Another year goes by. Another almost endless stream of best-of lists get written and posted on websites, blogs and social media platforms. We agree with some lists. We disagree with most lists. We argue over all the lists. We love lists. We hate lists. Some people believe these lists have value. Some people question the point of even attempting to put such lists together. But remember, a best-of list can’t please everyone and should never try to.
For me, compiling a year-end round-up has never been about claiming to have made a definitive list that covers every release that’s been worthy of attention over a particular twelve month period. That would be impossible.
Instead, a year-end list is just a way of me being able to give a nod of gratitude to as many artists as possible whose music I’ve especially enjoyed. It’s really as simple as that.
So, with that being said, who gets props over here?
Phife Dawg – “Forever” (SmokinNeedles.BigCartel.Com) – Handled with obvious love, patience and care, this album from A Tribe Called Quest legend Phife avoided the shortcomings often associated with posthumous releases, sounding fresh, vibrant and organic. Backed by production from the likes of Nottz, DJ Rasta Root and 9th Wonder, the rhymes from the Five-Foot Assassin ranged from witty, humorous punchlines to moments of genuine reflection and vulnerability, the poignancy of which wasn’t lost on listeners fully aware we were hearing the thoughts and feelings of an individual no longer with us. Ultimately a celebration of the life, career and talent of an artist gone far too soon, “Forever” stood as a fitting (if bittersweet) tribute to a Hip-Hop great whose voice many of us grew-up with in our headphones. Rest in peace Phife Dawg.
Juga-Naut – “Time & Place” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Nottingham’s Juga-Naut is one of the most constistent and talented artists of the last decade. Since his debut to the present day, Jugz has walked his own path, inspired by a genuine love of the art and an inner drive to be creative. Ten years in the making, this concept-based album was an epic self-produced journey through the UK artist’s many musical and personal influences, resulting in some of the finest beats and rhymes you were likely to hear in 2022 and beyond. A naturally gifted individual, Juga-Naut has repeatedly reached new levels of excellence with each of his releases, and “Time & Place” pushed the bar even higher. The man appears to have no competition but himself.
A.G. – “Giant In The Mental” (FatBeatsRecords.BandCamp.Com) – A true golden-era great, Diggin’ In The Crates favourite Andre The Giant delivered his well-known brand of hardcore lyrical Bronx science throughout this succinct release, accompanied by choice production from DJ Manipulator, Dark Keys and Showbiz. With no guest appearances to be found, A.G. went for dolo on the mic here, giving listeners ample opportunity to fully appreciate both his timeless flow and dedication to his craft over thirty years since he first dropped on wax.
Apollo Brown & Philmore Greene – “Cost Of Living” (MellowMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – An authoritative voice of experience speaking from inner-city Chicago, Philmore Greene had already dropped a number of notable projects prior to teaming-up with Detroit boom-bap maestro Apollo Brown, but it quickly became apparent that “Cost Of Living” was some of the Windy City representative’s best work. Bolstered by Apollo’s knocking drums, sweeping strings and soulful vocal snippets, Greene painted detailed verbal pictures of Chicago’s West Side, weaving personal memories, life observations and social commentary into his often sobering verses. This album was the sound of two masters at work.
3 The God Way – “Mount Olympus” (HumbleMonarch.BandCamp.Com) – DMV trio Kaimbr, Sean Born and Let The Dirt Say Amen combined their talents on this quality group album which was full of soul-drenched production, sharp rhymes and appearances from notable names like Kenn Starr, yU and Uptown XO. Evoking images of the threesome passing mics in a basement, chopping it up about world events and local news inbetween unearthing dope loops and spitting competition-crushing rhymes with a casual swagger, “Mount Olympus” was a totally immersive listening experience that pulled you deep into the God zone.
SPNDA x Grubby Pawz – “Oil Can” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp) – Reigniting the creative chemistry heard on 2017’s “Steel Sharpens Steel” and 2018’s “Holographic”, Boston duo SPNDA and Grubby Pawz came together once again to deliver a full-length collection of streetwise rhymes from a balanced perspective coupled with smooth, mellow production. A shining example of the musical magic that can be created when one emcee and one producer lock in together on the same target.
