Bizarre Rides and B-Sides: Andy Votel’s list of Slow Down vintage hip-hop
In celebration of the resurrection of his twenty year-old Manchester hip-hop club night Slow Down (co-helmed by Sean Canty of Demdike Stare), the musician, artist, and Finders Keepers label head runs down his list of the crate-digging hip-hop that informed one young record enthusiast’s outlook on the entirety of music. Illustration by Inka Gerbert.
In an era where record collector obsessives and nostalgic DJ nerds frantically enthuse about lost tapes, early demos and missing links, it becomes a bit difficult to decipher which of these hyperbole artefacts truly represent a genuine cultural LOSS and which ones were, lets face it, a bit crap. It’s not unusual for a certain dinosaur demographic to start waxing about an important “life changing event” that happened in a cheap mid-week venue with a tiny crowd and some classic tunes, and it doesn’t take long before everybody’s picking up a prescription for the same pair of rose-tinted spectacles, and the skewed memory suspiciously becomes true legend! You’re getting old, mate… Slow Down!
For almost twenty years a possibly-pioneering hip-hop club night that fits this description has been cryogenically frozen in the smoke-filled memories of a small number of Mancunian b-boys, b-girls, record nerds, beat-diggers, and rappers. And as the years have passed, its main focus of Real Rap Music and its once susceptible place in the food chain has mutated into a beast too big to fit in the fridge. If those original, hungry Slow Down participants could walk out of that tiny club in Manchester, after dancing or head-nodding to the likes of Main Source, Ultramagnetic MCs, Gang Starr, Lord Finesse, and KMD (mixed back to back with the original records that they sampled), and meet the hip-hop of 2013, would they recognize their own bloodline or run away screaming? Hip-hop was ahead of its time by design.
Unsustainable after its third instalment in early 1995, Slow Down was arguably an unknown epicenter for buzzwords that hadn’t been invented yet: “GOLDEN ERA HIP-HOP” and “RANDOM RAP”. With DJ teams that would later be known as Finders Keepers and Chopped Herring, Slow Down was a night so true to its underground status that its obscurely shaped, tiny flyers were only given to select clientele, like business cards to people who wore the correct sneakers or passed the “spot-the-break” test for cheap entry. Twenty years older and not much wiser with the same bloated obsession, this time those buzzwords CAN go on the flyer, but disclaimers like, “Rusty DJ Skills,” and, “Records Might Skip,” are probably best left off the poster… and let’s pretend that the generic ‘bald head’ style of haircut is a matter of choice. Slow Down represents memories of its DJs first public gigs and time we were brave/insane enough to MC while we DJed… or even dance!
This list highlights an era of sampled music that could never be repeated. An era where a capricious underground artform had reached its creative zenith before lawyers and publishers began to cross the T’s and shield the eyes while cracking down on samples and writers-splits in the name of progression. This list bridges old school and new school before rappers had left school entirely and set-up management companies, clothes labels, and had shareholders meetings. This is from an era when hip-hop still lived with its parents and a hand-me-down deck and the record shop discount racks were your instruments and your “apps”. An era before interesting old records were subject to electronic auctioneers and entire communities shared drum machines instead of sharing mp3 files. These twenty year old artefacts, futuristic-minded, mechanical, and energetic music had more to do with the musique concrète, free jazz, folk music, and field study music than all the contrived pretentious minimal/noise bands who falsely cite suchlike as today’s influences. This is a list from the mixtape era when collage and juxtaposition was the higest form of art, and hip-hop blended go-go, Dada and la di da di with a good sense of humor and a bad-meaning-good intention to break down cultural boundaries before breaking even. This list proceeds rap as a global industry and pinpoints hip-hop when it was at its geekiest and freakiest with literally nothing to lose, resulting in some of the most bizarre, unlikely, urgent, unifying youthful musical expression committed to vinyl in the 20th century. It’s time to split the atom.
