Sunday, 19 August 2007

We Got 1 DJ & 1 MC, And That's It...

As work begins to slowly take over my summer (waking up at 6.30am on a Saturday? That just ain't right), I'm realising that posting is gonna be more and more difficult nowadays. Add that to the fact that I'm experiencing a rare case of "What the fuck should I write about that hasn't already been done, and would still be worth reading?" (I'm sure some of me fellow bloggers out there can relate), bare with me if the next few posts seem weak. I always said that I can't make a blog like the late HHB & Bossplayer (RIP...or will they?), so writing some shit that keeps people entertained and informed is a hard thing to do. I'm trying my best here! Also, I've been keeping myself busy reading Eric's When They Reminisce, where many respected heads have been posting their favourite beats. I've always been shit at making lists, so it's nice to read other people's. On to today's post...
Chemistry has always been essential to hip hop. This chemistry can be seen in a variety of ways; it could be (1) the chemistry between the lyrics on a track with the beats, (2) between two MC's on the same track, or (3) between an MC & his DJ. In this post I'd like to take a closer look at the last of these three, and highlight what, in my opinion, are some of the best MC / DJ combinations throughout hip hop history.
I think that the 1 MC / 1 DJ combination is unbeatable. It must be incredibly difficult to create a great album, with all the beats handled by a single person, and nearly all the lyrics (barring features) by another. It must be so easy for things to become repetitive, with the DJ occasionally re-using the same looped sample, or the MC repeating a bar or two. In my opinion, it is the ultimate test of skill and versatility. The DJ must step outside his comfort zone, to produce a range of beats that will both suit the MC, and keep the listener interested, while the MC must continually use different rhyme patterns to match the beats provided, while simultaneously doing what so many rappers nowadays are forgetting...making sense.
So, with the criteria determined, here are some examples who have excelled at what they do...
Eric B. & Rakim
Might as well start with the best ever. Everybody knows how good Rakim is, but what if he didn't have Eric B's crazy-ass beats? And would Eric B.'s beats be forgotten if they wern't blessed with R's lyrical genius? Eric B. and Rakim were like two pieces of a jigsaw that fit perfectly together. It is still difficult to imagine any group surpassing the chemistry that these two had. Widely acclaimed as the innovators of jazzy hip hop, Eric B. brought sampling to wide fame, and Ra's complex rhyming patterns put most other MC's to shame. There could have been a million and one reasons that things could have stopped these from working each other (just look at their careers after they disbanded), but thank god they did. Hip hop wouldn't be where it is now if they didn't.
Gang Starr
They say that a Primo beat can make any rapper sound good. But when Guru gets on a Primo beat, things come together like clockwork. Those who say that Guru's monotonic voice bores them, slowly forget everything while they become too busy nodding their head to Gang Starr. Even more so than Ra on a Eric B. beat, Guru just sounds right on a Premo beat. And longevity? 7 albums deep, and they still sound as good as ever. It seems like fate that Eric B. & Rakim released their final album (Don't Sweat The Technique, 1992) just as Gang Starr were about to come into their own with the release of Daily Operation. The handing over of the torch? I think so.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Pete Rock has made some incredible beats. But has anyone ever sounded better on them than the one they call CL Smooth? Once you've gotten over how great 'T.R.O.Y.' is, it is easy to see CL's flow is incredible when Pete is backing him up on the boards. If you see the contrast of CL's preformance when with Pete Rock (on 'Mecca And The Soul Brother', 'The Main Ingredient') and with other producers ('American Me' and the recently released 'The Outsider') it is evident that these two were made to work together. If only they could get together once more and provide us with a final encore.
The Coup

Don't say that you're not interested in politics, that you don't even follow it. Cos if you do, then you're not gonna appreciate The Coup. Apart from having my favourite ever hip hop song (guess?), Boots Riley and DJ Pam The Funkstress are criminally underrated, even by the so-called hip hop heads. Originally starting out as a trio with E-Roc, The Coup became a duo after Roc left following the recording of 'Genocide & Juice'. Since then, The Coup have released 3 more albums, with praise from both fans and critics (and a little bit of controversy, as well). DJ Pam might have won the award for Most Unlikely To Be One Half Of A Great Political Hip Hop Duo in high school, but she continues to provide the music to Boots' lashing lyrics.

Ant & Slug are Atmosphere. It's weird how many people think that Atmosphere consists of just Slug (why change the name then? D'uh), and this confirms my thoughts of Ant being the most silent of partners in hip hop. I was a latecomer when it came to listening to Atmosphere, but once I did, I was hooked. The first song I heard of theirs was 'National Disgrace', a single which, with it's genius opening, shows Slug at his most pissed off. I went on to listen to their (many) albums I had missed out on, and found that the duo have progressed so much. It's weird, if you start from 'Overcast!' and move on to 'God Loves Ugly' to 'Seven's Travels' to 'You Can't Imagine...', it is easy to notice how Ant's producing has changed. This is evolution at its best. Slug, on the other hand, continues to bring it as hard as he can (no homo, yadda yadda). I haven't had a chance to hear 'Sad Clown Bad Summer 9', but I'm hearing good things.
Blue Scholars

Representing the new school, Sabzi and Geologic are hip hop's brightest new group, hailing from Seattle, WA. It's so interesting how BS (Blue Scholars, haha) have risen in popularity this year. Allow me to gloat for a bit. I remember downloading their self-titled album back in 2005 offa HHB (why? I have no idea, probably the nice artwork...), and casually putting it on while I was doing some maths homework. It was one of the few times that I can say that I heard something I instantly fell in love with. The album rarely had any reviews / praise then, apart from the few randoms, and largely fell into obscurity. That was until this year, when 'Bayani' was released. It was loved by all (I still don't know how this album became so huge, maybe the Rawkus factor, cos I still think their first album was better), and most people generally went backwards to find the self-titled album, and the EP. The internet at its greatest.
That's all for now folks, thanks for reading my largely useless opinions, and be sure to spread the word...hip hop lives!


elgringocolombiano said...

good post.

Other 2007 examples of 1 mc 1 producer duos:

Blu & Exile
Calle 13
Y Society

Dart Adams said...

Damn good post, fam. One.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Blue Scholars first LP is much better than Bayani. I actually don't like Bayani, it was disappointing. Geologic is pretty weak on the flows. If you like their producers beats check out Common Market.

Mystik Journeyman said...

Here's an idea for a series of posts: break down your favourite albums track by track, detailing their meaning and why you like them, etc.

That would be time-consuming though.

AaronM said...

Your writing keeps getting better. Keep it up.