photo & text by nacrowe
by the time of his untimely passing in 2006 at the young age of thirty-two from cardiac arrest related to his ongoing battle with LUPUS, LEGENDARY DETROIT HIP HOP producer J DILLA was an INNOVATIVE, highly sought after COLLABORATOR and BEAT-MAKER of the first order whose INSPIRED COMPOSITIONS were appreciated and utilized by the likes of A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, DE LA SOUL, RAEKWON, THE PHARCYDE, D'ANGELO, ERYKAH BADU and COMMON to BUSTA RHYMES, THE ROOTS, EMINEM, MF DOOM, BILAL, REDMAN, MADLIB and TALIB KWELI among many others before and after his passing. his UNIQUE sense of RHYTHM, which he performed by hand on his AKAI MPC3000 sequencer-sampler, made use of disengaging the quantize setting (which when engaged essentially sets everything to a grid).
let's take a moment to make one thing absolutely clear.
J DILLA did not live on the grid. he was his own METRONOME and basically humanized HIP HOP production making the RIGID TECHNOLOGY ebb and flow organically almost like a JAZZ MUSICIAN. he referred to such RHYTHMIC EXPERIMENTATIONS as "drunk funk." his touch is something that has influenced countless producers in his wake, but obviously has not been replicated. DONUTS (STONES THROW, 2006) proved to be his final recording and was created as his DIMINISHED and ENFEEBLED physical limitations rendered him wheelchair-bound as he was losing his battle with LUPUS. the album showcases a SINGULAR composer and BEAT-MAKER at the top of his game (and the profession) as his SOUNDSCAPES and COLLAGES seamlessly transition from one EVOCATIVE aural landscape to the next. it proves that in spite of his physical debilitation, his CREATIVE SPARK and COGNITIVE ABILITIES were as on point as ever right to the end. such can be heard on STANDOUT tracks such as "GEEK DOWN," "TWO CAN WIN," "DON'T CRY," "WORKINONIT," "U-LOVE," "GOBSTOPPER" and "LAST DONUT OF THE NIGHT." my suggestion however is to listen to DONUTS in its entirety as one extended sonic MEDITATION.
it does not disappoint and is a fitting EXCLAMATION POINT on a career and talent cut down way too soon. his legacy is continued by those who take INSPIRATION from his SOUND including current PIONEERING producers and musicians like FLYING LOTUS, PHARRELL WILLIAMS, THUNDERCAT, DANGER MOUSE and TERRACE MARTIN among others. its interesting to consider that in retrospect many critics have considered him to be more of a JAZZ musician than a HIP HOP producer which only further proves his SUBTLE TOUCH and DEFT MUSICALITY that seemingly knew no limitations. his ART very much seemed to be a flawlessly composed, direct EMOTIONAL expression in and of the current moment a la JOHN COLTRANE, MAX ROACH or THELONIOUS MONK.
RIP JAY DEE
parodies by nacrowe
when i did an episode on the influential NATIVE TONGUES HIP HOP collective back the spring of 2020 i decided pretty early to expand from the core group of affiliated members DE LA SOUL, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, THE JUNGLE BROTHERS, QUEEN LATIFAH, CHI-ALI, MONIE LOVE, BRAND NUBIAN, COMMON, MOS DEF and THE PHARCYDE to also include like-minded peers such as BLACK MOON, SOULS OF MISCHIEF, LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL, BLACK SHEEP and MAIN SOURCE as well as later acolytes like KANYE WEST, JURASSIC 5, THE ROOTS, N.E.R.D. and OUTKAST.
part of that was to showcase its CULTURAL and POLITICAL influence both at its peak as a movement in the early 1990s, but also as a common thread in modern HIP HOP that has continued unabated to currents artists. had i had more time with the playlist i could easily have expended it to include the likes of SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS modern rappers like RUN THE JEWELS, LITTLE SIMZ, J. COLE, VINCE STAPLES, NIPSEY HUSSLE (R.I.P.) and KENDRICK LAMAR among others. its a vein of a talent that marches all the way back to beginnings of HIP HOP with the likes of AFRIKA BAMBAATAA and KRS-ONE.