1) Run-DMC – “Peter Piper”
After struggling with the notion that this is perhaps the best rap record ever made, I’m gonna stick my neck out and propose that this record might actually be the best record of any genre ever made… period! (I mean full stop!) Randomly select the freakiest synth-ridden Pakistani soundtrack, or the most hallucinogenic acid folk album, the most ear splitting free jazz LP, or the most haywire acid house anthem and none will come close to how truly ground-breaking and inconceivable the molecular structure of this record truly is. And what’s stranger still is that the young public of 1986 wholeheartedly devoured it without question as the opening track to Run-DMC’s global breakthough LP, Raising Hell. Even after hearing my granddad’s one word review of this record (“‘Orrible!”) on a family trip to Southport in 1986, myself and a million other wide-eyed, European, suburban, teenage rap fans felt as if we had discovered life on Mars and only us special people could see the aliens. Even the band name read like a secret code, sounding about as catchy as a car registration number or a medical condition. These guys didn’t clearly give an F.U.C.K!
So here we have a three American black guys, one with ultra-geeked German national health-style specs and one of them wearing the same English flannel hat that the old woman who works at the library wears. They have huge, virtually immobile, padded goose down leather jackets over the top of sheeny, thin tracksuits and white Bavarian shoes with protective toe-caps and, errr, no laces. And one of them wears a gangster’s, stetson-style hat… and some massive necklaces. Before you’ve even heard one bar of music, you’ve encountered something that resembles an ADD kids’ dressing-up box explosion, which for years to come would rival the droogs in Clockwork Orange and the tramp cast of the Fisher King with token splashes of Bugsy Malone. And all you can say is… WORD!!! These guys look ACE! Keep in mind this record was a major breakthrough for hip-hop, the normalization LP which put radical black music in white houses. It’s not obscure, but it is bizarre. I mean what kind of music do people that look like this make?
So, let’s listen to “Peter Piper”. What can only be described as a really aggressive nursery rhyme, with added sexual references and the odd impression of TV commercials and kids toys, all starts off as an accapella. But what about the music? What instruments do they play? Well… they don’t really play instruments but they do keep playing the same part of this Paul Simon song, except its not the proper version, its an unsuccessful remake by a white, jazz funk dude with grey hair who uses steel drums and police radio interference to set the song’s tone (and he also did the music to that almost as freaky TV show Taxi). They actually play the first bit about seventy-five times and a tiny stab off a white disco record as a little surprise every now and then. A Paul Simon nursery rhyme you say? That sounds nice, dear. Not really, one of them is always frowning like he’s gonna kill me. What’s the rest of the LP like? It’s exactly the same, apart from the heavy metal one that I keep fast forwarding… by the way can I have some new trainers and ladies hat for Christmas? Hip-hop is amazing!
Even the most paranoid, protective, prejudiced parent who had watched too much New York violence on episodes of The Equalizer and Hill Street Blues really didn’t know how to protect their kids from this street poet pantomime, while we played it on repeat twenty-four hours a day until we’d memorized every lyric quoting American-only household products and started calling teachers “skeezers” without getting in trouble because neither of us would ever know what the word meant. Hip-hop had no rulebook. This was an international flagship for a culture that was born out of nothing. A fancy dress musical scavenger hunt like join-the-dot pop from a post-nuclear holocaust. Some called it “fresh” others called it “the new rap language”.
I first met Run-DMC in 1999 while interviewing them about German sportswear. They clearly knew how important they were, and Run almost fell asleep at one point… until I started asking about their repeat visits to Bob James records as sample fodder and then the trademark frowns turned to smiles. Jam Master Jay (RIP) told me that the “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” sample was also the original basis to “Rock The Bells” by LL Cool J (hence LL’s title), until the three of them traveled across Hollis to St. Albans and politely discussed the matter—another one of hip-hop’s great “what ifs…” In all fairness, the sample also appeared in replayed form in records by T-La Rock and Crash Crew proving it to be a ubiquitous block party anthem, later leading to rumors of a special bell stricken promo mix residing in the record collection of one Biz Markie like a giant cone without the ice cream. Taxi for Mr. Simon! Popular song stops here. Reset The Meters.
