April 28, 2009

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If you’re kind enough to link, parts II and III will be added to the original post as soon as they’re published. Thanks.

“Feelin’ It” feat. Mecca

Ahmad Jamal – ‘Pastures’

From Jamal Plays Jamal (20th Century, 1974)

Think of “Feelin’ It” as an analogue to “Dead Presidents,” with both Ski-laced gems incorporating brooding piano samples into a classic hip hop production aesthetic. Originally cropping up on a Camp Lo demo, when Jay and Dame Dash heard the beat they were understandably enamored, and demanded that “Feelin’ It” find its way onto Reasonable Doubt.

Of the pair, “Feelin’ It” employs more overt simplicity, jacking an unadorned loop from Ahmad Jamal’s,  ‘”Pastures,” for Jay to wax philosophic about Cristal keeping him wet like “Baywatch.” Though the piano is the sample’s chief instrumental component, both the rattling percussion and Jamil Nasser’s bass find their way into Ski’s slope, providing a crucial additional layer of texture. His trademark punchy drums and filtered bass groove finish off the fourth and final single. Though it only achieved moderate success on the Billboard Hot 100, “Feelin’ It” stands as firm evidence for Ski’s inclusion on any list of era-defining, mid-90s, NYC producers.

“D’Evils”

Allen Toussaint – “Go Back Home”

Taken from “Poor Boy Got To Move”/”Go Back Home” 7” (Alon, 1965)

Unavailable.

The first of three DJ Premier contributions, those who’ve studied the real Chris Martin know his binary talents: not only did his ferocious digging uncover otherwise undiscovered gems, but he’s also able to flip samples in a singular manner–always complex, instantly recognisable, and eminently gratifying. “D’Evils” is no exception, a piano-based burner that utilitizes Snoop and Prodigy on a scratched chorus hook–an essential element of Preem’s style.

The sample is culled from “Go Back Home” (Alon, 1965). the B-side to Allen Toussaint’s “Poor Boy Got To Move.” Though Toussaint never have achieved massive notoriety as a solo artist, his contribution to popular music is incalculable–writing and arranging for many of the key New Orleans R&B artists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, including The Meters, Dr John, and Lee Dorsey. ” A stellar example of his solo work, “Go Back Home”  summons a moody ambience that feels distinctly anachronistic–a quality that Premier capitalizes on, filtering out some of the bass frequencies to isolate the piano notes for the main groove of “D’Evils.” The drum track is consistent with Preem’s adamantine aesthetic: hard core  snare hits reflecting the dark atmosphere of the cut. Premier and Jay-Z: what more can you ask for? Toyota?

‘22 Two’s’

John Kaizan Neptune – ‘Blue Wind’ (snippet)

From Bamboo (EMI, 1980)

Unavailable.

The fourth and final Ski beat, “22 Two’s” stands apart through its creation of a live atmosphere, serving as an mid-point interlude. Conceived as an impromptu freestyle by Jay on “Mad Wednesdays,” it’s ironically not the introduction that imbues it with its organicism, but rather the beat itself, with its spot-on approximation of live instrumentation. Jay’s use of the seminal hook from “Can I Kick It?” transports the listener to a dingy, smoke-laden basement Brooklyn, like nothing else on Reasonable Doubt. 

Ski’s crate-digging shines here, with a relatively obscure loop taken from John ‘Kaizan’ Neptune. Unlikely sample fodder, Neptune’s fame was derived from his mastery of the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, which he incorporated it into non-traditional contexts like jazz. Nabbed from Bamboo (EMI, 1980), the track itself is tough to locate, but if you dig hard enough, reissues are available. Truthfully, it’s one of Ski’s least skillful performances, yet his insatiable desire for originality shines through–as  ‘22 Two’s’, completes the picture of a producer who has honed and perfected his craft.

‘Can I Live’

Isaac Hayes – ‘The Look Of Love’

From …To Be Continued (Enterprise, 1970)

Queens-raised, Irv Gotti, undeniably impacted mainstream audiences via his work with DMX, Ja Rule and Ashanti, but few of his beats ever matched the epic scope of “Can I Live.” Undoubtedly the technically simplest beat on Reasonable Doubt, there’s no denying its brute force.

No stranger to being re-appropriated into a hip hop context, Isaac Hayes had been repeatedly sampled prior to “Can I Live.” But few Hayes cuts were as mineral rich as his cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition “Look Of Love,” with everyone from Gotti to Snoop to Smif-N-Wessun strip-mining sections from the track and re-animating them. Splicing together discrete sequences from Hayes’ original and re-molding them into a new into a new form with all instruments intact–there’s nothing particularly innovative about “Can I Live”–but it certainly feels alive.

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