery Of Chessboxin”
taken from Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (Loud/RCA, 1993)

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.

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Rhymes Creep – ‘2 Deep’ Beat Decopnstruction
September 9, 2008, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

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…


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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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Willie Boo Boo Reissue
August 6, 2008, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Producers

K-Def – ‘The Program’ ft. Dacapo
taken from Willie Boo Boo: The Fool (Ghetto Man Beats, 2008)

I was lucky enough to cop K-Def’s fantastic beat tape Willie Boo Boo: The Fool upon its initial release before it got pulled from the shelves (real and virtual of course). Thankfully, the album is now available again as a digital download, so if you missed it first time around make sure you don’t miss out this time as it’s now available via iTunes. Just to whet your appetite, check out the above track which has been added to the album featuring Dacapo entitled ‘The Program’. Good stuff.

For those hungry for more K-Def action, you can check him out tonight on the WYNU Radio Show with DJ Eclipse at 11pm Eastern Time. Tune into 89.1 FM, or if you’re not fortunate enough to live in the greatest city in the world (like me), then you can hear the show streamed live here.

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Damu – Overtime EP Download
August 5, 2008, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews, Producers

Damu The Fudgemunk – ‘Now Generation’
taken from Overtime (Redefinition, 2008)

Damu @ Blogspot

Damu @ MySpace

It seems hard for me to believe that Damu’s last free EP dropped all the way back in January (the magnificentSpare Time), largely because it’s pretty much stayed in constant rotation ever since and endures as one of my most played releases of the year so far. It’s with excitement then that I present the second installment for the year from someone who I deem to be one of the dopest producers doing it in the contemporary game.

People familiar with Spare Time will recognise some of the material here as it features a number of alternate takes of tracks that appeared on the first free EP, but there’s new material to digest here as well as a couple of videos to check out. I’ve thrown a separate link up for ‘Now Generation’ to give you a taste of what’s on offer, a sharply executed number that features the piano twinkles from Young-Holt Unlimited’s ‘Red Sail’s In The Sunset’ and energetic, rolling percussion. I’m also particularly pleased to see a full length instrumental version of ‘Colorful Storms’ included in the EP as opposed to the shorter edit previously available on Spare Time, as it is a truly beautiful composition that deserves its shine without lyrics as it easily stands on its own two feet for the full duration of the cut.

The words free and bangin’ are rarely bedfellows, but what Damu and Redefinition Records are proving here is that getting on your internet grind needn’t mean that quality suffers. Download, enjoy and be sure to join the mailing list to receive some more goodies later in the month.

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