10/16/18 Articles

The Horace Silver Quintet drummer Roger Humphries reflects on his storied life in jazz

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare

Young Roger Humphries by photographer Teenie Harris. Courtesy of Roger Humphries.

 

A signed, framed photograph of “California Soul” singer Marlena Shaw hangs from the basement wall. There’s also a photo of a tan bass-drum head, with a hand-painted portrait of Ray Charles’ visage on it. Below Ray’s image, it reads, in black-ink hand-lettering, “Roger’s drum,” and there’s a large hole punched in it. There’s a classic black-and-white photo by Pittsburgh Courier photographer Teenie Harris of a very young boy named Roger Humphries playing a drum kit in the 1940s. The white bass-drum cylinder is as big as the boy, and the kid’s hands are wielding drumsticks, the left blurred in motion at the snare, the right stick striking a vibrating ride cymbal. The now veteran drummer extraordinaire Roger Humphries was kind enough to invite me to his home in the North Side of Pittsburgh to talk on a toasty August day, then later on a mild December day in 2017. We sit at a table in his finished basement that serves as part game room, part practice spot, and part office. I notice another photo, this one of a tuxedo-clad Humphries with Oprah, from the time he played her show backing Nancy Wilson, the same show he met the members of Destiny’s Child in 2001. On another wall, there’s a water-color collage of jazz luminaries who were either born in or lived in the Pittsburgh area—Earl “Fatha” Hines, Billy “Mr. B” Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams, Roy Eldridge, Art Blakey, Kenny “Klook” Clarke, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Brown, Joe Harris, Nathan Davis, among others, and, of course, the drummer in question. Though he’s not as well known nationally as he should be. A sharp-dressed Renaissance man who possesses a calm confidence, a gentle kindness, and a sense of humor, Roger “Dad” Humphries has played drums professionally for decades, taught at Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts magnet school (CAPA) for over twenty-five years, acts as a mentor to aspiring and established drummers, owns real estate, and is, above all, a family man with his wife, Regina, four kids, and grandchildren to boot.

Born into a large musical family in the North Side of Pittsburgh in 1944, Roger Lee Humphries, the youngest of ten, started playing drums as a poppin’ fresh young sapling around the age of three and a half or four. Soon thereafter, his uncle Frank sent Roger—at the advanced age of five—to sit in with Tab Smith’s band at the New Granada Theater in the Hill District. “I was very young going in,” Roger recalls, “and sitting [in] with people. My nerves would bother me so bad that I would have to go take a rest sometimes.” Through his musical-minded family members like his uncles Frank and Hildred Humphries (both professional horn players who’d played with Louis Jordan and Billie Holiday, respectively), he heard lots of jazz and met legends like Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, and Max Roach at local clubs like the Crawford Grill in the Hill, which was owned by the Pittsburgh Crawfords’ Gus Greenlee, and the Midway Lounge, which was located downtown on Penn Avenue. His older brothers also played music: Lawrence, a saxophonist, and Norman, a drummer. As far as influences go, Humphries mentions Art Blakey, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Louis Hayes, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, but also says, if it comes down to naming drummer names, he “would go on forever.” In a recent WQED-PBS video interview, he says his first professional gig was at age fourteen, when he was in junior high, with saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Later, he was able to sit in with the husband-and-wife team of saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott at Birdie Dunlap’s bustling Hurricane club in the Hill. According to Paul Wells’ 2011 piece in Modern Drummer, Humphries, fresh out of school, was called up and got his first taste of touring when he hit the road with Turrentine and Scott in 1962: “I got out of high school in June, and we went out west in July. I was eighteen, and it was exciting to be on that road. They taught me a lot about dynamics and how to make the music exciting… I kissed my wife-to-be, Regina, good-bye, and I was off.”