Funky DL – “Still Classic” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Twenty five years ago in 1997 prolific UK artist Funky DL dropped his debut album “Classic Was The Day”. In 2022, instead of celebrating the album’s anniversary by simply re-releasing it, the London-raised producer-on-the-mic put together this entertaining concept-based EP full of new music capturing DL’s memories and experiences from those early days in his career.
Farma – “Farma’s £10 Bag Volume 1” (FarmaBeats.BandCamp.Com) – UK Hip-Hop legend Farma of MUD Fam / Task Force fame has kept busy in recent years supplying beats to underground heavyweights such as Mach-Hommy, Rome Streetz, Conway and many more. With this particular compilation release, however, Farma chose to focus on the undeniable amount of talent within the British scene. Homegrown favourites such as Essa, MysDiggi and SonnyJim were on the roll call here, showcasing their skills over stellar sample-driven production.
Jay iLLestrate – “Doctor Jay” (JayiLLestrate.BandCamp.Com) – Cincinnati’s Jay iLLestrate took it to the hoop creatively on this entertaining basketball-influenced album that was packed with accomplished, sometimes quirky lyricism and engaging production from Toonorth, Gatekeeper, Grillo and Prof Logik. A lively mix of personality and talent.
Milano Constantine & Big Ghost Ltd – “Pay The Ghost” (BigGhostLimited.BandCamp.Com) – Over twenty years since his debut, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano is still carrying on tradition and repping for the 80s / 90s New York he grew-up in with all the pride of a Yankees fan on game day. Teaming-up here with ever-impressive producer Big Ghost Ltd, this album featured Constantine’s cinematic verses being matched with tense, atmospheric beats. The end product sounded like a late-night subway ride across the Rotten Apple.
Nejma Nefertiti – “Tongue Fu” (NejmaNefertiti.BandCamp.Com) – A short, potent dose of firebrand lyricism, this four-track EP from Brooklyn’s Nejma Nefertiti found the NY-based artist dropping punchy rhymes full of b-girl attitude over Kool M Da Loop Digga production, with strong guest appearances from Napoleon Da Legend and Zach Lost.
El Jazzy Chavo – “S950 Funk” (Funkypselicave.BandCamp.Com) – Imitated but never duplicated, the crunch and thump of the Akai S950 was fully celebrated by Greece’s El Jazzy Chavo on this instrumental album. The head-nod factor was high throughout, with the dusty-fingered beats stirring-up memories of an era that has long since passed but that remains a time period cherished by all who lived through it.
Dell-P – “The People’s Emcee” (Dell-P.BandCamp.Com) – Produced entirely by New Jersey duo Trac-Qaeda, this latest album from Philly’s Dell-P was another worthy addition to his already impeccable catalogue. Grounded in the realities of daily life but laced with optimism and hope as always, the Illadeph artist’s rhymes offered motivation and inspiration in equal measures, backed by well-crafted beats.
Jazz Spastiks – “Intomental” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding purveyors of sublime sample-based music, the UK’s Jazz Spastiks returned once more with a rich collection of laidback flavour for our listening pleasure. Expertly put together and with a genuine feeling of warmth running throughout, this album was the perfect way to ease your mind in today’s stressful times.
Jones Brothers – “Apollo” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The UK’s Joker Starr and Anyway Tha God reunited for a new Jones Brothers project, with the pair delivering incisive, swaggering rhymes laced with social commentary over brilliant production from veteran London-based music man Apollo.
Brainorchestra – “Big Brain” (Brainorchestra.BandCamp.Com) – The rise of producer-on-the-mic Brainorchestra during recent years has been a genuine pleasure to witness. “Big Brain” appeared to draw a metaphorical line in the sand, simultaneously signalling the end of one career phase and the beginning of the next stage of growth and progression for the New Jersey artist. With a keen ear for a great sample and a natural rhyming ability, Brainorchestra could only continue to move in the right direction after the release of this album.
