Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a long running column here on StreetCred.com focusing on those artists whose music exists in the same “dungeons of rap” Nas once mentioned on his classic “Illmatic” album.
Today, with the internet at our fingertips, the term “underground” has many different meanings. Being underground in 2008 doesn’t necessarily mean the same as it did to rappers like Ice-T and Big Daddy Kane twenty years ago when they were struggling to find acceptance in a music industry that barely knew Hip-Hop existed. Being underground in 2008 doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it did when the likes of Mos Def and Talib Kweli were still able to sell vinyl singles on a label like Rawkus ten years ago. Hell, being underground in 2008 doesn’t even necessarily mean the same thing as it did just over five years ago when a pre-Interscope 50 Cent was selling his own mix-CDs on the streets of NYC. But whilst the rules and tools of the game might’ve changed, one thing remains the same – being underground still means your music isn’t on the radar of the masses and if it’s good then it deserves all the support it can get.
This is an underground column with a twist though. Aside from featuring Stateside artists, I’ll also be covering music from elsewhere on Planet Rock, whether that be a release from a talented producer in Japan, or a new joint from a gifted lyricist in England. As the great Rakim once put it, it ain’t where you’re from it’s where you’re at, and as long as the music is good, artists will definitely be getting props over here irrespective of where they call home.
I’ve often wondered about DJ Muggs - would his name be more widely mentioned in discussions about the best producers of all-time (next to his more underground counterparts such as Pete Rock and DJ Premier) if he hadn’t have sold millions of records with the likes of Cypress Hill and House Of Pain? The man’s talent behind the boards really can’t be questioned and, after having kick-started his career way back in 1988 as a member of 7A3, the fact that Muggs is still here some twenty years later churning out gritty, grimy Hip-Hop is a testament to his love of the music and culture, irrespective of how many platinum plaques might hang on his studio walls.
Acting as a timely reminder that Muggs still knows exactly how to make a rap junkie’s neck snap, “Pain Language”, his collaborative album with veteran West Coast lyricist Planet Asia, is arguably one of the best-produced Hip-Hop albums you’re likely to hear this year.
Boasting an impressive natural chemistry, Asia and Muggs come off like the dark, twisted cousins of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, with producer and MC complimenting each other’s talents to such an extent, it’s difficult to think of them ever needing to work with anyone else.
The kinetic “9MM” is all crashing cymbals, rolling drums and searing electric guitar, with Asia channeling the old-school in an “88 mind-state” as he taunts competitors hoping to challenge his lyrical tactics. Equally dope is the blazing “That’s What It Is”, as Muggs wraps rousing horns around hard beats, evoking images of Planet Asia in a Hip-Hop version of “300”, leading a legion of scowling b-boys to war with mainstream corporate goliaths. The stuttering soul loops and soothing keyboards of “Black Mask Men” switch the album’s mood for a moment, with the Cali wordsmith correctly describing the track as being “that midnight shit”, but the cut offers only a brief respite from the sonic onslaught. Case in point being the B-Real-assisted “Lions In The Forest”, which features a literally jaw-dropping performance from Asia, as he riddles the up-tempo track with his dense, multi-syllable, metaphor-heavy flow. This is hardcore Hip-Hop in the truest sense of the term.
DJ Muggs & Planet Asia – “9MM” ( Gold Dust Media / 2008 )
If, after Main Source’s 1991 album “Breaking Atoms”, NYC’s Large Professor had never recorded again, his place in rap’s history books would still have been secure after introducing a young Nas to the world on said album’s classic posse cut “Live At The Barbeque”. Thankfully, for those of us who love that dusty true-school sound, Extra P has continued to bless us with his sample-filled creations, although his production career has perhaps been a little less complicated than his own solo endeavors.
Having produced and remixed for the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Styles P, failed label deals and industry politics have largely prevented Large Pro’s own career as a solo artist from reaching any kind of notable momentum. His mid-90s album “The LP” recorded for major label Geffen languished in unreleased hell until it was unofficially bootlegged some years later, with Extra P not releasing a follow-up until 2002’s “1st Class”. The self-proclaimed “live guy with glasses” has often attributed his lack of notoriety outside of diehard Hip-Hop circles to his desire to stick to making the brand of traditional New York rap he came up on back in the day.
With that in mind, Large Professor’s new project “Main Source” (taking its name, of course, from his original crew) doesn’t deviate in any way from the producer-on-the-mic’s previous sonic course. “Maica Livin’” boasts hypnotic keys and rattling drums, as Extra P is joined by Killa Sha and Guardian Leep to pay tribute to all those on the day-to-day grind trying to stack that cheddar. The chirpy “Pump Ya Fist” brings the Main Source legacy full circle, as LP rhymes alongside Queens icon Mikey D, the MC who replaced Large Professor on Main Source’s 1994 album “F*ck What You Think” after a fallout with the group’s remaining members K-Cut and Sir Scratch. Other standouts here include the mellow “In The Ghetto”, which finds Large Pro painting vivid pictures of inner-city living via a subdued rhyme style, and the self-explanatory “Hardcore Hip-Hop” (the only non-LP produced cut on the album) which features Canadian beatsmith Marco Polo crafting some crisp sounds that fit Extra P like a new pair of Air Force Ones. On the downside, “Rockin’ Hip-Hop” sounds cluttered with persistent computer-game noises, and “Large Pro Says” wastes a solid beat for what is effectively an extended call-and-response club routine. But that said, “Main Source” is a welcome return from one of the game’s true legends that’s takes the listener back to a time when Hip-Hop was about more than just drugs, money and murder.
Large Pro Speaks On “Main Source”
UK-based producer Jazz T has assembled a varied cast of supporting artists for his album “All City Kings”. As a former ITF battle deejay champion and member of multi-faceted crew Diversion Tactics, T already has a strong set of credentials within the British Hip-Hop scene. Delivering a concise collection of no-nonsense hip-hop, “All City Kings” features New York MC Hug dealing with some suspect legal issues on “Bullshit Charge”, Tim Dog of Ultramagnetic MCs fame spreading some transatlantic love on “BX To The UK”, and British lyricist Chubby delving into the history of UK Hip-Hop on “Back To London”. Jazz T also shows off his impressive turntable skills on the instrumental title cut.
DJ Jazz T Practice Session
In today’s times of synthesized production, downloading and eBay, it’s easy to forget the time and patience producers of yesteryear had to invest in their never-ending search for the perfect beat. Keen to remind us of the importance of keeping the art of digging for samples alive, DITC’s Showbiz recently dropped his “Rare Breaks – Stack One” mix-CD, a 45-minute collection of thirty anonymous loops which have been given just the right amount of thump for your listening pleasure. Having worked with the likes of Big L, Fat Joe and KRS-One, Bronx-bred producer Showbiz has consistently proved he has an ear for good music over the years and this CD doesn’t disappoint, ranging from moody jazz to sweet soul and everything in-between.
Showbiz In The Studio
Fresh from the recent underground success of Triple Darkness’s “Anathema” album, London word warrior M9 is striking out on his own with this potent example of powerful street reportage from his forthcoming solo offering “144,000”. The dark production from Jon Phonics is the perfect match for M9’s raw portrayal of ghetto life, as the gifted lyricist attempts to elevate the mind state of those around him with dense metaphors and a passionate plea to stop the gang-related youth violence currently gripping UK streets.
M9 Performing In New York