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As a certified beat head, a pleasing trend in hip hop over the last few years has been the release of innumerable instrumental releases by some of the finest producers in the game. At their best, these works can be creatively exciting and as engaging as those with rhymes (think Donuts and K-Def’s now shelved Willie Boo Boo The Fool, both of which are prime examples of this formula working exceptionally well) but unfortunately the picture ain’t entirely rosy. For every great instrumental album released there are also a slew of albums that fall victim to a permeating sense of mediocrity and a feeling that somebody simply threw together their off cuts in an attempt to put something out there: quality control doesn’t always seem to be at the top of the agenda. With this in mind, which camp is Large Pro’s recently released Beatz Vol. 2 gonna fall into? Let’s find out…
Let me start by saying that the first installment of the series, the aptly named Beatz Vol. 1, was a disappointment for me. It wasn’t that any of the material was terrible, far from it in fact, but the overall package felt somewhat half-baked. Whereas the aforementioned success stories relied on around 40 beats or so and relatively swift transitions to maintain momentum, Beatz Vol. 1 was sixteen cuts deep, with the majority hovering around the three minute mark. Although every joint on the album had something to say for itself, the release as a whole lacked punch or dynamism and the result was a collection of songs that ultimately left me feeling a little flat. Having said this, a few of the cuts do still manage to drift into my consciousness from time to time, and this has meant that the album has managed to stay in rotation over the past year despite not really delivering the goods: it is Large Pro, after all.
Thankfully, Beatz Vol. 2 is better than its predecessor. For starters, a funkier aesthetic imbues the album as a whole, making this feel a little more like the much loved Extra P of the early ’90s. Tracks such as ‘We Have A Winner’ and ‘The Highst’ reek of hip hop from days gone by, and despite a lack of originality (’The Highst’ even employs the much used Lee Dorsey drum break), they’re more than enough to get you open. The album also feels more consistent than the last, and with very few skippable numbers, it’s certainly entertaining. Nevertheless, despite these pluses, it’s not likely to be a release that you listen to front to back that often.
And why? Put simply, just like Beatz Vol. 1, there just isn’t enough here in terms of quantity and what there is lacks economy. Listening to a whole album of instrumentals is all well and good, but unless it is music of the very highest calibre, your interest is likely to be lost long before the track comes to a close. Unfortunately for Large Pro, this is the case with the latest installment in his instrumental series.
However, this doesn’t totally destroy its appeal. If you’re a dedicated fan like me then you definitely shouldn’t hesitate in copping it, but bear in mind that the album requires that level of passion from its purchasers to really warrant the price of admission. Although I’m gonna enjoy Vol. 2 while it lasts, keep your fingers crossed for Vol. 3: I know I will be.
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Although certain album releases get more than their fair share of exposure around these internets (American Gangster being the obvious flavour of the last fortnight or so) there are an even greater number of LPs that only muster a brief mention or two before sinking rapidly into relative obscurity. This is in part reflective of the sheer volume of easily accessible releases kickin’ about at any one time, but also of the resistance of bloggers (myself included) to cover anything that is already deemed to be old news, even though old news in internet time could mean a time frame that is measured in units as small as hours. This is a damn shame, because in this hectic climate of quick fixes and a relentless focus on ‘the next big thing’ there are often albums of serious quality that really don’t seem to get the credit they deserve.
As a result, the next couple of posts here at FDB will focus on recent full lengths that have struck me as grossly under-represented by the blog scene, and which deserve further exposure despite their moment in the virtual sun having already passed. Nothing exclusive here people, just some recommendations that may have understandably flown under your radar as you duck and weave your way through the vast and treacherous skies of an ever-expanding blog scene.
Many Stories To Tell – Y Society
About six months ago I was briefly obsessed by some guy referring to himself as ‘dopegraffhead’ on YouTube. Having rampantly digested each and every one of his videos in which he recreated classic jams with incredible deftness behind the boards (you can watch them all here) I was left wondering if he might translate these skills into his own production work and officially release something. Sure enough, last month saw Travel At Your Own Pace, a collaboration between the man in question, Damu Tha Fudgemunk, and one of my favourite active MCs, Insight.
Clearly rooted in boom bap aesthetics, Travel At Your Own Pace is a fine example of how to use the past to your advantage whilst avoiding an end product that is entirely derivative. Damu’s beats contain all the hallmarks of hip hop’s golden era, but their rich texture and infectious head-nodding vibe mean that there is enough here to keep the formula feeling modern and fresh. ‘This Is An Introduction’ is one of the clear standouts for me, featuring a couple of tasty loops, a perfectly executed scratch chorus hook and a hefty dose of reverberating horns all backed up by a drum track that has a satisfying punch. Fortunately, it’s not the only cut to savour here, and it is a general indication of the consistent quality you can expect from the album as a whole: just check ‘Scientist’ and ‘Setting The Example’ if you’re looking for the proof.
It’s always pleasing to see a one producer/one MC effort in these days of jam-packed production rosters and multiple guest verses, and Insight holds up his side of the bargain admirably. A tight flow and energetic delivery are the key features of his style, so much so that the content is somewhat lost on me: it’s the inherent musicality and sense of passion in his rhymes that captivates me above anything else. Having thoroughly enjoyed Insight’s previous outings on wax, it’s great to see the Bostonian MC still killin’ it over some dope production in 2007.
With very little skipping material and a sense of real cohesion, this is an album that has stayed in rotation for me for months (how many albums have done that for you recently?!). Chisel out a window in your hectic schedule and give it a well deserved spin: although this may not be ground breaking material, I have enjoyedTravel At Your Own Pace as much as any other release this year.