Da Flyy Hooligan – “Ben Kingsley” (GourmetDeluxx.BandCamp.Com) – Smooth, sharp and stylish like butter-soft leather jackets and box-fresh footwear, London’s Da Flyy Hooligan lived up to his name once again on this album, delivering larger-than-life rhymes over top-shelf production from the mighty Micall Parknsun.
360 Physicals – “Style Crown” (NoelPolandRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Skills. That’s what this album was about. Having honed their respective crafts within the UK’s 90s Hip-Hop scene, the 360 Physicals crew reunited in 2022, with Killa Kela, Koaste, Jonny Virgo and Cristo Cannes celebrating the past whilst demonstrating their ability to still reign supreme in the present and beyond. Brilliantly produced by Kong The Artisan, “Style Crown” bristled with energy and passion.
Fatnice – “The Baddest” (IllVibeMedia.BandCamp.Com) – A stalwart of the Philly rap scene, Fatnice blended emcee bravado, social commentary and storytelling skills on this short-but-effective album, proving that sometimes less really is more. With the likes of The Blue Ninja, Mr. Sonny James and Kush Oxford supplying melodic, upbeat production, “The Baddest” blew out of the speakers like a refreshing blast of cool air.
Count Bass D – “All Due Respect” (CountBassD.BandCamp.Com) – The ever-busy Count Bass D returned with another lesson in high-level beat science, crafting an instrumental album that pulsated with the sounds of slick funk and sweet soul. Music to groove to.
As if the original versions weren’t already dope enough, UK production duo Jazz Spastiks have lifted the vocal tracks off their recent album “The Product” and placed the rhymes of Yesh, Apani B Fly and Count Bass D over a fresh batch of quality beats.
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)
In the final part of my interview with Prime Minister Pete Nice, the Hip-Hop legend talks about recording his 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust”, the death of KMD’s DJ Subroc and the legacy of 3rd Bass – make sure you check Part One, Part Two and Part Three before reading further.
When you started working on your 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust” with Daddy Rich were you concerned about how it was going to be received by fans considering you were coming out of a successful group?
“I mean, I’d always done more of the production on the 3rd Bass records. Serch didn’t really do too much on the production end. So me and Rich were already working really well together both with other producers and on the things that we would do on our own. So we liked the challenge of musically doing s**t on our own. Plus, I’d been working a lot at the time with The Beatnuts with Kurious, so it kinda fell in together. I mean, some of the beats that they had that ended-up on the songs we collaborated on were just nuts. Rich and I were always very proud of “Dust To Dust”. Some people just look at commercial sales but we had a lot of critical acclaim with that project. I mean, listen, if that album had had Serch on it as well and was a 3rd Bass album, it probably could have done better. Obviously, we would have had some different songs on there, but “Dust To Dust” was probably going in the direction of what another 3rd Bass album would have been.”
Personally, I thought Serch’s 1992 “Return Of The Product” project was a solid album, but it did have a slightly different musical vibe to it in comparison to 3rd Bass, mainly due to the work he was doing with production duo Wolf & Epic…
“I mean, Serch had more of a kind-of R&B influence on his album. Now, when we were in the studio, we would both have different ideas of what we wanted, and at some point if me and Rich weren’t there to tone Serch down then the music would go to a certain point. So it was almost like, his solo album was the album you would have had if me and Rich hadn’t been there to pull him back on certain things (laughs). But, you could also say that Serch would hold us back on certain ideas we had as well, which is why 3rd Bass worked so well together when we were in the studio.”
Do you feel that any label politics played a part in how well “Dust To Dust” performed?
