digitally in the crates

Friday, April 22, 2005

dre, old and new

My apologies for the inactivity of Digitally In The Crates over the past month, but I'm a starving college student and was in the middle of assignments and exams. It's on now, though.

And for the first post in a month, why not focus on one of the greatest to ever do it? Y'all know Dr. Dre beats, but I'm going to put you up on some tracks that don't get as much shine as they should.

The only name I know of for this track is "The Future", so I'll go with that. This is the full 8 minute version of one of Dre's newest proteges, Atlanta-based Stat Quo, freestyling over a beat that's just hypnotic. It's notable for Dre being drunk and high as fuck and sounding hilarious, and Stat Quo stumbling over his pre-written from time to time and having to restart. Sure, it's not a freestyle, but dude has a unique flow that's worth a listen.

Next up is from my favorite Dre era, when he still used breakbeats. "The D.O.C. and the Doctor", from The D.O.C.'s classic album No One Can Do It Better, is a cut that could be thrown on at a party tonight and people would still feel it. In interviews, Dre's always said that DJ experience is invaluable to a producer, and that shines through on this track. Not too complicated, but you can't front on it. And fuck, how dope was The D.O.C.?

Overlooked since their demise, West Coast group Above The Law had their first album, Livin Like Hustlers, (co)produced by Dr. Dre. The very first track on that album was "Murder Rap", letting everyone know what the fuck was up with the siren sample from Quincy Jones' theme to "Ironside". This is more breakbeat-Dre; just try to resist drumming along. Listening to all the layers of samples is amazing - you've got the backward breakbeat, the forward breakbeat, squeals and scratched/stuttered sirens far off in the background. You've even got a Chuck D. vocal sample in there (not to mention Ice Cube). You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

dreaded fist of the northwest

Time for some CanCon. I'm not sure if their name means anything outside of Canada, but for a while the Rascalz were the pinnacle of Canadian hip-hop. This was circa 1998, long before the Swollen Members were a force to be reckoned with. I'll set it off with their two best-known tracks from back in the day; I'm not a fan of their latest stuff as it just seems uninspired.

"Dreaded Fist" was the first I ever heard of the Rascalz, and I was hooked instantly. The video for this song got a lot of play on MuchMusic; it was dark and grimy and I seem to remember some sort of kung-fu stuff going on. If you listen closely to the lyrics, you can hear the Wu-Tang influence: the Wu were huge when Rascalz were coming up, and it shows up as they label themselves as being from "northwest Saigon".

I'm also including what is perhaps the biggest single in Canadian hip-hop history. "Northern Touch" made all-stars out of everyone on the song. Rascalz, Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust and Choclair were household names once this song blew up. Having the names of the artists on the song as the hook was genius; even if you couldn't pick Checkmate out of a lineup, you knew his name. As a posse cut, there's nothing groundbreaking about the lyrics, but Choclair and Thrust drop two great verses and everybody else is solid. I just wish I'd heard more from Thrust after this: "Thrust / I'll break you off a style that you want to represent / present, in other words I pay the rent". Listening to Choclair's verse, he's got a really strange rhyme style, but somehow it works; I guess that's what happens when you've got a "mouth colourful like the currency".

Saturday, March 12, 2005

don't call it a comeback

I'm back. Many thanks to Tofu Hut for the link, as it just kicked me in the ass and convinced me to stick to this.

As much as he's criticized these days for the texture of his face and the fact that he appeals to his female fans more than most MCs do, LL Cool J was dope. When he was young and hungry, there were few that could touch his intensity on the mic. Radio, his debut album, gets most of the attention when people talk about early LL, but his third album Walking With A Panther is solid in its own right. I could post the songs you've heard from this album, the singles "Going Back To Cali" and "Big Ole Butt", but there are a couple album tracks that deserve your attention.

"Droppin Em" opens the album with some speedy funk. Although he's matured as an artist, LL is still focused on battling; he's dropped Kool Moe Dee by now and wants all those other sucka MCs to know he can still slay with the best of them. Listen carefully for the scratches of Billy Squire's "The Big Beat", used most recently in Jay-Z's "99 Problems".

"Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?" seems typical of the late 80s-early 90s quick flow that you heard from people like Jaz-O. LL's not as fast, but the rhyme patterns are there. Listening to the beat, there's an influence at work that reminds me of Ice Cube's first two solo albums. The lyrics sound nothing like Cube, but the way the beat switches up reminds me a lot of Sir Jinx's work on Death Certificate and the Bomb Squad's production on AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. The latter is hardly surprising given the Bomb Squad's work on "Nitro" and "It Gets No Rougher" from this very album.

