Question: what do you do when your record label turns 20 just as the style of music you’ve pioneered enters its renaissance? Answer: you throw a party, preferably a big one. That’s just what seminal “abstract Hip-Hop” label Ninja Tune is doing with their massive Ninja Tune XX box set, a whopping 6 CD collection of new tunes and remixes by some of the biggest names in beat music, bass music and beyond. Resisting the urge to drop the kind of self-aggrandizing retrospective these anniversaries usually beget, the label wisely enlisted their current roster to craft all new tunes and remix some classics with help from a number of outside guests.
Having grown far beyond the quaint ideal of sampledelic instrumental hip-hop to embrace everything from avant-rap to orchestral post-pop to dubstep and beyond, Ninja Tune and by association beat music is as difficult to define and pin down in 2010 as any other genre. “Hip-Hop influenced electronic home listening music” is an awkward turn of phrase but perhaps the best one to describe an aesthetic existing outside the techno/house/IDM sphere of labels such as Warp but uncommitted to the rap-centric world of traditional Hip-Hop. Thankfully, while genre tags and terminology might fail us, the music speaks for itself. With a current roster including Roots Manuva, The Bug, Toddla T, Eskmo, Blockhead, Daedleus, Jammer and more in addition to a number of 90’s survivors still pumping out records, the label’s artistic outlook is as healthy as its ever been. The XX box takes that roster and throws in guests like Flying Lotus, Zomby, Mala, Benga, Joker, Todd Edwards, Four Tet and more; just about summing up the current state of beat music. Think I’m kidding? It’s got a remix by underground funcrusher EL-P AND an edit by dark garage originator El-B. This thing is thorough.
It’s also feel-good moment for a label that truly deserves all of the success in the world after slugging it through a decade out of the spotlight. When the aughts shifted critical praise away from the mid-tempo electronic music the label was known for in favor of guitar bands and mainstream rap, Ninja Tune diversified to vocal Hip-Hop (Big Dada) and indie inflected song craft (Counterpoint) and brought in new blood to expand its approach. Everyone from Grime originator Wiley to hipster rap favs Diplo and Spankrock have found a home on the label and it’s this willingness to try out new things that stands as the imprint’s greatest strength. With the ascent of British urban electronic music back into the pop-culture consciousness and new mutations of beat music emerging from Los Angeles to Glasgow, this dedication to the label’s beat-centric aesthetic should be well rewarded over the next decade as there’s no label better suited to putting out this stuff than the one that first started it.
To celebrate the label’s milestone release and to show our appreciation, Passion of the Weiss will be running new reviews of classic Ninja Tune releases all week long, reminiscing on our favorites and why they were important to us. Hopefully you find something new or rediscover an old favorite. Now if you’ll excuse me, this giant compilation won’t just listen to itself. –Sach O