Wed, 30 March 2016
"Money, please, I get loose off a orange juice!"
That's my first iPod in the cover art, which was laser-engraved with "Beats, rhymes, and life" - so you get just some idea of how important A Tribe Called Quest's music is to me. The passing of Malik Taylor aka Phife Dawg this month at the age of just 45 was a huge shock to the entire Hip-Hop nation and the tributes have been absolutely pouring out. With him very much in mine, I did a late re-plan of the episode to make sure some of his fantastic work with Tribe could be included; it was only right. RIP Mutty Ranks!
As well as taking you down memory lane with those tracks, we also honour Biggie, Nate Dogg, and Sean Price (who's birthday would have been this month), and give you plenty more besides. A lot of work went in, and I hope you enjoy it.
Public Enemy : Shut 'Em Down
When I first picked up the "Apocalypse 91" album, I wasn't really into this track much, but it definitely grew on me over time. I'd imagine most people these days know it more for the famous Pete Rock remix, but here's just a taste of the original - you should absolutely go and hear the whole thing.
The Notorious B.I.G. : Ten Crack Commandments
As much as I love this tune, you can see why Chuck D sued the record label over the use of his voice! This infamous instructional guide for the street-level dealer (and apparently, other kinds of entrepreneur) from "Life After Death" has quite an interesting origin story; DJ Premier originally produced the beat for Jeru The Damaja, but was then used for Angie Martinez' "Top 5 At 9" radio show. Long story short, Biggie & Puffy convinced Premo and Jeru to let them use it, and with the additional voice sample for the "ten", the basis was there. Incidentally, that main sample for the track is absolutely tiny, and it was a work of genius - my understanding is that it would have totally slipped under the radar but someone snitched (you see how often I don't reveal samples here?) and Premo ended up getting sued...
Tall Black Guy : Slow It Down
I've said it and I'll say it again, TBG is one of the top producers out there right now and there's a lot of material for you to catch up on! This is a 2009 cut from the original "Hollyweird" album, kicking off with a classic soul sample before spiralling off into its own solid, thumping thing. Don't sleep!
A Tribe Called Quest : His Name Is Mutty Ranks
I freely admit to being one of those people who generally didn't enjoy "The Love Movement" all that much, but there were a few good picks - with that much talent, how could there not be? Coming in at under two minutes long, this track features Phife going solo on the Caribbean flex, which was just part of the flavour he brought to the group.
Smif-N-Wessun : Hustler's Prayer
I was thinking of going all the way back to "Dah Shinin'", but decided to give you something from 2005's "Reloaded" album. Man, eleven years already? Anyway, Tek and Steele put their souls into this street anthem while longtime production partners Da Beatminerz do the honours on the beat. Smif-N-Wessun have always had that reggae influence from Brooklyn in their music and this is no exception, working a classic roots reggae sample for the groove and hook.
Mos Def & Talib Kweli : Definition
One that I think most of you will know! Decided to keep the reggae influence going for another track, going all the way back to the lead single from the seminal Black Star album. Flipping the hook from Boogie Down Productions' "Remix For P Is Free", both the young and hungry MCs give their own take on "Stop The Violence" over a quality Hi-Tek beat.
Tall Black Guy : Sweet Europe
Giving you a taste of another one of the big man's dope beats, this time putting a little bump under some beautiful guitar strumming. Cop this one on the "Mini Therapy Chops" single!
A Tribe Called Quest ft. Large Professor : Keep It Rollin'
So incredible, and one of my favourites from "Midnight Marauders". Tribe brought in fellow Queens native Large Professor to produce and guest on this track and he did not disappoint, giving them a laid-back slice of Roy Ayers-driven gorgeousness. Phife starts proceedings off, and as per usual he shows how to make an entrance on a track!
The ARE : Keep It Rollin'
The "Manipulated Marauders" beat tape takes some of the original samples that made up each track of the "Midnight Marauders" album and flips them a different way, so it made sense to follow up the Tribe cut with this one. Definitely a project to get hold of.
Sadat X ft. Cormega & Lanelle Tyler : On Fire
Some of the bar counts around the intro and hook are a big strange-sounding to me, but it's a solid song regardless. It's great to see Sadat X continue to record, and on this selection from 2015's "Never Left" LP, he links with fellow veteran Cormega to build on their legacies. The NYC vocal triangle is completed by Brooklyn's Lanelle Tyler, and the classy production is provided by a new name to me, North Carolina's Real McKoy.
Curren$y : Rain Stunts
I love this kind of subtle, reflective beat when it's done with polish as Cool & Dre have here. Curren$y's "The Owner's Manual" mixtape came out hot on the heels of his "Canal Street Confidential" album, and if you like his style then you'll want to pick up both. It's only a short track, where he laments how his success changed those around him, but I guess he said all he had to say in those few bars.
