Tonio Rubio – “Bass In Action No. 1” (1973)
Sound library music doesn’t get any more stone cold than this track. Music of any kind rarely does. What should have been a cornerstone of golden-age hip-hop, “Bass In Action No. 1” is an incredible audio stroll consisting of sweet glistening electric piano glissandi, an ice cold single-note bass line, and the ready-made laid-back hip-hop breakbeat. It’s enchanting for the first minute; but when the beat kicks in at 1:05, you won’t be able to keep from grinning. [Tonio Rubio is featured in on an equally groove-laden mix of tunes from around the world at Musicophilia.] Update: Corrected the streaming link.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – “Quantum” (2006)
To the casual follower of the Hyperdub label, Burial’s work looms large. However, Kode9 & The Spaceape’s album ‘Memories of the Future’ is almost equally appealing. Existing in a less hazy/rain-drenched landscape of sharper shapes amidst the cavernous dub, propelled as much by The Spaceape’s vocal contributions as Kode9’s beats, this music lives up to the album’s name. It sounds like a future that knows the past, a futurism that isn’t about pretending to exist ex nihilo. [Kode9 & The Spaceape are featured in an appropriately spooky, rich mix, ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris,’ at Musicophilia.]
Death Comet Crew – “Exterior Street” (1984)
Rammellzee posesses a rhythmic fluidity and a full-force speed that made his MCing pretty damned advanced for the early days of hip-hop. And it fits the post-punk-ish artiness and darkness of this Electro/hip-hop track. The combination adds up to a manic, tense, sharp, and fiery concoction. Certainly it doesn’t feel like party music, unless it were a celebration of an apocolypse.
Digable Planets – “Black Ego” (1994)
I hope by now it’s common knowledge that Digable Planets weren’t the hip-hop-hippies their “one-hit-wonder” single made them seem. Like the best trip-hop, their mellowness (especially on their second album, ‘Blowout Comb’) fronted a complex blend of emotions, telling stories of the personal-as-political and the political-as-personal. Plus, with their Modern Jazz Quartet-like approach to vibes-and-strings and their judicious beat-borrowing (here the eternal Zigaboo), they made hip hop sound as good as their best new-school contemporaries. They tapped a deep well, and another fifteen years on, it’s far from dry.
Emmanuelle Parrenin – “Topaze” (1977)
I can guarantee you’d never match this track to its cover. Parrenin’s ‘Maison Rose‘ is an odd one, but fascinating: mostly pastoral in the Drake/Bunyan vein, but with bits of an edge that remind me a little of Laurie Anderson or Brigitte Fontaine or Linda Thompson; quite lovely and worthwhile. And then there’s this track, that seems like it’s from another album; but also from another time and place: abstract wailings ostensibly derived from a hurdy gurdy (the link with the rest of the album) are wrapped around a booming, single-note bass tone and then. . . holy shit, that beat: all echoed, sliced up, turned around, and utterly cool. Where this came from out of this artist, I don’t at all understand; Like a cousin to This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop, it’s simply out of nowhere. I’ll leave it for you to supply what genres it anticipated and by how many decades. All I know is, I can get completely lost in this beat, on repeat.
Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib) – “Raw Shit” (2003)
Nothing touches ‘Donuts‘ for me. But even though I’m not a huge Madlib fan, I’ve come around to the “Jaylib” collaborations between he and Dilla. This track has a little of the feeling of both, succinctly capturing the chopped playfulness of J Dilla, and bounces along confidently with a catchy vocal hook (featuring Talib Kweli sounding as good as I’ve heard him) and a great organ sample. [J Dilla is featured here and here in very different contexts at Musicophilia.]
Jeru the Damaja – “Ain’t the Devil Happy” (1994)
Though it’s a little unfair, “conscious” has come to be a near-synonym for “soft” or “hippie” or “not real” when it comes to hip-hop. Jeru, though, is conscious like hip-hop forefathers the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron were conscious: politically conscious, sociologically, spiritually, economically: not “foolin around”. Jeru felt no reason to compromise between brains and musical brawn. So also like those forefathers, he achieves the rare feat of political music that matters as much for its music as its message. Spare and efficient, “Ain’t the Devil Happy” is not the least bit dated, like even plenty of other musically enjoyable mid-school hip-hop.
9th Scientist – “Do You Love Me?” (2004)
9th Scientist is carrying the torch strong for those who love mid-school sample-based hip-hop, but he’s not living in a DA.I.S.Y. retro world. He takes it Southern slow (Atlanta, not Houston or New Orleans), with an unhurried delivery, and for him “consciousness” is not an aesthetic, but a life’s pursuit. Musically his strongest suite is production, where he’ll appeal to fans of Dilla, with simply utilized, unpolished soul/funk loops. This track uses a perfect sample, sounding almost like a heartbeat echoing the intensity of an ode to a lifelong (possibly estranged) friend. Check him out here, pick up a new album here.
Steinski & Double Dee – “Lesson No. 1: The Payoff Mix” (1983)
This track is embedded in the trajectory of contemporary culture, just as much as it (and its sequels) drew from mass culture through ’83. But besides all that “importance” bit–it’s just a great listen for those who dig electro, early hip-hop, and cultural sampling in general. Reissued in 2008 on the compendium ‘What Does It All Mean? 1983-2008 Retrospective,’ it’s a good thing this stuff is now quasi-legitimately available. UPDATE: New stream link.