“I mean, this was all around the time when Russell was looking to the West Coast and signing Warren G and Montell Jordan. Plus, the other thing that was figured into the mix was the fact that I was working with Kurious Jorge at that point and Russell really wanted Jorge. I wanted a good deal for Jorge and at the same time Donnie Ienner at Sony offered me my label deal for Hoppoh with Bobbito. We really couldn’t turn that down. So there was animosity between myself and Lyor because had had beef with Donnie Ienner as Def Jam was going through a break-up with Sony at the time. I guess you could say that “Dust To Dust” kinda got caught up in the middle of all that. I know I used to speak with people and they’d tell me that Def Jam weren’t working my solo record on purpose. I mean, when they saw that Serch only got to a certain level with his first release as a soloist with a lot of push, that might have influenced things. I mean, Rich and I had some success, but we had no push. That was a really strange time. There were all the problems with KMD at Elektra when Ice-T had the whole “Cop Killer” censorship situation which totally f**ked-up KMD with the album artwork for “Black Bastards”. Then Elektra ended-up dropping the group. We had the tragedy with Subroc and it was just a crazy time. It had even got to a point where KMD had beef with Serch when we had beef together. We did a song for KRS-One on the H.E.A.L. album and Serch said a couple of lines on the track that KMD didn’t like. It was just weird, man. So I ended-up managing KMD when originally they were Serch’s group. I mean, he discovered them. I didn’t know them beforehand. So it was all pretty strange.”
“Dust To Dust” came out following the release of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and the East Coast / West Coast split was starting to happen with gangsta rap really beginning to dominate the industry. What was your opinion at the time on the direction Hip-Hop was moving in?
“I always thought there was room for both East Coast and West Coast groups. I mean, when we came out as 3rd Bass there was a lot of West Coast music out there with the whole N.W.A. thing. When we went out on the road we would see all these pockets of local artists who were big regionally, but there was always room for music from people outside of each region. I guess that West Coast sound did kinda take over, but I still think a lot of East Coast groups at that time still had great followings. Then of course Biggie Smalls came out and did what he did. 2Pac was someone who was interesting to me. When we were with him, we were touring with Digital Underground and he was basically just doing crowd warm-ups and being a roadie. I remember buying 2Pac Whoppers in Burger King and he would get his hair cut by Daddy Rich in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn or something (laughs). That’s the 2Pac that I remember. He was a very intelligent, thoughtful kid at the time. It just seemed that when he was in “Juice”, which Daddy Rich was in as well, he just turned into this more gangsta persona which really wasn’t him. We did a show soon after that out in San Francisco and we saw him there thugged-out with the gold chains. We went up to him and it was almost like he was playin’ us like, ‘I’m too big for this now’ (laughs).”
The Beatnuts produced a number of tracks on “Dust To Dust” – what drew you to their sound?
“I had seen them around and knew them, but when Jorge formally hooked-up with them and said he wanted the Beatnuts to do a lot of tracks on his album, that was when I’d be in the studio with them working on the Kurious stuff. So then it was a natural progression and they’d play me certain things they’d been working on and I’d hear certain tracks and just totally fell in love with their sound. To me, they were taking a certain style to a different level than even someone like a Prince Paul, with it being a little darker and a little heavier. They were definitely very creative with the way they would manipulate sounds. All they really had to do was play me a couple of tapes with tracks they’d done and I was sold right there. I mean, I was already sold on them with the stuff they’d done for Jorge.”
The track they gave you for “Verbal Massage” off “Dust To Dust” still stands as some of the best Beatnuts production ever…
“That beat was ridiculous. Something else that was interesting about recording the album was that, after doing a couple of albums and seeing how much money gets wasted by using a big studio like a Chung King, we actually did “Dust To Dust” in our engineer Adam Gazzola’s house. So we saved a lot of money actually recording it there and then we’d mix it in the bigger studios. That was an interesting process, because it was right at the time when you were able to do more on computers.”
The album had some crazy skits on it. Was that your mother on the answerphone interlude getting upset about her “intelligent son” being at a Public Enemy concert?