Ras Kass : The Chase
I love the face that modern distribution channels mean that someone like Ras, who suffered from all kinds of label drama early in his career, can get his material out to us fans with speed and efficiency. January's free "Lyrical Hip-Hop Is Dead" EP takes a selection of beats from the "Instrumental Hip-Hop Is Dead" project by the Montreal producer Kaytranada and reworks them into his own tracks. This one in particular was my favourite - definitely in terms of the beat, and Ras has more than enough experience to say how futile the quest for fame can be.
Sean Price : Remember Me
It would have been Sean's 44th birthday this month, and I thought this track was a perfect one to include. It's not that long - a mixtape cut from Scram Jones' "Loose Cannons" but it's got the trademark lyrical dexterity and self-depreciation that really epitomise the second half of his career. Mix that with a brooding beat and the scratched hook, and you have a quality piece of work.
[F. Graham] Channel Live : Mr.President (Instrumental)
One of those "flicking through the shelves" inclusions - I had long forgotten what this sounded like! Since the vocal version is about George W. Bush and we're getting ready for the first post-Obama election ( :( ), I figured I may never get round to playing it and instead went with the F.Graham-produced instrumental.
Nate Dogg : No Matter Where I Go
Nate Dogg is probably the most notable and respected hook man in Hip-Hop history, and while his long list of features are celebrated, his solo material is much less well known. To be fair, label/legal problems at Death Row meant that the "G-Funk Classics, Vol.1 & 2" double album didn't see the light of day until 1998 on Breakaway, and so didn't get the promotional push that would have been expected. I found this track a few years back on a compilation, just after he passed I think, browsing around Spotify. Nate not-so-subtly takes his shots at his former label on this one, and his 213 partner Warren G gives him a smooth track that may be too gentle for some but works for me! Of course, the hook is on point. What did you expect? :)
Cormega : Journey
I got this from the first disc of Cormega's "Raw Forever" LP, but it originally appeared on his "Born and Raised" album. Large Professor blesses Cormega with a quality beat for him to reflect on his path through life, which he does with aplomb as always. "Raw Forever" is definitely worth adding to your collection; a compilation of past work on the first disc, and a full album of new material backed by the Brooklyn live band The Revelations.
Eighties Babies : Man's World
When this is your track title, it's logical to want to sample the James Brown classic, and if you want to flip a classic then the man you want on the job is Tall Black Guy, who smashes it down on this track from the "Sonic Music" album. The MC, Shogun, is a new name to me but definitely holds up his end of proceedings on the mic. There's plenty more quality on the album, so it's well worth checking!
Kidz In The Hall : Day By Day
The 2006 "School Was My Hustle" album was a very solid debut from this pair of Ivy League-graduate artists, and here's one of my personal standouts. Double-O's beat is is definitely centred around the drums and percussion (in fact, all the low-end comes from the kick drum) and Naledge holds down all three verses with class. I had to let this one play all the way through to the end, just because I thought the spoken parts at the close were very much worth including for everyone to hear.
Jay Dee : Pause (Instrumental)
Classic Hip-Hop instrumental, from the 12" of a track from Dilla's "Welcome To Detroit". Any crowd that know anything about Hip-Hop will respond to this banger.
A Tribe Called Quest : Buggin' Out
You may not realise this, but Phife wasn't on the first Tribe album much, and his skills were far below the level he eventually developed; apparently, he wasn't super focused on being an MC and almost saw himself as a kind of hypeman. Q-Tip helped convince him to take rhyming more seriously, and this classic cut from "The Low End Theory" really served as a coming out party. Many people from the average head to the now-legends of the artform will tell you how they reacted to him setting it off with "Yo! Microphone check, one two, what is this? The five foot assassin with the ruffneck business"! Couldn't leave this one off.
A Tribe Called Quest : Phoney Rappers
"...then I came back and just FUCKED UP his head!" Now that is what is known as a Precision F-Strike, and while any other month that could have been the epigraph for the show, Q-Tip's line has to take a backseat to Phife's bars. I think what I really love about this opening track from "Beats, Rhymes, and Life" is that they've managed to make it sound less like a song and more like an actual conversation about street battling experiences; it's the little asides and interaction between the MCs that makes it work so well. Phife's verse here is one of my favourites, and it's a perfect way to end the episode.
Please remember to support the artists you like! The purpose of putting the podcast out and providing the full tracklist is to try and give some light, so do use the songs on each episode as a starting point to search out more material. If you have Spotify in your country it's a great way to explore, but otherwise there's always Youtube and the like. Seeing your favourite artists live is the best way to put money in their pockets, and buy the vinyl/CDs/downloads of the stuff you like the most!