Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The other Prince Ice

Back when I was trying to figure out what Clash "T"'s "Non-Stop" was, I remember listening to the lyrics closely for clues and seizing on the references to "DJ Prince Ice" and "All City". My first thought (hope?) was that it was Prince Ice from the Bay.

Prince Ice spun for KMEL in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was a member of Sway & King Tech's All City Productions crew. Back in the day I used to go up to the Wake-Up Show regularly to kick it and bring Joe Quixx breaks and samples to play. Although Prince Ice wasn't the DJ for that show, he was often around, along with other guys like Fredwreck, Franzen, Alexander Mejia, etc.

I met Prince Ice plenty of times but didn't really trip until years later when I heard these two megamixes that he did:

DJ Prince Ice: "Dopemix Vol. 1" (Megajamm, 1988)

DJ Prince Ice: "Dopemix Vol. 2" (Megajamm, 1989)

I have really low patience for megamix records-- the only rap-related genre I hate more is cut & paste records-- but I love these two 12"s.

Drawing on what were probably the two best years ever for mainstream rap music, Prince Ice plays many of the hits as well as some slightly left-field stuff (Life-N-Def! Stezo! MC EZ & Troop! a King Tech remix of "Girls I Got 'Em Locked"!). Although both mixes drag a little towards the end, for the most part he flies through the selections in a way that's deft and super-smooth.

Kinda in the same vein, I saw that someone has uploaded a few more classic Dr. Dre mixtapes. I haven't had a chance to check them out yet but the previous ones I've heard were pretty face-melting.

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Diminishing returns

DJ Shadow's Diminishing Returns is, on most days, my favorite DJ mix ever.

Shadow recorded it in 2003 as a BBC Essential Mix. Essential Mix is a long-running weekly show featuring mixes from big-name producers and DJs. More often than not, it's 2 hours of indifferently mixed techno from guys who make a lot of money in Ibiza.

Shadow's mix was a completely different thing. It's an amazing selection of eclectic, mostly unheard songs that's cleverly sequenced and masterfully mixed. It was far beyond what anyone else was doing at the time and, to me, remains the apex of the hip hop-influenced digger/DJ mix.

The first 80 minutes of the mix are largely built around unknown late-'80s rap. Diminishing Returns was made at about the same time as the random rap craze was taking off and it's hard not to hear it in light of that. DJ Ivory had already dropped one volume of Hear No Evil and Ultimate Breaks & Beats-based NYC obscurities were starting to draw a lot of attention from other DJs and collectors.

While Shadow covers some of the same ground that Ivory and others did, he leavens some of the oppressive purism of those mixes by incorporating a lot of other stuff-- current mainstream Southern sorta hits (8ball & MJG's "Put Your Hands Up") and oddities (Tow Down's "Country Rap Tune"), backpack experimentation (Beans's "Mutescreamer"), ancient regional goofs (SF's RSP Crew on "MC School") and neglected classics (Mantronix's "Hardcore Hip Hop"). There's some scratching, some doubling, some blends and enough variety in the mixing that it never feels static. Shadow then closes out the first half with a series of oddball covers (Gary Numan, Hall & Oates & Queen) and silly dialogue that act like comic relief before changing up styles completely.

The second part of the mix is largely made up of '60s psychedelic rock. As with the first half of the mix, most of the selections are things that were largely off the radar of both other DJs and collectors-- not necessarily incredibly rare or even unknown, but not sweated collectibles either. The selections are impeccable-- moody and haunting but also soulful and even a little funky. The mixing in this part is really outstanding because he takes songs that are really difficult to blend and makes them segue in ways that feel really natural. While the transitions are incredibly musical, he also follows a lyrical/conceptual thread from song to song. Seven years later, it still blows my mind.

Diminishing Returns is available directly from Shadow's website on CD or as a download. If you don't own it or haven't heard it, I can't possibly recommend it highly enough. He also has a lot of other worthwhile mixes for sale there, like the Miami bass mix I'd heard about for years but only heard recently.


There are a lot of great records that Diminishing Returns led me to. Some I stumbled on, others I sourced from the internet and a few I got from Shadow himself. Shadow never provided an official tracklist, but through collaboration most of the tracks have been identified over the years.

Out of all of the records on the mix, this one evaded me for the longest, bothering me like an itch I couldn't scratch:

Clash "T": "Non-Stop" (B-U, 1989)

I don't know anything about Clash "T" or any of the other artists on the EP this is drawn from. I asked Shadow about this song years ago and I remember him telling me it was from Ohio but there are no explicit signs on the label to bear that out.