“I’m trying to think who’s mother that was (laughs). That wasn’t my mother. It just shows you how long it’s been since I fully listened to the album (laughs). Right at that point, it was around the time that the Jerky Boys were coming out, so that interlude was definitely influenced by that. That was one of my favourite interludes as well. But it definitely wasn’t my mother. It was one of my friend’s mothers. Now you’ve got me thinking and I definitely have to play that back and try to figure out who it was (laughs). The “Pass The Pickle” skit was funny because that was MC Disagree & The Re-Animator. Their stories are funny because those dudes basically hung out with us when we were still trying to make it as 3rd Bass and obviously they had the tie-ins with the Beastie Boys and everything. But at a certain point, John, who was the Re-Animator and lived on the Lower East Side, when we did the first album we had that part where we said you can call up our man Re-Animator and put his number out there. We did all that s**t totally unplanned, just gave out his number and didn’t even tell him. At any point, he would be at home and he would have girls calling him up from Sweden or whatever. But he loved it because he would actually talk to all these people (laughs). That’s actually how he met a guy who would become a good friend to mostly all of us, this kid Beckham. He started to come to a lot of our shows. He called-up John, John got him in touch with us, then next thing you know this kid’s doing the shows with us (laughs). It was nuts.”
So it was the ultimate fan hotline…
“I mean, you think you’re doing something just as a goof, and then John was just getting calls all day long. I remember, he had some calls from people trying to buy Serch’s underwear (laughs). It got to the point where I used to give him stuff to send out to people (laughs). I mean, I had a fan show up who’d tracked me down just recently who collects all kinds of 3rd Bass memorabilia. I have to laugh because I’ve been collecting baseball memorabilia since I was a kid and my interest is in fraud in that particular industry, so I’ve been known to track down old-time baseball guys in the same way that this guy tracked me down. So I definitely had to hit him off with some items.”
I guess your passion for baseball helps you put it into context when you meet old 3rd Bass fans who’re still so enthusiastic about the group, because you are to us what an old baseball player would be to you…
“Exactly (laughs). So I definitely don’t look at people like they’re nuts when they do approach me like that. I definitely appreciate it.”
Unless they’re asking for underwear…
“That’s when it kinda goes wrong (laughs)…”
What was the deal with the Drednotz who were also featured on “Dust To Dust” and went on to release the brilliant “Causin’ A Menace” single in 94 on Elektra?
“The Drednotz were Rich’s group and Benz was the main emcee. Rich had gotten them a deal and that was totally his thing. But we put Benz on “Dust To Dust” on the “3 Blind Mice” track with Kurious. But Drednotz were another great group at that time who kind of got lost in the mix. Artifacts were another great group who were affiliated with us on the management side through Bobbito, and they still have a great following today. But I guess at that time, that was the point where things started to get saturated, even on the underground.”
Taking it back a little, how did you first actually meet Kurious?
“When I was at Columbia, my room-mate and the guy who ended-up being our 3rd Bass road-manager, SAKE, he was a graffiti artist and was also on my basketball team. We lived on 100th & Columbus and Jorge’s building was over on the otherside of the park on, like, 97th. So I knew Jorge through the neighbourhood and also through Bobbito because he lived in Jorge’s building. So when Jorge came-up, he would just be hanging-out at clubs rhyming. First, we got Bobbito a job at Def Jam starting at the bottom. I remember he showed he had potential over there in terms of knowing what the kids were listening to in the streets. I remember he was up on Special Ed before anyone else was (laughs). So then they had him promoting records over at Def Jam, then one thing led to another and he took it further with his own talents. Then Bobbito got Jorge a little gig working at Def Jam and so then he was around everybody and it went from there.”
How much of an impact did Subroc’s tragic passing in 1993 have on you?
“I think the point when Subroc passed away was a real turning point. I mean, I had KMD with Serch, we were their managers, they came in as basically like this innocent group of devout Muslim artists who were very young. Then they got a little older, started to get their own identities, then next thing you know they’re drinking forties and poppin’ acid all over the place. I had Subroc come to my office several times with a machete in his coat and I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta calm down, man.’ I remember he came to the office one time, I hit him off with an advance for one of their records or whatever, and I figured I had to drive him to the Long Island Railroad so that I knew I’m getting him on the train and he’s not going to get into any trouble. So I’m driving him to the station and he’s asking me how much dynamite it would take to blow up the railroad station in his town in Long Beach?! He was definitely experimenting with drugs and s**t and it was very hard to keep tabs and keep control on the artists that I was dealing with. Then when Subroc actually died it was just such a shock, even though in some ways you could see it coming, y’know. It was just very disconcerting all around.”