2. Ultramagnetic MCs – “MC Champion”
And then came the backlash, the “Peter Piper” diss record! “Say what? Peter Piper, to hell with childish rhymes!” When Stu Allen first played Ultramagnetic MCs “Ego Trippin’” on Bus Dis, (Manchester’s only dedicated rap radio show) it was overwhelming! Not because my loyalty to Run-DMC was being compromised, but because we understood! We knew what they were talking about; they were dissing a record that I owned. I understood the language, and in Ultra’s case this was no mean feat in itself, because of Ultra’s invented language, reading medical dictionaries, and making up six-syllable words. These maneuvers would, elsewhere, win the likes of Gainsbourg and Magma lifelong followers. The Public Enemy sound-alike “Ease Back” ticked enough boxes to pay the entrance fee, rendering ex-BDP beatmaker Ced Gee as the tough, wordy Chuck D-style rapper that we all craved, and ex-New York City Breaker Kool Keith as the zany Favor Flav sidekick. But as a long-term fixture on the Ingersoll “ghetto buster” (as incorrectly requested on that year’s Xmas list), backed up by the Hip-Hop Connection poster on my ceiling, it soon became apparent that there was actually more to Kool Keith than met the eye. Maybe the super-macho Ced Gee was the weirdo and Keith was a… genius???
Fast forward (or perhaps slow motion) a whopping four year wait until 1992, perhaps golden-age hip-hop’s most important and critically competitive year, and Ultramagnetic MCs’ second LP FINALLY came out in a move which drew comparisons to a rap Elvis ’68 Comeback Special. Suffering a quiet UK pressing with the anthemic Poppa Large remix absent from the actual LP, the obscured hidden jewel of Kool Keith’s career “MC Champion” appears in all of its three-minute glory, fusing classic Ultra’s beats with psychedelic jazz rock disco riffage sampled from disco-rockers Brick’s “Can’t Wait”. Here, Kool Keith “takes your brain to another dimension,” with one of the best openers of the decade (“Power compactor, brain distractor / Dropping a bomb right in your anal connector”), reinstating the future Dr. Octagon as not just a sideman but the lyrical foundation and backbone of a whole generation of new school MCs who dropped-science in Poppa Large’s image, leading to a wide range of solo careers to try their luck against each of his own viagra-overdosed alter-egos.
3. A Tribe Called Quest – “Mr. Incognito”
Standing up as yet another triumphant testimony to Q-Tip’s obsessive record-digging at the root of A Tribe Called Quest’s success, “Mr Incognito”—based around a neat stripped-down bass and sound effect sample from Buster Williams’ 1975 prog-jazz opener “The Hump”—competes with Quest classics such as “If The Papes Come” and “Excursions” as fruits of some world-class, dedicated, and educated jazz-digging. “Mr Incognito” was never officially released but surfed in on an avalanche of independent releases and white-label releases that filled 1994/’95 with some of its best moments. Having established himself as ‘The Abstract’ member of the group, and inadvertently applying for unlimited artistic license when it came to random rhyming, Q-Tip wrote a number of guest rhymes around this time for records by Del, Organized Konfusion, Mobb Deep, and Beastie Boys, which got progressively more surreal, non-linear, and virtually devoid of any communicative concept. In short, his best work! Alongside “SheFeMcs” (a posse cut with De La Soul) and a remarkable freestyle on The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito show, “Mr. Incognito” contains a classic three-dimensional verse from Tip matched by Phife, on reliable good form, over a one-stop loop complete with the ghosts of a thousand dead Nintendo sprites.
