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Random Shit.001

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Saturday, 09 February 2008

So this would be the first installment of Random Shit. I have another column that mainly focuses on sites that offer a grip of complimentary mp3s, mostly from intelligent labels that understand that offering free music will lead to more money because they have a better chance at attracting new fans. Anyway, that could be another Random Shit altogether. My point is, that column has always limited me because I could never just get inspired and write something because I saw Mos Def rapping in Dave Chapelle’s car and it reminded me of when I got in and out of hip-hop, and how I went on a hunt during the summer of 2000 to rediscover it all over again.

Being from Southern California, it’s blasphemy to not have Doggystyle or The Chronic in your collection at one point, and I can easily say “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” is one of the best hip-hop songs ever made, but I’ve always been partial to more chill hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde and De La Soul. But in the mid-90s, things I liked started to die off, and even when Tribe would put out a new album, it was never as good as their last. Even though I still listen to The Love Movement and really dig it, Tribe was at their best on The Low End Theory. But was that all? There had to be more than five or six hip-hop bands out there that tickled my fancy.

A few years went by and around 1998 or 1999 I was listening to Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Jurassic 5’s EP and The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, and even started getting into some more crossover underground shit like Herbaliser, DJ Vadim and Coldcut, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted another Labcabincalifornia. Another 3 Feet High and Rising. Another People’s Instinctive Travels… so I quickly realized that it wasn’t coming to me, I had to dig.

I moved to San Francisco in June of 2000 and was subletting my friend’s room for a month and all I did was explored the city, looked for a job during the dot-com crash and listened to tons of new music thanks to this glorious invention called Napster. Napster was the key. If it weren’t for that file-sharing program I would be stuck listening to Warren G and Nate Dogg’s solo catalogues. But it was alive and well, cable modems were in full effect and I just researched my ass off until there was nothing left to download. I used cdnow.com—which was the bomb at the time—and started with one band and followed the path using their impeccable Related Artists and Followers features.

I wanted soulful, chill, real hip-hop, and for me that started with A Tribe Called Quest. So that’s where it began. That led me to some of my favorite hip-hop artists of all time. Tribe led me to Talib Kweli, which led me to one of the best hip-hop albums ever in my opinion, Reflection Eternal/Train of Thought, featuring Hi-Tek and Talib Kweli giving Mos Def a run for his money. But lo and behold, that opened the Black Star door for me. After hearing Talib and Mos solo, the thought of them together was like Kobe and Shaq (for a few years at least). Those two albums had some of the smoothest east-coast grooves since Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad hung up the gloves. I was starting to get a little excited and had 5 albums a night in the queue and basically had a goal of drying up the hip-hop well.

Another artist I stumbled upon was Chicago-native Common. I found 1997’s One Day It Will All Make Sense and 2000’s Like Water For Chocolate and immediately felt a sense of comfort and ease, as I knew this journey was far from over. Common led me to Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2 and Queens-based Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, which was a little older, but made me wish I was doing this in 1997 and not 2000. Funcrusher Plus was a revelation for me. It was a little darker, a little nastier, but was politically based rather than about bitches and smokin’ fools. But one thing I started to notice was that NY and the Bay Area had the best hip-hop in the country. On the East Coast the roots are deep and the sound definitely has a more specific feel to it, but on the West Coast—which was proven by Dr. Dre—new sounds were being incorporated and they were changing the hip-hop landscape. And the Bay Area was bubbling with some dope, indica-laced shit. So apparently a grip of the music I was online searching for was right under my ass.

The first one I really took notice of was Blackalicious, whose Nia was released Quannum Projects, which is a hip-hop collective based in the Bay Area. This collective features some of the most influential artists in hip-hop today. The label was founded in 1992 by hip-hop staples DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel, Gift of Gab, Lyrics Born and Lateef. Other labels such as Stones Throw, founded by Peanut Butter Wolf, features artists like Madlib, J Dilla, Madvillain and Quasimoto. Next up is the Bay Area’s hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics, which could be the East Coast equivalent to Def Jux. This label featured such masterminds as Casual, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Pep Love and Souls of Mischief. Who knew they were all right here? It must be like living in Brooklyn and randomly witnessing Boot Camp Clik perform.

Of all the artists that I came across during this one-month excavation that led me to download over 100 records was perhaps my favorite of all, Brooklyn’s Boot Camp Clik—considered a “supergroup,” which is a notch or two above a “collective,” I guess. As far as underground hip-hop is concerned, there is no better. This was the needle in the haystack for me and made all those hours staring at other user’s album collections worth my while. The album I downloaded was Basic Training: Boot Camp Clik's Greatest Hits. It took me a while to realize what BCC was. Was it a group? A label? I didn’t get it. To steal a sentence from Wikipedia, “Basic Training is a greatest hits compilation album from hip-hop collective Boot Camp Clik, featuring singles released from Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun/Cocoa Brovaz, Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C. between 1992 and 1999.” They easily had some of the worst names in hip-hop so I expected it to be terrible, but what I didn’t know was that they’ve been ruling the underground for about eight years before my skeptical ass found them. Their formula was to bring in the smoothest MCs in the neighborhood and drop rhymes over the purest of pure sounds created by the production team known as da Beatminerz. Their goal at the time was to bring back New York hip-hop to its truer form and step away from the lifeless synth-based hip-hop that was ruling the genre at the time. It worked. Discovering Basic Training first was integral to my downloading as it was a “greatest hits” and I needed more. I downloaded Black Moon’s War Zone and Enta Da Stage, Smif-N-Wesson’s Dah Shinin’, Heltah Skeltah’s Nocturnal and, of course, BCC’s debut For the People.

After opening up over a hundred doors I finally ran out of steam and had to obsess over something else, which I think was downloading every Rolling Stone album released from 1964–1974. But what I learned is this, if there is a band or artist or sound that truly resonates with you, there’s probably more where that came from. Of course, if you love Sigur Ros or Led Zeppelin or something like that, you’re on your own. But with a little time and high-speed Internet, discovering new music will never ever ever ever ever end.

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