Zev Love X’s re-emergence some years later as MF Doom has to be one of the greatest artist comebacks in the history of Hip-Hop…
“I’ve gotta give it to Doom, because he went underground for awhile and was just totally out of it. Then he re-emerged doing the poetry slams and everything and just totally re-invented himself with the whole MF Doom persona. I don’t know if you already know this, but Lord Scotch designed that whole mask. Then you had MF Grimm who was also involved with Doom’s re-emergence early on, but then they had beef. But there were just so many talented people involved with what we did when you look at the outreach of the wider crew, with the whole KMD crew, Kurious and all of his people, the whole 3rd Bass army (laughs). I mean, when you look at Serch as well and the whole Nas thing, there was definitely a lot of influence all the way around. It’s interesting to look back so many years after the fact and see where everything fitted together.”
So did you make a conscious decision to step away from the music business after the release of “Dust To Dust” or did it happen gradually?
“It got to a point where personally I got really disillusioned over just the whole music business in general. Subroc died. What happened with KMD. What happened with our project. That was the time when I started doing a lot of things outside of music, then one thing led to another and it was like, ‘Okay, well this is where things are going.’ I think, also personally for me, Kurious’s first album was dope but was a very slept-on album. We had a certain push at Columbia on it, but also at the same time Nas was coming out and he obviously overtook Kurious in terms of being a label priority. But Jorge had enough success and sales, which I think was about 150,000 copies, to do a second album. Columbia were all-set for that to happen. Then Jorge just kinda disappeard for awhile and didn’t want to be involved. That was just such a crazy time. I mean, I had Jorge not wanting to get into the studio, and then I had Cage who we were trying to put a project together for. Me and Bobbito were basically getting him beats from everyone under the sun, like DJ Premier, and Cage was just like, ‘I don’t like these beats.’ Then when we finally did get him to do something, his lyrics are talking about how he wants to take out a Sony exec with a sawed-off shotgun (laughs). I mean, Cage was like Eminem way before there even was an Eminem, but it just wasn’t timely. If there had never been an Eminem and Cage had come later, he probably could have had a lot more success commercially. When I put him on the “Rich Bring ‘Em Back” record off “Dust To Dust”, he was nice, man.”
The Kurious debut project definitely ranks as one of the greatest albums of the 90s. I remember when Columbia first started pushing both Kurious and Nas thinking how ironic it was that they were doing split-page ads in The Source featuring them both given the 3rd Bass connection each artist had…
“That was bizarre to me. I mean, it made sense on one side because a label only has so much money to promote new artists and there were some similarities between Kurious and Nas, but at the same time they were also very different. But the thing with Jorge was, Columbia were behind him, and obviously my label Hoppoh would have been operational for a lot longer if he’d decided to do that second album. But he kinda went off into the mountains to meditate (laughs)…”
Did Kurious ever give you a reason why he didn’t do that second album at the time?
“I think it was just a mental thing where he wanted to get away from everything for awhile. I mean, we would get him all sorts of beats but one thing just led to another. Then, of course, I had the artist Count Bass D who was really talented and his album was incredible. I thought Count Bass D could have hit and blow-up more than anything, but it just didn’t happen.”
So how long was it before you actually first spoke to Serch after the 3rd Bass break-up?
“I think it was around 96 / 97 when we first spoke after the group split. The graffiti artist and designer Cey Adams had a company called The Drawing Board with Steve Carr and they would do all the in-house artwork for Def Jam. Then Steve started doing videos for people like Heavy D and he’s a big Hollywood director now and did the “Daddy Day Care” movie and things like that. So they played a joke to put me and Serch together on the phone without either of us knowing about it. So that was the first time we’d spoken in years. Out of that reconnection there was talk of a reunion album and we got in the studio and cut a couple of records which I think Serch has since put out online. Then we did Woodstock in 1999 and also Tommy Hilfiger’s brother’s birthday party. So we were actually doing some stuff together, but we just never officially took the full-step to do a whole album. Part of that was down to me being involved in so many other things and not being able to devote the time to it. It’s funny, because both Serch and Rich have spoken to me recently about there being a lot of interest for us to do certain shows and I’m like, ‘Listen, let’s see what happens and maybe I’ll come out of the mothballs.’
