Tape turned text

A hip-hop compilation and commentary, Side A.

FOR A LONG TIME NOW, I've been making compilations for people who've approached me with an interest in hip-hop. I'm no mix tape DJ; I leave that to the professionals. Rather, I provide sounds for eager ears. I also include factoids, tidbits, and opinions to augment the audio. For this debut installation in print, I've created a cassette drawing from recent releases.

1. "Set the Mood," De La Soul featuring Indeed (from Art Official Intelligence)

"Set the Mood" immediately flashed me back to 1993. Which is strange, because here it is the year 2000 and the decade-deep trio has just dropped their fifth full-length. Actually, it's the first chapter of—get this—a triple album. So, back to '93. . . . I was distinctly reminded of a track titled "In the Woods" from De La's third LP and of the show-stealing flow of a female rapper named Shortie No Mass. Seven years later the Plugs debut the lyrics of lead lady Indeed. Over a stuttering guitar riff and a pared-down beat, Indeed and Posdnuos both deliver. Pos blisters with, "while your whole plan is bland/Understand, that you must be smokin' pounds of weed out of a pipe/and mistook your munchies for being hungry for the mic."

2. "Jurass Finish First," Jurassic Five (from Quality Control)

In the past few years, we've seen a slew of crews return to the roots, and while the underground enjoys its renaissance, J5 also continue to plod the path of purism. For this cut, DJ Nu-mark creates a magnificently musical track. He layers mounting piano stabs over scratchy yet crisp drums while weaving in well-placed horns and strings. The stunning soundscape provides a playground for the verbal acrobatics of the Jurassic MCs. Lines are exchanged and verses are traded as each lyricist verbally bounces along with the beat.

3. "Tell Me," Slum Village featuring D'Angelo (from Fantastic Vol. 2)

Nowadays when most people hear "rap" and "Detroit," the obvious touchstones are Eminem and Kid Rock. If you dig a little deeper, you'll find a gem in Slum Village. "Tell Me" consists of staccato delivery from T3 and Baatin, while Jay Dee (of the Ummah) provides the beat. Still too obscure for you? Also featured on this track are the soothing keys and crooning of America's new no. 1 Soul Brother, D'Angelo.

4. "Get Your Roll On," Big Tymers ("Get Your Roll On" single)

The creation of "Get Your Roll On" is a classic example of Cash Money overkill. The impact of the New Orleans-based label is undeniable, as they continue to change the face (and teeth) of hip-hop as we know it. I too was taken when I first heard BG and Cash Money Millionaires' ode to ice (read: "Bling, Bling"), and it's hard not to bounce to Juvenile and company's "Back That Thang Up." Yet in the case of Big Tymers (producer Manny Fresh and CEO "Baby" Williams), the boys from NO have bitten off too much too soon. Fresh is excellent at his craft, producing a string of hits, while "Baby" has proven his business savvy by inking the unprecedented $30 million (again, read: "Bling Bling") distribution deal with Universal. When the track record speaks for itself, it's best to leave the rapping to the rappers.

5. "Last Call," Somethin' for the People featuring Tash and Xzibit (from Issues)

For this joint, Somethin' for the People team up with Tash (of The Alkaholiks) and drinking buddy Xzibit for the fittingly titled "Last Call." The rugged flow of the LA gunmen nicely offsets the sing-songy and sometimes corny flow of Sauce, Cat Daddy, and Fuzzy. Detailing a liquor-laden night at the club, the crew proceeds to mack while they throw a few back: "This round is on me/Champagne and Hennessey/ Next round is on you/ tequila shots and brew." Yo, I hope J-Ro and E-Swift didn't feel left out.

6. "Special Forces," Bahamadia featuring Planet Asia, Rasco, Chops, and DJ Revolution (from the BB Queen EP)

The guest appearances continue as Bahamadia digs even deeper into the lush LA underground and assembles this crew of mic controllers. Planet Asia and Rasco (both of the Cali Agents), as well as Chops (who also coproduces the track), share rhyme time with the Philly femme phenom. And keeping it in the family as well as the cut, DJ Revolution lends some wrist-wrenching action on the wheels of steel. You may know Rev as the man who originally helped Dilated Peoples "work the angles" with his tremendous feats of turntablism.

7. "Casualties of a Dice Game," Big L (from The Big Picture)

It's been a half decade since I first heard the artist formerly known as Lil' Mont Mont on DJ Kwai's "Spring Roll" mix tape. Back then, Big L was living "the lifestylez of da poor and dangerous," and being encouraged by his Diggin' in the Crates crew to "put it on." Five years have passed, and unfortunately so has this amazing poet, who was shot down last year. A close listen to "Casualties" leaves you with an uncanny feeling. L tells the twisted tale of his victory in a street corner craps circle, the chase that ensues, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of hope, and a last-ditch act of charity. Then he punctuates it all with: "now I can hear the sirens/that means here come the jakes/but it's too late/I'm knockin' on the pearly gates."

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