After the tour and back in Pittsburgh, he received word in 1964 that one of the founders of the Jazz Messengers, hard-bop pianist and composer Horace Silver, was in need of a new drummer in his quintet after Roy Brooks’ departure. It was a time when Silver was moving on from one group of personnel for his quartet to another. As Silver wrote in his autobiography, Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty, “Different musicians had told me about a fine young drummer from Pittsburgh named Roger Humphries. I invited him to come to New York and audition.” Roger traveled to Lynn Oliver’s New York studio to audition to be Silver’s next drummer. [note: Roger refers to him as Glen Oliver. –Ed.] He stepped in line at the studio with an intimidating list of other drummers and musicians, which, according to Humphries, included Al Foster, Edgar Bateman Jr., and perhaps Billy Cobham (the powerhouse who later drummed for Silver, Miles Davis, et al.). Humphries got the job. “When I heard him play, I knew right away that he was the drummer for us,” wrote Silver. Other musicians who comprised Silver’s new quintet’s lineup at that time were trumpeter Carmell Jones, bassist Teddy Smith, and tenor sax giant Joe Henderson. When Paul Wells asked Humphries why Silver had chosen him, he responded humbly, “It’s not that I outplayed anyone or anything like that. It was just the fact that I fit with what he heard and complemented what he did… Horace wanted something new.” Bandleaders at the time used to switch up personnel periodically to keep it fresh.

The newly formed quintet rehearsed at Oliver’s studio for a week in May 1964, and, according to the JazzDiscography.com site, debuted their live performance at the Crawford Grill back in Pittsburgh during Friday and Saturday matinees. On June 6, 1964, the quintet played at the Cork ’n’ Bib club in Long Island, New York. The four-song set was recorded and released as Live 1964 in the 1980s on Horace’s own private Emerald label. While the sound is pretty decent for a live recording, it holds up and the performance is solid and solos gratifying, offering a recorded document of the then new lineup doing the older Silver tunes in a club setting. There’s a nearly fifteen-minute version of “The Tokyo Blues,” and Horace called Humphries “one of my best drummers” in the liner notes. In July, the band traveled to play the Antibes Jazz Festival in the French Riviera. There are some classic black-and-white film videos on YouTube of the Horace Silver Quintet performing “Pretty Eyes” and “The Tokyo Blues” onstage at the festival in late July 1964. A youthful Humphries presides over the drums as Silver and Henderson take turns on nice solo runs with the underappreciated Carmell Jones on trumpet and Teddy Smith on bass. When asked, Humphries says he played on a Slingerland kit back in those days. These clips are definitely worth a watch and a listen.

Roger Humphries at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studio during Horace Silver’s Song for My Father session, October 26, 1964. Photo by Francis Wolff and courtesy of Blue Note Records.

 

Humphries played on four tracks of Silver’s hard-bop classic Song for My Father, released in 1964 on Blue Note, including the timeless and successful title cut, which was, according to Silver himself, inspired by Brazilian bossa-nova rhythms and Cape Verdean melodies combined with jazz elements. Silver had traveled to Brazil previously. The song’s influence has continued from its release to this day. Besides “Song for My Father” becoming a jazz standard, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, at the organ, wasted no time in covering the song in two parts on his 1965 instrumental album, James Brown Plays James Brown Today & Yesterday on the Smash label. The intro vamp with its bass line and rim-clicks was almost directly lifted, whether consciously or unconsciously, into parts of Steely Dan’s 1974 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Furthermore, B-3 organist Richard “Groove” Holmes covered the tune on a couple albums, while maestro Mulatu Astatke quoted and melded elements of the song into his late-1960s Ethio-jazz tune “Yakermo Sew,” which later popped up on the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. In 1993, the song was sampled by jazz-meets-rap outfit Us3 on “Eleven Long Years” on their hit debut, Hand On the Torch. Moreover, the man-of-many-masks Madlib and cohorts reinterpreted the standard on his Blue Note remix project, Shades of Blue. When I ask Mr. Humphries about the influence, borrowing, and sampling of the music he had a hand in creating, he says with a laugh, “I never gave it [much] thought. You know, I just listen to music to see if there’s something I like… I love music, man, and [people] can take jazz—and with the right flavor—they can make it slay.”