Do you still ever write any rhymes at all?
“Because I’m writing my book and I’m writing all the time, I sometimes do think about writing rhymes, but I can honestly say I haven’t written too many rhymes lately (laughs). You do have thoughts that come into your head at times that give you flashbacks, but I haven’t had the motivation to actually write anything. But I guess you’d consider it more poetry at this time rather than just rhymes (laughs). I mean, I can definitely see there’s a lot of nostalgia out there for music of the time we were out as 3rd Bass, but I always lose respect for artists who are way past their prime and then try to put a new album out. I actually respect it more when older artists go out on tour and actually focus on the older material that the fans want to see them performing. But I was in the city the other night and was just flipping the stations and I guess there’s a little buzz on that new Edo.G album and I got into it just listening to a couple of songs. I thought it was pretty good.”
Are there any particular golden-era Hip-Hop albums that you still reach for today when you want to listen to some music?
“Personally, I’d have to say the ones I was involved in like the Kurious album and the KMD stuff, which is kinda self-serving for me to say that but I do actually still listen to them. But then I’ll listen to to the Jungle Brothers first album which will always be a classic to me, all the Public Enemy stuff, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. Even going back to old Just-Ice stuff. The first Brand Nubian album is one of my favourites of all-time and Grand Puba was always a favourite emcee of mine. The Eric B. & Rakim albums. There’s just so much music from that period in Hip-Hop which has stood the test of time. I know people say you sound like an old-timer when you’re there saying that s**t was doper back when we were doing it, but I really think it was (laughs). There’s something missing in the music today and it’s just not as organic and creative as it used to. I’m sure there are artists like that out there, but everything’s just so fragmented now that it must be so hard for anyone like that to breakthrough on a commercial level and get that kind of recognition.”
Finally, looking back, what would you consider to be the legacy of 3rd Bass?
“I would hope on one level that me, Serch and Rich came up as group that looked beyond race, really had no hang-ups about that and put it out there to both Black and white kids that, ‘Hey, you can be a white kid and be into Hip-Hop.’ I would hope that would be the most enduring legacy that we have. Beyond that, if people still like the music and it holds-up years after and people can listen to it and reminisce on it as being part of the golden-age of Hip-Hop, if people put us in the same realms as our own favourite groups of the time, then that’s like the ultimate compliment. We put out quality music and never sold out to any other influences that were out there at the time. A lot of kids today can’t even begin to comprehend what things were like for me and Serch when we came out, let alone just battling people or doing shows, but actually putting out the records, promoting the records and having hits. I look back on it all now and it’s amazing that things even happened.”
It’s always a great experience to speak with artists I grew-up listening to, but in this particular instance I’d like to give huge props to Pete Nice for being so generous with his time to ensure this interview got completed (three hours on the phone in total!) and for being so detailed and honest with his memories, thoughts and opinions.
Word To The Third!
Visit Pete’s site HaulsOfShame.Com to catch up on his activity in the world of baseball.
1990 3rd Bass Appearance On “The Arsenio Hall Show” Performing “The Gas Face”.
Official free download of a new instrumental project from the great Count Bass D courtesy of Domination Recordings.