4. Zerox – “Blurs and Slurs”
Originally known as the Xerox Twins (but changed to Zerox for those who couldn’t pronounce the X and to evade legal claims from the photocopier company), this track used vocal pitches to differentiate between the two alter-egos of Anthony and Antonio Harris, predating Madlib’s Quasimoto and rivalling UK rapper Overlord X’s “Sidekick” and “Lord Vador” vari-speed personas. As one of four tracks on this rare ‘random rap’ collectors item, “Blurs And Slurs”’ main gimmick renders most of the vocal content virtually undecipherable (in a good way), but the opening line, “I’m like AIDS / I kill slowly,” is pretty much unmistakable, challenging only Will Smith “Live At Union Square, November 1986” for the most offensive AIDS metaphor ever used in new school hip-hop. Instrumentally built around the drum machine sequencing talents of Texas producer MC TNT, aka Franz Ates (following his own self released “Born To Bass” single and another Dallas-rap rarity called “Something Fresh” by Oak Cliff), this sample-free slice of pre-sizzurpian drank-funk leaves little for the beat-diggers list but opens a whole new bottle of slo-mo Dallas random-rap unknowns. A Sean Demdike favorite for our Slow Down maraudering.
5. Del the Funky Homosapien – “Eye Examination”
Another MC who experimented with early vocal pitching, best exemplified by his fake, pre-teen “Unicron” persona, was Del. Based on his impeccable rhyming skills and unique flow (and not hindered by the fact that he was Ice Cube’s cousin), Del managed to score a Top 40 UK hit, a major film soundtrack, and a collaboration with Dinosaur Jr all within the initial term of his Elektra record deal. Del was also a unique signing as one of the few West Coasters sharing the label’s release schedules with Leaders Of the New School, Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and KMD under the A&R of Stimulated Dummies honcho Dante Ross. Hidden amongst the illuminous psychedelic P-funk infatuation of his first LP lies an lesser-known B-side that witnessed Del left to his own devices in a solo production capacity with a bunch of West Coast psych records. Not exactly digging deeper, rather digging left of center, Del’s ingenious use of Jefferson Airplane’s classic opium-paean “White Rabbit” throws the MC into his own wonderland with a layered, squelching back-beat dragged straight from a stinking swamp, a barely audible female conversation, and loose scratches culminating in another unidentified psych-rock outro and some random Lord Of The Rings references. In no uncertain terms, this record changed the way I personally bought music—from then on, long-hairs joined the afros on my teenage ‘original breaks’ record shelf.
6. Ron B – “Stitch By Stitch”
Hailing from Ellenville, eighty miles north of Manhattan, Ron B’s only single on the self-initiated Asiatic Records embodies the same, then-revolutionary, piano-loop ingredients of Cold Chillin’ classics like “The Symphony” and Kool G Rap’s “Ill Street Blues” with a rap style to match that of Stezo and an image straight out of KMD’s barbershop. Given the right label and promotion, this track could have made Ron B a rap household name!!! Often confused as a sample of Donavon’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, “Stitch By Stitch” actually samples a cover-version of the same song performed by Canadian funk-rock singer Eric Mercury, taken from his 1969 Electric Black Man LP, layered with the Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President” drum break, and finished off with a breakdown of Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” combined with Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Girls” (as sampled straight off the Real Roxanne’s “Bang Zoom” single)—a triumph for the open-minded crate digger Melvin Bolden, who put the beat together. The fact that the total bill for original copies of all of the samples used to make this record would only amount to a tenth of the cost of what Ron’s 1990 12-inch would currently set you back goes to show how the random rap collecting phenomena has literally turned the tables and changed the dynamic of b-boy beat digging. The fact that Ron namechecks New Kids on the Block in the first verse doesn’t warrant a discount.
7. Masta Ace – “Go Where I Send Thee”
Ron B might well be the the most rare and coveted hip-hop track to sample “Impeach the President” by the Honey Drippers but it was by no means the first… or last. Originally formed as a backing band for Roy C. Hammond (a man who was opening tracks with shot gun samples in 1966, pre-dating EPMD by twenty-two years), The Honey Drippers found unlikely fame with their quasi-political novelty hit “Impeach the President”, and by simply adding four bars of open drums at the start rewarded themselves with a recording legacy that has lasted forty years via sample-usage on an estimated one thousand plus rap records. To put it in perspective, Rakim, Kane, Lord Finesse, Biz Markie, and Nas have all rapped over this beat, which means that the original teenage Honey Drippers drummer has technically jammed with the best five rappers of all time… six if you count Masta Ace. In the case of this 1992 B-side, the same drummer has also shared needle time with a fantasy supergroup featuring Mavin Gaye, the 20th Century Steel Band, and most bizarrely of all, a slick-haired family folk singer celebrity called Tennessee Earl Williams, singing a traditional Christmas fireside chorus. Again, hip-hop is amazing! This also raised the possibility that if a beat was this solid to begin with, and the funk had been established, then anything goes! Sample what you like… we have a strong safety net.