The whole release is incredibly lo-fi-- it sounds like it was mastered from a 4-track cassette-- but I love the rawness and enthusiasm of it. Also, the way Clash "T" rides the beat is amazing.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gots to be the sureshot

In the tradition of my mix CDs paying tribute to DJ Quik, R. Kelly and Too $hort (the latter with DJ Eleven), here is a mix devoted to the kings of New York boom bap, Gang Starr:

To stream the mix, click here.

To download the mix as a single, continuous track, click here.

To download the mix broken into individual tracks, click here. (new link)

1. Intro
2. You Know My Steez
3. Just to Get a Rep
4. Mass Appeal
5. Step in the Arena
6. Now You're Mine
7. The Militia feat. Freddie Foxxx
8. B.Y.S.
9. Take It Personal
10. The ? Remainz
11. Full Clip
12. DWYCK feat. Nice & Smooth
13. Who's Gonna Take the Weight?
14. Jazz Thing
15. Soliloquy of Chaos
16. Check the Technique
17. Credit Is Due
18. Speak Ya Clout feat. Jeru the Damaja & Lil Dap
19. It'z a Setup feat. Hannibal
20. Words I Manifest (Remix)
21. 2 Deep
22. The Place Where We Dwell
23. Suckas Need Bodyguards
24. Flip the Script
25. What You Want This Time?
26. Love Sick
27. Ex Girl to Next Girl
28. The Planet
29. Make 'em Pay
30. Execution of a Chump
31. DJ Premier Is In Deep Concentration
32. Take Two & Pass
33. Gotta Get Over (Taking Loot)
34. Rite Where You Stand feat. Jadakiss
35. I'm the Man feat. Lil Dap & Jeru the Damaja
36. Code of the Streets
37. Tonz 'o' Gunz
38. Next Time

Gang Starr is one of my favorite acts from the 1990s. There is no rap group I listened to more in that era, although De La Soul, Outkast & A Tribe Called Quest all run pretty much neck and neck.

Still, in recent years I haven't listened to Gang Starr much. Maybe it's because they haven't released any new music since 2003. Maybe it's because in the last decade the school of hardcore hip hop that they defined stagnated and played out so hard.

For me, this mix was about rediscovery. It grew out of an episode of 2 Busy Saying Yeah from a few weeks ago; after reading about Guru’s health troubles, I devoted a 2-hour episode to Gang Starr's music. It was my first time mixing a lot of the songs in years and it felt so good, so natural, that I knew I had to turn it into tape along the lines of my previous tributes to $hort, Kells, etc.

Unlike those mixes, which I struggled with for weeks and months each, this was a breeze. I spent an afternoon figuring out the track list, recorded the mix live one evening and then spent a few days puttering with the multi-track to clean it up, add drops and get it down to CD length.

I drew tracks from all six of Gang Starr's albums, and each is represented more or less in proportion to how much I like it: 1992's Daily Operation tops them all with 9 selections, although 1990's Step in the Arena, 1994's Hard to Earn and 1998's Moment of Truth all feature prominently with 7, 6 and 5 tracks, respectively. The first and last albums got kind of short shrift, although there were more songs I would have included from each if I hadn’t run out of space. They have one of the strongest catalogs in rap music and there were a lot of additional songs, verses and scratch parts I wish I could have included.

Big thanks to my man XJ, who laced the cover, and my main man DJ Eleven on quality control.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cook's classics

Stones Throw just announced they're releasing an album of music by Tony Cook, who was responsible for my favorite track from BBE's American Boogie Down compilation and this proto-house classic:

Tony Cook: "On the Floor (Rock-It)" (Full Moon, 1984)

I knew Cook had produced a handful of dance records in the 1980s but had no idea he had also been a drummer with James Brown during the late 1970s and 1980s. Apparently Stones Throw has access to multi-tracks with lots of unreleased mixes and songs. Hopefully, some of them are stronger than the lead single.

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Monday, March 1, 2010


I wrote about DJ Burn One & All Star a/k/a Starlito not that long ago, but then I got obsessed with this song:

Starlito: "Alright" (Bleu, 2010)

"Alright" is featured on Starlito's newest release, Renaissance Gangster, which you can buy here. I did. I recommend you do, too.

All 11 songs were produced by DJ Burn One and though not every beat fits Starlito as perfectly as "Alright", many come close. I love how Starlito's flow has evolved into a style of rapping so low-key and conversational it's almost not rapping, much like late-period Mac Dre.

Related stuff:

Kalefa Sanneh's 2008 NYT piece on Starlito's stalled career is poignant for at least two reasons.

Kid Slizzard on the complete saga of Triggerman vs. Bugs Can Can.

Lou Bond just wants a little Toyota or something.