1. 95 Chop
2. No More Arguing
4. Get Busy
5. You’re Better Than All the Rest
6. Fly Thyme
8. Welcome to the Spot
9. Gerald and Sean
10. I’m Still Paranoid
11. Down To Get It
12. Believe Me
13. All Shook Up
14. J.P. Organ
15. I’ll Always Stay
16. I Don’t Need This
Count Bass D – “Can We Hang Out Tonight” ( 1320 Records )
Stateside underground favourite Count Bass D premiers his forthcoming album ‘L7’ with this hypnotic head-nodder. The cut’s robust, synth-led production works well with the Count’s breezy, sing-a-long vocals, with the rapper also dropping some deliberately deadpan lyrics in an attempt to catch the object of his desire’s attention. Another sure-shot straight out of leftfield for the Bass man. 4 / 5
Sincere ft. Natty – “Once Upon A Time” ( Young Entrepreneurs )
A big tune with plenty of crossover potential, North London’s Sincere strikes a fine balance here between commercial viability and lyrical poignancy. Backed by Firstman’s jazz / reggae fusion of rolling drums, skanking basslines and chirpy horns, the young MC addresses the constant battle between good and evil, touching on the tragic consequences of petty street beef as well as the need for unity in the black community. With vocalist Natty contributing an infectious hook that’s sure to become lodged in your head, ‘Once Upon A Time’ is likely to become one of the summer’s most popular tracks. 4 / 5
Common ft. Pharrell – “Universal Mind Control” ( Geffen )
Sure to evoke memories amongst die-hard Common fans of 2002’s much-criticised ‘Electric Circus’ album, this initial offering from the Chicagoan’s eighth long-player once again finds the rapper straying from the soulful boom-bap music he’s made his trademark. Old-school hip-hop fans will revel in this cut’s retro-electro ‘Planet Rock’ feel, but those who hold Common up as the poster-boy of bohemian backpack rap will no doubt be disappointed by the simplified party lyrics heard here. Personally, I kinda like it. 3 / 5
Various – “Two Syllables EP Vol. 3” ( First Word )
Another choice selection of homegrown cuts from the ever-reliable First Word imprint. Kicking things off is a brilliant Kidkanevil reworking of the Dirty Diggers’ ‘Don’t Know About That’, an accordion-driven mish-mash of scattered drums, dry lyrical humour and fidgety percussion. Mike L plays musical join-the-dots on the jazz-infused instrumental ‘Schrodinger’s Scat’, whilst Homecut’s ‘Night At The Fayre’ offers a refreshingly unpredictable jam session feel along with some well-delivered rhymes. A diverse but dope release. 4 / 5
Poems – “Love” ( Hip-Hop Is Music)
To most hip-hop fans, Long Beach, California brings to mind the likes of Snoop Dogg and a handful of other West Coast gangsta rappers. Aiming to show a different side to his gang-related locale, Poems brings a positive approach to his craft, lacing his verses with universally relatable themes and a well-balanced worldview. ‘Love’ has an almost Slum Village-ish sound to it, with soothing, jazzy vibes and hazy keys providing the backdrop for Poem’s sensitive-but-realistic rhymes about affairs of the heart. 4 / 5
Radix – “Right State Of Mind EP” ( Abstrak Recordings )
Longstanding figures on hip-hop’s underground landscape, Massachusetts duo Radix return with a solid EP that finds the pair once again ignoring any mainstream trends in favour of delivering sincere, heartfelt music. The melodic ’Keep On’ offers moments of personal reflection, whilst the head-nodding ‘Perspective’ features a welcome appearance from 90s favourite Edo.G. The guitar-led ‘Breaking Point is another standout, with NYC’s Q-Unique (of Arsonists fame) helping the crew deal with the pressures of life. Sturdy stuff. 3/5
Eliphino – “Seasons EP” ( First Word )
A great collection of instrumental mood music from the twenty-something Leeds-based producer. Truly gifted behind the boards, Eliphino keeps the quality level extremely high here. From the spacey ‘I Like It Yo’ to the sublimely atmospheric ‘Media’, the Northern maestro has a real knack for crafting cuts which stimulate emotions, taking the listener on a musical journey in the process. Whilst traces of greats such as Pete Rock and Dilla can be found in his sonic recipe, Eliphino definitely possesses his own artistic identity and is surely on the verge of big things. 4 / 5
Buff1- “Beat The Speakers Up” ( A-Side Worldwide )
A native of Detroit, Buff1’s rambunctious mix of industrial-strength beats and swaggering rhymes will definitely appeal to fans of other Motor City acts such as Guilty Simpson and Black Milk. Already the owner of an impressive back-catalogue (do your research, people), Buff1 is sure to raise his profile with this kinetic banger, which finds the forthright MC attacking short-sighted commercial radio programmers whilst asserting his dominance over the competition. Uncut b-boy music. 4 / 5