Featuring a Francis Wolff photo of Horace Silver’s real-life dad sitting near a pond on the cover designed by Reid Miles, Song for My Father was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio over two dates—about a year apart—with twosets of personnel: for the first session, on Halloween of 1963, it was the earlier quartet consisting of drummer Roy Brooks, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, bassist Gene Taylor, saxophonist Junior Cook, and leader Silver on two tracks, “Calcutta Cutie” and “Lonely Woman.” Brooks had replaced the great Louis Hayes, who had played with Silver in the mid- to late 1950s until Hayes teamed up with Cannonball Adderley. In fact, when I recently saw Hayes during his Horace Silver tribute tour at the New Hazlett Theater, he invited his fellow Silver alumnus Roger Humphries up for few tunes, with Roger laying down a groove, adding dynamic accents, and then building up to a blistering solo. Roger speaks very fondly of Hayes. For the second Song for My Father session date, which was October 26, 1964, it was recorded with the aforementioned new lineup of Silver, Joe Henderson, Carmell Jones, Teddy Smith, and Humphries at the Van Gelder studio. The songs recorded on that fall day were “Song for My Father,” “The Natives Are Restless Tonight,” “Que Pasa,” and “The Kicker,” a Henderson composition. This album went on to sell millions.

Humphries provided his fine drum-work on two more Silver studio albums on Blue Note: The Cape Verdean Blues—another tip of the hat to Silver’s father, who was from the Cape Verde Islands—was released in 1965 with, in addition to Silver on keys, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Henderson on sax, Humphries on the skins, a fine young musician, Woody Shaw, on trumpet, as well as a special guest musician, J. J. Johnson, on trombone on three tracks. Shaw had up till then been playing with Nathan Davis in Paris, where Davis, according to his book Paris to Pittsburgh, encouraged the young trumpeter to take the job with Silver. The Cape Verdean Blues album sports a verdant, Reid Miles–designed cover and features tunes like the up-tempo “Nutville,” the title cut, the aforementioned “Pretty Eyes” (apparently Silver’s first waltz), and “The African Queen.” And the next album, 1967’s The Jody Grind, presents another catchy, lightly toasted-in-funk title track, and Humphries locks in a smoking groove and takes a nice solo on “Grease Piece.” This album, Humphries’s last with Silver, alternates between a quintet and a sextet with Larry Ridley on bass, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Tyrone Washington taking over on tenor sax after Henderson’s departure, and James Spaulding on alto sax and flute on three tracks.

With each of these classic Blue Note albums having been impeccably recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey and with liner notes penned by critic/composer Leonard Feather, I ask Humphries how the conversations went with engineer Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. He responds that Van Gelder and Lion were “the business part, the owners. You didn’t have no conversation, really, with them, except to say, ‘Hello, how you doing?’ [Have] a cup of coffee [together],” he says with a laugh. “When you’re dealing with engineers like Rudy Van Gelder, these guys are at the top of their game.” When I ask if they ever did overdubs or anything other than live takes, Humphries responds, “Nono, no. It’s live. No punch-in this or that, no. There’s no punching-in. Matter of fact, when you go into a studio now, they have separate rooms they put you in. But back then, at that particular time when I was with Horace Silver, those albums, there was just a barricade, you know, in front of the drums, [and] the trumpeter would be here, the piano over here,” he says, pointing to nearby parts of his basement practice room as examples. “You weren’t separated. It’d be just like you’d been [playing] in a joint. You’d feel that sense of, oh, human [kinship].” However, he does marvel at the sound technology nowadays, “I love it, because technology, you know, [with] separation, makes the sound much better. So it doesn’t bleed.” He recalls an earlier Blue Note recording session in Englewood, possibly in 1962, that he was part of during his time with Stanley Turrentine: “It was Butch Warren on bass, Kenny Burrell, Tommy and Stanley Turrentine, and Herbie Hancock was on the piano. And [Stanley] had in his mind what he wanted to do, and I think Alfred [Lion, the producer,] wanted him to do something else. And it got to the point that he was bugging Stanley, and Stanley said, ‘Stop! That’s it.’ He said, ‘Stop,’ period. We stopped recording. ‘Stop. Pack up. We leaving.’” Apparently, Turrentine and Lion weren’t seeing eye-to-eye as to the direction of this session, which would unfortunately be scrapped. “I think about that, the first time I’d ever been in company with Herbie Hancock. I wish I could go back, man, to find whatever that [recording] was. Wouldn’t that be something,” he wonders. When he met Leonard Feather, whom the New York Times called “the dean of American jazz critics,” Feather interviewed Roger for one of his jazz encyclopedias. Concerning the time when he met Feather and others who are now often historically discussed, Roger reflects, “Meeting all these people, different people, they were just normal people to me, you know… He was a nice person.”