Educing the same juxtaposed confusion as the candy coated 1950’s “Hey Kids” intro to Just-Ice’s “Freedom of Speech” (1988), this rap wild-card arguably forged the blueprint for the wide stream of recontextualized, ironic, and culturally-displaced fully-formed vocal chorus interpolations that made way for Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, KMD’s “What A Niggy Know (Remix)”, Craig Mack’s “Wooden Horse”, and to some extent Main Source’s “Faking the Funk” or Edan’s “Sing It Shitface”. This non-LP bonus track marked a new era in Masta Ace’s post-Juice Crew rap career introducing a host of exciting new MCs and producer names in an underexposed posse cut which tantalized the same tastebuds for those waiting in the queue at “Live At the Barbecue”. But due to behind-the-scenes major label wranglings with the same lawyers who looked after Bugs Bunny’s carrots, it took Masta Ace three years and a minor moniker adjustment to finally spread his wings and go where they sent him… underground!
8. Downtown Science – “This is a Visit”
And then came the game-changer! If, for the naysayers, sampling culture in hip-hop had only achieved one thing, it was repairing, perhaps revitalizing, old music—like KRS-One said, “We take the wackest song and make it better.” The actual fact that Masta Ace could make a sold-out club crowd lip-synch the words to a Johnny Cash standard, or Run-DMC could command a crowd to pump their fist to a Paul Simon-penned song, or Del would urge backpack-wielding skaters to head-nod to a Jefferson Airplane loop broke down more cultural boundaries than any politician, PR company, or social scientist could ever do. I hated Thin Lizzy when I saw them on TV as a kid, but after rap taught me to put my ears before my nose, Johnny the Fox was a friend to me. As much as the snobby, die-hard tribal social groups resented it, hip-hop would eventually dig deeper, quicker and gather the most fertile harvest than any other youth culture movement and then continue to educate and unify by rapid example while promoting individualism as its arsenal.
When I joined secondary school in Greater Manchester, the older kids were split into well-defined fractions: goths, mods, Smiths fans, the odd football casual, and three metal fans. Five years later, ninety percent had morphed into a huge Stone Roses fan club, whereas the metal fans and a very small rap contingency made up the rest. Hip-hop culture taught you to work harder and open your mind in return for an individual identity by viewing music like a sniffer dog making indiscriminate checks on anything seemingly unrecognized. Crate-diggers became the secret police, spotlighting the freaks and befriending them, consistently leaving your comfort zone in fear of becoming predictable. It was because i didn’t like The Happy Mondays that I loved hip-hop; it was because I didn’t like your dad’s Beatles records that I forced myself to love jazz. Hip-hop was the reason I hated Pink Floyd’s The Wall with pride (and still do). But suddenly, in a fatal twist, Sam Sever repaired that Wall. I didn’t want to to talk to the mods about Quadrophenia… until Downtown Science sampled The Who. This crew’s beatmaker (and ex-3rd Bass DJ) Sam Sever took the blueprint of Prince Paul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, that reconstituted good records out of black American families’ record collections, and applied it to shit records out of English dad-rock record collections. “This is a Visit” rewrote the rule book and took a desperate comeback LP by The Who, a Brian Eno record, the omnipresent Wall LP, and the Mancunian-mixed ESG and created what sounded like the best ever, unreleased John Carpenter soundtrack with tougher beats and an OK rapper, achieved by merely taking off the blinkers and pretending the shit bits weren’t there. Downtown Science—truly visionary without snobbery. I also used to hate Frank Zappa.
9. Mad Kap – “Phuck What Ya Heard”
One million Frank Zappa fans, including George Duke, Jean Luc Ponty, and, errr, Mad Kap, could not be wrong! Right?