there are times where i feel jaded and bored with music in general and it is during those periods when i go back and listen to a lot of the artists highlighted on this episode. the inventive WORDPLAY, HUMOR, SONG CONSTRUCTION and INCLUSIVE INTENT is still as powerful today as it was back then. im not saying i wish that this era would repeat itself in our modern cultural climate, but i do feel that the values exemplified therein of EMPATHY, CURIOSITY and DIVERSITY would be most beneficial in what feels like a POLITICAL and CULTURAL MOMENT that we all are being squeezed together with an ever-tightening vice grip. it feels like the UNITED STATES is hurdling fast towards a future fraught with peril and derision.
listening to NATIVE TONGUES artists, their peers and their acolytes still feels fresh and above else an act of hope. or maybe i am being naive. definitely.
photo & text by nacrowe
from my perspective, when considering the transformative HIP HOP albums from a lyrical and production standpoint, the ones that tend to immediately come to mind include:
1) PUBLIC ENEMY's FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET (DEF JAM, 1990) with its strident political firepower matched by THE BOMB SQUAD's unapologetic bombastic production.
2) BEASTIE BOYS' PAUL's BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) and it's postmodern pastiche of film soundtracks, found sound and esoteric 70s vinyl courtesy of the DUST BROTHERS that matched the carefree, idiosyncratic, stream-of-consciousness lyrical content of the group.
3) DE LA SOUL's 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING (TOMMY BOY, 1989) and PRINCE PAUL's kinetic, playful bouncy production likewise constructed utilizing countless samples that synchronized perfectly with the group's intellectually curious, almost SURREALIST mindset.
in my opinion 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING is the last of a breed records that came out around that time, not only from PUBLIC ENEMY and the BEASTIE BOYS, but like-minded groups like A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, WU-TANG CLAN and MOBB DEEP. there is a sense with these artists that samples utilized are an extension of a perspective shared by the group itself. it is like an extension almost of their collective ego. these artists also had identifiable producers/production teams that tailored their sonic identity, whether such be J DILLA, THE BOMB SQUAD, THE DUST BROTHERS, RICK RUBIN, MARIO CALDATO JR, Q-TIP, THE RZA or HAVOC. i dont believe that is the case anymore with modern producers instead marketing their signatures sonic compositions for in-house stables of artists or at a premium for outside artists, think TIMBALAND or PHARRELL WILLIAMS. shit evolves. that is now the model more or less.
in PRINCE PAUL compositions off 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING like the iconic "ME MYSELF AND I," "POTHOLES IN MY LAWN," "EYE KNOW," "BUDDY" and "SAY NO GO" there is a kaleidoscopic, playful blending of JAZZ with 1970s R&B/FUNK/CLASSIC ROCK samples that serves as a perfect sound-bed for a group equally concerned with SOCIAL JUSTICE, POST-COLONIAL BLACK IDENTITY and SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS. what i love about this era in HIP HOP and this specific record in particular is how the interplay between the sample and the MC and how they transform and contextualize one another. it is an absolute palimpsest of complex meaning that is only deepened over time. it is a special alchemy that i go back and enjoy all the time.
but it probably wont happen again. due to copyright laws and usage rights, a record like 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING is not evil possible without a mammoth budget due to permissions needed and copyright holders paid. the nearest thing to this record to come out in recent memory was DANGER MOUSE's notorious yet savant level JAY-Z/BEATLES mashup THE GREY ALBUM (SELF-RELEASED, 2004) which likewise entirely skirted copyright regulations. its unfortunate because these artists and producers transformed said content. and it is that contextualization, that transformation, that ALCHEMY which is the basic active ingredient in the magic of HIP HOP.
thats my opinion at least.
parody by nacrowe
tonight's new episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is focused on the NATIVE TONGUES movement in HIP HOP from the late 80s early 90s that brought together ideas of PAN-AFRICANISM, nonviolence, individuality and (courtesy of PUBLIC ENEMY's THE BOMB SQUAD) a whole new aesthetic when it came to production and the copious use of samples. definitely an interesting period that paved the way for CONSCIOUS RAP and backpacking in general as a cultural force. check out the #streaming show later tonight!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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