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After my rather bold assertion of an increased rate of activity here at FDB on Sunday, I have of course ended up with egg on my face with another slow start to the week. Unfortunately, ignoring the responsibilities of ‘real life’ this week hasn’t been possible: I’m in the process of applying for a new role at work. I have however got myself together to get another drop up at Oh Word which is essentially an extension of my Q-Tip Beat Series but with a focus on the mighty Tribe. Gocheck it out and let me know what you think.
Floodwatch Kicks Some Ass…
As I brief aside I just wanted to hip you to Flood’s latest drop which is one of the best posts I’ve seen around these internets for a while. Flood’s attention to detail is always phenomenal, but his analysis of the importance of the kick drum in hip hop production really is something special. Get there now.
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After months of eager anticipation and an all day battle with the London Underground (a reminder of the perils of living in our nation’s capital), last Saturday night heralded my first experience of Pete Rock live. The scope for disappointment in this particular case was massive: The Chocolate Boy Wonder is without a doubt one of my favourite recording artists of all time, and I have rarely, if ever, felt as excited about a gig. Would it live up to expectation, or would I walk away feel cheated? Let’s find out…
Rather expectedly, there’s a hell of a lot of good things to report. With doors opening at 11pm, it was a pleasure to see Pete grace the wheels of steel almost immediately as we got in, and with a set that lasted for just over two hours, there could never be any complaints that the performance was too brief. The set ran thematically, with the crowd being initially treated to a slew of late ’80s classics before the transition into early ’90s bangers and several sections covering key artists of the genre. These sections were particularly enjoyable: I mean, you can’t go far wrong with a generous helping of Tribe, EPMD and the mighty Wu, and it was clear that Pete had read the crowd correctly as much lip-syncing and vibrant movements ensued (particularly from me). Finishing up with a half hour section of his own material was always going to get the Jazz Cafe rockin’, and it did just that in fine style. Clearly a DJ of the true school persuasion, it was also great to see Mt. Vernon’s finest make sure he made his presence felt on the mic as well with traditional call and response shouts going down a treat given the nature of the night. With a few beat juggles thrown in just to increase the flava, Pete’s set was killer throughout. Phew, all good so far.
Inevitably, there were a few elements to the night that griped. First of all, it had been publicised as a DJ/MC set, so in all honesty I was expecting Pete to kick a few verses over instrumentals, but this never happened. No big deal, but the event would have felt all the more complete with some live rhymes, particularly over the classics like ‘T.R.O.Y.’. However, the definitive low point of the event was rather frustratingly in the gig’s dying phases, where Pete showcased some of his new material. Now I’ve already highlighted the fact that I really like the recent a-side ‘914′, and it did go down well with the crowd, but unfortunately the remainder of the new joints were simply not uptempo enough to keep the high energy levels of the evening going effectively. I’m also sorry to admit it, but my first impressions of the three or four songs he played were not good, as they lacked the immediate punch that characterises so much of his extensive back catalogue. Bottom line? They didn’t work in a club. I sincerely hope that this was a result of circumstance rather than a true indication of my feelings of the songs themselves: here’s hoping they leave a more distinct impression on me when absorbed for a while at home after I cop the album in January.
Despite these factors, there is absolutely no taking away from Pete’s skill as a true party rocker. The songs played and the way in which they were sequenced was masterful, clearly the result of years of perfecting the craft. The vibe of the crowd and Pete’s astute DJing abilities made for something truly special: myself and crew had a sensational time. I even managed the obligatory end of night photo with the man himself after muttering something to the tune of ‘your music has really made a difference to my life’, but the smile on Pete’s face alleviates my worry that I made a total dick of myself. However, I am vaguely concerned that I may have an abnormally small head given the proportions displayed below.
It goes without saying that if Pete Rock rolls through your town then you’d be a fool to miss it: I have rarely seen a set put together with such an confident sense of style and finesse. The obsession with all things Chocolate Boy Wonder lives on… rejoice!
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Blak Twang has been involved in the UK hip hop scene for well over a decade now, and like so many artists in the game has had his fair share of trouble and strife. ‘Dettwork South East’ was pencilled in for a ’96 release, but issues with the label meant that it never saw a proper release. Unfortunately, his sophomore album fell victim to a similar fate although seemed to gain some level of distibution. All in all, you have to admire the determination of any artist who manages to come out of an experience like this still intact as surprisingly Blak Twang has gone on to see some crossover success on the UK scene whilst still staying relatively true to the music. His first album is gritty, well produced and demonstrates his skills on the mic; in my opinion it is a fine example of how good UK hip hop can be.
I know very little about the production credits on the album although I think that much of it was self-produced along with involvement from DJ Rumple. Whoever is responsible, the beats here are top notch: big heavy basslines, crisp drum tracks and dark, brooding samples. The title track is one of the highlights as well as ‘Fearless’ but generally speaking the consistency here is exceptional, with only a couple of tracks potentially leading you towards the skip button.
Lyrically, Blak Twang’s verses are steeped in London culture. Although I no longer live in the nation’s capital, listening to ‘Dettwork South East’ makes me feel proud to be a Londoner, and has me bowling around town with swagger (this is of course a highly romanticised vision that is pretty far removed from the suburban Finchley where I grew up). Numerous references to London hotspots and Twang’s cockney/patois slang mean that this is unmistakably from these shores, and it is delivered with an easy and confident style. There is also a guestspot with Roots Manuva on ‘Queenshead’ which is worth checking particularly due to Manuva’s subsequent career successes.
Overall, this comes highly recommended. Although I have my gripes about the UK scene there are some records that have me questionning my feelings towards British hip hop: this is one of them. Both production and the rhymes come correct and this really is a release that oozes quality from start to finish. Cop it, get your London attitude firmly fixed in place and appreciate British hip hop at its best.