Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yay Game: The E-40 Mix


However you want to measure it-- originality, influence, inventiveness, longevity, personality, skill-- E-40 is one of the greatest rappers of all time.

This mix is a tribute to him in the tradition of my previous mixes devoted to DJ Quik, R. Kelly, Gang Starr and Too $hort (the latter with DJ Eleven). If you've heard any of them, you know I go all out-- meticulously selecting, sequencing and mixing songs to put together the best possible representation of those artists' music. This mix is no exception.

I chose 40 songs from all eras of E-40's career, from 1990's "Let's Side" to his current single, "Function". His catalog is so vast and deep that picking just 40 songs to represent him was incredibly tough, but I've tried to fit in everything from mob slumpers and album sleepers to radio and club hits. Obviously, there are a lot of other classic songs that could have been on here but aren't; I picked the ones that to me best embody his work as a whole. Or are just ones I really love.

If you enjoy this, go grab E-40's three (!) new albums, Block Brochure Volumes 1-3. They are due out this coming Tuesday but you can pre-order them now.

Oh and, I want to thank the great Stephanie Gardner, who laced the cover, and also DJ Eleven, who provided an invaluable second set of ears.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

On this day in rap history

Too $hort played his first major show. Or at least I think so.

In the D'wayne Wiggins documentary Life Is, promoter Lionel Bea talks about Too $hort's first appearance at a large venue, when he opened for U.T.F.O. Bea describes how even though Too $hort had been in the streets grinding tapes for years and had played a lot of house parties and small events, he'd never played for a large audience. No one knew how popular he really was. Apparently when $hort came out and thousands of people not only knew who he was, they knew all the lyrics to his songs, it marked a turning point in his career. Too $hort wasn't even on the bill in the poster above, but I'm pretty sure this is the concert Bea was talking about.

This poster hangs on my wall. I prefer to associate March 9th with this, rather than that other thing.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

On some real live

It doesn't happen much these days but sometimes I'll get obsessed with a rap beat and just have to know where the sample comes from.

Obviously I'm not alone in this; I've seen the internet go nuts when people revealed the unknown samples behind classic records, whether it's a straight loop from an incredibly obscure record (e.g., Nas's "Represent") or a wild manipulation of something common (like Raekwon's "Ice Cream" or Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Pt. II" ).

For 17 years, this sample had been bugging the hell out of me:

Real Live: "Real Live Shit" (Big Beat, 1995)

I absolutely love the way K-Def put the record together-- the eerie string stabs that start it off, the way the scratch hook just kind of wraps around the beat and how tense it feels until the drums and the vocal drop. A lot of people have sampled strings but I can't think of another record where anyone made them sound so huge or hard-hitting.

Anyhow, for a long time I had no idea what record the sample came from. I assumed it was from a soundtrack, since it has such a cinematic feel and because producers back then were grabbing a lot of stuff from OSTs composed by composers like Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. Every time I saw a 60s era soundtrack LP I would listen to it thinking "this might be the one".

Back then, things aren't like they are now where you can just go to and see a relatively comprehensive list of samples with sound clips. There was no that gathered and organized a lot of information about out of print releases. There was nothing like youtube that allowed you to skim an endless array of songs. There was just elbow grease, word of mouth and luck.

About ten years ago I asked my friend Jared Boxx from Big City Records-- one of the most clued-in sample spotters I know-- whether he knew what record it was and he said he heard it might be from a Louie Bellson album. I made a mental note and went out of my way to listen to any Louis Bellson record I could find, which is not easy because he has dozens of albums. When I learned that he had done a record with Lalo Schifrin, I figured that the sample probably came from that album. I also figured it would turn up sooner or later at one of my regular spots. It never did.

I sort of forgot about it until last year, when I started digging around online for the Louis Bellson/Lalo Schifrin album, Explorations. Even in this era where seemingly every collectable record is easily available from iTunes or a blog, there were few traces of the album online-- a mention on, an appearance on a college radio playlist and an appearance on someone's want list were about it. Eventually I found a reasonably priced copy online and pulled the trigger hoping it would put an end to my search. And it did.

Louis Bellson & Lalo Schifrin: "Etude for Tympani and Strings" (Roulette, 1964)

After hearing this I can't believe how K-Def freaked the sample, just taking a series of isolated stabs and rearranging them into a beat that knocks. It must have taken a lot of imagination to figure out how to use the sample that way and tremendous skill to execute it so well.

If you've never heard Real Live's sole album, The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama, I highly recommend it. Larry O is an underrated rapper and K-Def absolutely kills the beats, including some things that I thought were totally played out before I heard him flip them (like Bob James's "Nautilus" and Lou Donaldson's "It's Your Thing").

For what it's worth, K-Def is still at it. He recently released a mostly instrumental album, Night Shift, where he recreates and reinterprets a lot of sample-based classics (e.g., Nas's "one Love", Camp Lo's "Sparkle", Pete Rock's "Escapism" and "For Pete's Sake") as well as the Neptunes beat for Snoop Dogg's "Let's Get Blown", which I don't think involved a sample. I'm not really into instrumental hip hop but he did a really good job of it. There are also a couple tracks with vocals, including a cool one that I think is exclusive to the physical copies.

Two related things:

I always wondered what the story was behind this record, which came out about 6 months after "Real Live Shit" and was clearly jacked from it:

Hands On: "Got Me Open" (Aftermath, 1996)

The production is credited solely to Bud'da but there's no way he came up with that arrangement on his own-- even the drum pattern is bitten! It's just such a weird thing for Dr. Dre to have released as one of the first things on Aftermath.

This other song from the Louis Bellson/Lalo Schifrin album has a piece that sounds uncannily like Radiohead's "Pyramid Song":

Louis Bellson & Lalo Schifrin: "Toledano" (snippet) (Roulette, 1964)

Trippy, huh?

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