In the very early-90s Hip-Hop production went through a massive change. The 80s had already seen the dominant East Coast soundscapes of rap move from the live band Sugarhill / Enjoy era to the drum-machine mastery of a Larry Smith or Kurtis Mantronik, and on to the sampling genius of Paul C. and Marley Marl. But by the end of the decade, the break-beats popularised at Bronx block parties (such as James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” or Melvin Bliss’s “Synthetic Substitution”) had already provided the musical backbone to a long list of golden-era records, with many an individual behind the boards having put their well-worn copies of the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” compilations to good use. So, as Hip-Hop stood on the kerb of the 90s, a generation of upcoming producers went looking for new vinyl crates to plunder.
As groups such as Tribe, Gang Starr and Main Source began to release what would soon become labelled classic albums, it became very clear that jazz was the new musical playground for the likes of Q-Tip, DJ Premier, Large Professor and others, with the combination of melodic samples and dusty drums filtered through an SP-1200 or MPC quickly defining the sound of 90s Hip-Hop for many. As the decade progressed, the likes of Pete Rock, Lord Finesse, Diamond D, the Pharcyde’s J-Swift and The Beatnuts all created timeless tapestries of jazz-infused brilliance that had a huge impact on the ears and minds of Hip-Hop fans at the time, some of whom would one day go on to become producers in their own right. Enter Scottish duo, the Jazz Spastiks.
Citing their influences as the low-end theories of A Tribe Called Quest and the barrier-breaking work of De La Soul, childhood friends Coconut Delight and Mr Manyana have already proven on releases such as “Spastrumentals” and “12 Bit Spit” that they are masters of capturing that traditional jazzy thump of the 90s in a way that feels fresh and current, rather than their music simply sounding like the work of two wannabes trying too hard to emulate their favourite Pete Rock & CL Smooth records.
Three years in the making, the Jazz Spastiks’ latest album “The Product” should be held up as an example to budding producers everywhere, demonstrating that, even in today’s fast-paced internet-era of music, taking time with a project to ensure that everything is just right definitely pays off. Without one weak link in its sonic chain, “The Product” is an absolute joy to listen to, with the listener quickly becoming totally immersed in the album’s warm, organic sounds and positive vibrations.
A mix of head-nodding instrumentals and well-executed vocal tracks, one of the album’s biggest strengths, aside from the actual production itself, is the Jazz Spastiks ability to choose the right emcees to work alongside, ensuring the artists they collaborate with compliment their musical style in a seemingly effortless and natural manner.
NYC’s Yesh (of Wee Bee Foolish / Siah & Yeshua Dapo ED fame) makes a welcome return to the mic on the snappy “Dumb!”, challenging those fair-weather fans who “lost their old cassettes apparently” in favour of rolling with the flavour of the month, delivering his slick rhymes with an infectious confidence.
The album’s lead single “Move” features Apani B. Fly painting pictures of a late night New York escapade over soothing keys, whilst Canadian underground vet Moka Only can be found “going ten times the distance” on “Frequency” with the help of shuffling drums and airy samples.
With Count Bass D and Sach also making worthwhile guest appearances on “Delicious” and “Power Of The Tongue” respectively, the album’s standout vocal track arguably comes in the form of the brilliant “Parley To Parlet” featuring Ladybug Mecca.
With the former Digable Planets member utilising her trademark smooth cadences to full effect, Mecca’s verses of b-girl-influenced poetry collide beautifully with the Jazz Spastiks’ dreamy, hypnotic production, resulting in this closing track on the album sounding like the sonic equivalent of watching a large feather pillow explode in slow motion.
Pulling all of the aforementioned tracks together are a series of quality interludes and instrumentals, from the rumbling bass and deft cuts of “Drop” to the relentless drums and persistent percussion of the uptempo floor-filler “Woofers And Tweeters”.
With “The Product”, the Jazz Spastiks have succeeded in creating an album that pays homage to the past without remaining stuck in it. There’s an energy that runs throughout each track here which lifts the entire project, no doubt a by-product of the pair’s desire to respectfully add on to the foundations laid by their musical influences rather than just retread old ground.
As the late, great Guru once simply said, it’s a jazz thing.
Follow Jazz Spastiks on Twitter – @JazzSpastiks
Jazz Spastiks ft. Moka Only – “Frequency” (Jazz Plastik / 2014)