Mad Kap’s LP landed in the record racks with the same gust of wind that brought day-glo rap classics such as The Pharcyde, Y’All So Stupid, UMCs, and KMD, and this Zappa-fueled, zany-rap anthem’s unfathomable inclusion of UK fast-rap MC (and Record Breakers contestant) Daddy Freddy only contributed to this bizarre ride. At a time in my life where I was literally buying every single £3 Kudu or CTI Jazz LP I could find, Zappa’s omnipresent and previously ignored Hot Rats LP would be the first of many ‘rock hybrid’ LPs with eye-catching, solarized photography sleeves to grace my incoherent record shelves. When The Beastie Boys released their acidic fish-eye video to “So Watcha Want” in 1992, it was easy to draw visual comparisons to a whole bunch of Keith MacMillan-designed sleeves for Vertigo and other prog-rock labels. And when bands like Affinity and Ian Carr’s Nucleus actually bequeathed the sample-ready goods, the doors had been blown off the van! At this point, new genres had begun to appear on black music record dealers’ lists, such as hippie funk and folk funk, and mixed-race American bands like Rotary Connection, Sweetwater, and Elephant’s Memory shared milk crates with David Axelrod and Terry Callier. It seemed like new-school West Coast groups like Mad Kap and Del’s Hieroglyphics crew were already looking beyond their own families’ record collections and scouring the rubble of LA’s 1970 psychedelic scene and replacing gangster rap lyrics with acid imagery and some strong-weed-words. This was no gimmick, though; hip-hop culture was growing bigger and stronger and naturally casting a wider net. In this pre-eBay era, record-digging was at its most virile, it was the dawn of the samplers’ supermarket sweep. French pop, Italian soundtracks, Polish jazz, and Bollywood were rocks waiting to be unturned.
10. Main Source – Breaking Atoms
So finally we arrive at the one-stop shop—a rap record that ticks every thing on this list: Bob James, scientific references, jazz basslines, sped-up vocals, chop-edit acid rock outros, Canadian roots, lock-stock song-based choruses, Christmas novelty records, rare funk, dayglo covers, prog rock, Nas! When Breaking Atoms by Main Source was released on the independent Wild Pitch records in July, 1991, record-diggers and hip-hop enthusiasts were handed a new benchmark. The cover and title alone made up for those suffering Ultramagnetic scientific-rhyme withdrawal symptoms (both groups unified by the lesser credited, legendary producer Paul C) and reinforced the new vibrant rap aesthetic shared by KMD and Wild Pitch labelmates UMCs.
Again, like Downtown Science, Main Source rewrote the rulebook, celebrated, and cross-referenced everything that was good about hip-hop and created golden age hip-hop by a ritualistic formula that would soon become known as “keeping it real”. A key observation is that not every track on Breaking Atoms exactly broke ground so much as reconstituted what we loved about hip-hop in a clever, compositional, and stylistically durable way. “Pot Belly” by Lou Donaldson and “Think Twice” by Donald Bird had already been sampled and widely exploited by fellow Queens superstars A Tribe Called Quest, while Bob James’ “Nautilus” had been used on hits by Rakim, Ultramagnetic MCs, and Run-DMC. But Main Source did it differently; they used different sections and chopped them so they sounded different. The cosmic “Think Twice” keyboards were already firmly instilled in rap fans’ psyches after Tribe did “Footprints”, but when Large Professor used the vocal loop, this bold move took us to a familiar but altogether new place. It’s safe to say that after Breaking Atoms, I stopped buying albums just so I could fawn over a two-bar sample then shelve, and I started listening to full tracks, breakdowns, and solos, and for the first time started digging in my own record collection. The ‘finders keepers’ logic in the hip-hop rulebook that encouraged rappers to not re-use samples had creative loopholes if you did it correctly. This is why KRS One could re-trigger “The Champ” on 1997’s “Step Into A World” or use the faded outro of Wilson Pickett’s “Engine Number Nine” on “Duck Down” and still sound fresh.