Monday, February 28, 2005

"and caine one was really whole car-ing on the damn 7 line..."

When a song can be considered not only great, but evocative - then you know it's timeless. New York has been captured in music for much of its history, but apart from Bitches Brew, nothing else sounds like the rhythm and pace of the city like the Subway Theme. The man behind the track is none other than the inventor of the scratch, DJ Grand Wizard Theodore. Theodore worked closely with Blondie guitarist Chris Stein on the soundtrack for the 1982 film Wild Style, on which this track appears. Wild Style is the classic graffiti movie - as its soundtrack is evocative, the film has become an artifact that helped to define a time in urban America.

The spoken intro to the song comes from Wild Style. It's LEE - graffiti artist Lee Quinones - whose role in the film as himself ties the film to the experiences of his peers. His reflections on being a writer in the early Eighties are some serious shit. If you want to check out Caine One, who LEE mentions, on screen then you need to see Style Wars, a documentary made prior to Wild Style that features the one-armed artist (as well as a young DJ Kayslay).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

why y'all haters still mad?

Though most of the kids these days know him for showing up on the remix of Beyonce's "Naughty Girl" and his mediocre hit "Sunshine" (which itself was pretty much just a ripoff of Beyonce's "Summertime"), Lil' Flip has been around for a while. A member of the late great DJ Screw's Screwed Up Click, Flip was originally known for his freestyle talent. He won't blow your mind with wordplay, but he can rhyme for days - he was the first to freestyle for 10 minutes straight on a Screw tape.

Flip's mixtape songs are better than his commercial output. The older, the better. I'll get things started with Haters Still Mad. This is a screwed version, the original is out there but I like this just so you can drawl out the hook. Screwed-up songs are perfect for singing along.

Next we've got one of my favorite weed songs ever, So Gone featuring C-Bo and Big Shasta. This is over the beat from the Monica song and one of two Flip songs that bear this title; the other one features Big Shasta singing a hook to the tune of "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. I might post that a little later on.

Finally we have what I consider Lil' Flip's masterpiece, Sunny Day featuring Big Shasta. A smooth beat with a hint of g-funk in the whining synth line during the hook, this song lends itself to cruising and nothing else.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

edmonton's finest

Although I haven't heard as much local hip-hop as I probably should have, I've heard enough of a cross-section to know what's good and what's not. After wading through nobly intended, poorly executed mumblings and beat jacking, I've come to the same conclusion I came to a long time ago: Yak and Double D are the shit.

Bang Tha Roof might be the first E-Town anthem. Yak and Double D have distinctive voices, and they compliment each other fairly well. Their lyrics are on point, Double D's flow is insane, the beat is perfect for cruising through traffic, and your hood probably gets shouted out. How can you not love a song that mentions Ill Woods?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

summer madness

If you ever happen to get into an argument with someone about what the most chilled out song of all time is, this is your trump card. "Chilled out" might not be a description that would satisfy an academic, but in this case the term applies.

Picture in your mind a summer's day. The sun is blazing and it's hot enough that you're starting to sweat. The action around you in the city just makes the environment all that more unbearable. And then a cool breeze hits, sending shivers down your spine, the ultimate refreshment. That's what Summer Madness by Kool and the Gang is.

Other people realized this long before me, and so Summer Madness has been sampled a few times. This isn't a comprehensive list of the songs that have sampled it, just a few notables.

Most people might recognize that it's sampled in Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Speeding up the bassline and chopping up the synth wail make the song danceable, and still everytime the synth line moves up an octave the air gets colder. Curiously enough, this song wasn't produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff; I bet he wishes he did it, though.

My personal favorite song that samples Summer Madness is DJ Premier in Deep Concentration. I've heard DJ tracks, and this is still the most amazing to me. I don't even DJ and I'm playing air DJ, scratching and hitting the fader when this song comes on. Even though I've never been there, this song feels like NYC traffic at night.

The most recent sampling I've come across is by Pete Rock for a song called Midnight And You that's shown up on Pete's second instrumental album, The Surviving Elements. Using only the bassline, the Chocolate Boy Wonder crafts his own synth line it all comes together for another relaxing song.