For this reason, Breaking Atoms was also a clear and honest product of its environment. The inclusion of two (twice the norm) Canadian DJs came with its own ‘outsider’ exoticism, but the actual beats & rhyme content of the album was very much a New York affair. Alongside the re-fried, anthemic samples came some of the best beat-digging triumphs from the center of New York’s cultural melting pot. The use of wailing psych-rock on “Friendly Game of Baseball” came from layering a sample of Elephant’s Memory, a late sixties combo stylistically built in the vision of a West Coast pop-psych but based around the New York club circuit (featuring members of Robert Downey theater group before becoming Yoko Ono-ized). Main Source’s compositional uses of middle eights and DJ solos introduced melodic funk 45s to the party, such as The Third Guitar’s vocal track “Baby Don’t You Care” on New York label Rojac, undeniably shining an early foglight on a future funk collectors’ holy grail. For years, Main Source fans couldn’t understand how Large Professor and his EMU SP1200 had successfully dissected and instrumentalized Gwen McCrae’s “90 percent of Me is You”, before realizing that the Main Source research laboratory had unearthed a lesser known alternative 1973 version by Vanessa Kendrick—which soon popped up on more funk collectors’ want-lists. Breaking Atoms was the result of one of hip-hop’s first intensive research modules, led by a non-conventional musical mind who understood the importance of constructing a fully-formed, coherent album to the same standard as its original source material—as opposed to a mic-hungry rapper looking to spit his rhymes at the quickest possible opportunity and get paid, laid, or inevitably dismayed when groups like Main Source rewrote the rule book and demanded a new standard in rap musicality.
The fact that Large Professor was a good rapper also went without saying; virtually every track on Breaking Atoms was concept-driven, with thematic duplicity in both senses of the word. Tracks like “Friendly Game Of Baseball” took a comedic tenuous comparison but instantly appealed to both conscious and political listeners as well as gangster rap fans without force-feeding listeners a patronizing edutainment salad. “Peace is Not the Word to Play” also presented the first anti-peace record and gave rap stereotype subscribers a funky little slap! It must be noted that the occasional inclusion of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song samples seemed to give a little insider’s nod to the record-diggers and VHS fans (again, pre-dating Quasimoto’s fascination with the film) which went hand-in-hand with references to Lightnin’ Rod’s Hustlers Convention and “The Cafe Black Rose”.
In short, Breaking Atoms was basically an entire record collection, lifestyle, and manifesto-by-example packed onto one single LP… and most importantly it was the first of its kind. And even as the second side of the LP reaches its halfway mark we are introduced, via the obligatory golden age posse-cut, to a whole new set of characters including Akinyele, Neek the Exotic, and most importantly Nasty Nas (in his vinyl debut), who would take the Atomic baton and outrun the band’s short but immaculate lifeline.
Main Source in this original formation would never release another LP. After a second, aborted album, DJs K-Kut and Sir Scratch split from Large Professor to record another LP for Wild Pitch, handing the mic to Sleeping Bag Records-signed MC Mikey D to fill the original rappers huge shoes… not an enviable position—especially after A Tribe called Quest’s zillion selling 1993 track “Keep It Going” gave Large Pro (aka Extra P) an exalted platform to diss his former bandmates with the sheen-free line, “FUCK THOSE TWO DJS.” Inevitably, some boring music business held up the second LP which, while clearly better than ninety percent of LPs to come out during the four year wait, the rap fans loyalty to Large Professor as a pillar of the community prevented would-be champions from hearing the first sampled usage of Monty Stark’s Stark Reality and bemoaning Madonna’s smash-and-grab adoption of the instrumental of their single “What You Need” for a top ten hit, possibly keeping the unspoken Canadian über-legends well-funded in Stanton carts and Champion sweatshirts well into their grey years. ~
Andy Votel is the founder of the Finders Keepers reissue record label of lost gems. Slow Down returns to Manchester at Soup Kitchen tonight with Edan, plus residents Violators of the English Language (or V.O.T.E.L.), Sean Demdike (Demdike Stare), and Benjamin Hatton/Invisible Spies. For future updates, follow @SlowDownMcr on Twitter.
Published December 05, 2013. Words by andyvotel.