During his years in the 1960s as one of Silver’s stars, Humphries was able to tour the States, playing clubs like Birdland, the Village Gate, and the Apollo in NYC, the It Club and Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Los Angeles, the Plugged Nickel in Chi-Town, the Music Workshop in Boston, among many others. He played with the band at jazz festivals like Monterey, as well as gigs in the U.K. and Europe. Speaking of Birdland, he recalls the stage, “There’d be John Coltrane, then they’d take a break then we’d go up and play. Then Stan Getz [would go up and play].” There was a recording at Pep’s Showbar in Philly from 1964, but it was shelved by Blue Note. Another private, limited release on the now-defunct Emerald label, distributed only by Horace in the 1980s, is the 1990 CD The Natives Are Restless Tonight, which culls some tunes from an Alan Grant radio-broadcast performance by the quintet at the Half Note in New York in 1966. There’s a more recently released, expanded, and possibly bootlegged, recording of the broadcast Half Note gigs on Hi Hat. When Down Beat “New Star” critics’ poll winner Carmell Jones left the quintet to record his Prestige debut, Jay Hawk Talk, in 1965, before Jones moved to Germany for years, he recruited Humphries on drums, about whom the liner notes stated: “This man, still in his early twenties, displays a musical maturity far beyond his years with the taste he exhibits in presenting his strong beat.” Saxophonist Jimmy Heath, pianist Barry Harris, and bassist George Tucker joined Jones and Humphries on this session, definitely worth a listen or a revisit.

There was only one minor confrontation between Humphries and Silver back then, according to Willard Jenkins’ piece in Jazz Times, in which Roger reported with a laugh: “I remember one time we were playing a tune, I thought I was right, and I was saying, ‘Hey, man, what’s happened to the tempo?’ [Horace] looked at me and said, ‘Man, you messed up the tempo!’ The drummer is gonna get blamed, no matter how hard you try!” Overall, Humphries very much appreciates his time spent with the pianist and composer Silver. “Man, my time with Horace, it was beautiful,” he tells me as we sit at the table in his basement, nodding his head fondly in memory. “Horace was like a big brother to me… I got under his wing, man. [He] exposed me to a lot of things, a lot of people.” The great hard-bop innovator and pianist Horace Silver passed away in 2014.

After the departure of Joe Henderson and Jones, it was time for Humphries to move on, as he told Paul Wells, “It was time for us to start doing our own thing. It was nothing personal. After I left, I realized [Horace] was teaching me to be a bandleader.” After the Silver years of tours and albums, he returned briefly to Pittsburgh and started to play with musicians who were coming through the city. He married his love, Regina, and started a family that would include four kids, eventually. According to Kevin Kirkland’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Roger “was on a scaffold doing construction with his brother Norman when Edgar Willis, longtime bassist with Ray Charles, asked him to come Downtown to the Roosevelt Hotel to audition.” Willis, a Pittsburgh native who’d also played with Sonny Stitt, had suggested Humphries to Charles. A fan of Ray’s music, Humphries says the hotel was on Sixth Street and the audition was in the ballroom. When he walked in for the audition, the music book was plopped in front of him; he looked at it, and he had to tell Ray that he didn’t know how to read music (at the time). According to Humphries, “Ray said, ‘Close that book up.’ That’s what Ray said. ‘Close that book up.’ He started playing the blues. Then he did another number. I followed him on that. He did another number, and he said, ‘Okay. That’s it.’ Two weeks later, man, I get the phone call, ‘Come and fly [to Chicago].’ I got the gig!” Roger fit like a glove, and learned to time the music to how Ray would do his signature upper-body lean when playing songs like “Georgia On My Mind.” Roger describes it: “The way he’s leaning, ‘Georgia,’ and then he’d lean back again, ‘Georgia.’ Then he’d start giving you the pulse, the tempo, you know. Then also the bandleader would kind of direct, but Ray Charles was in charge of that, you know. You’d follow him, and the bandleaders follow him.”

So in 1968, Roger toured the U.S. and Europe with Ray Charles and his big band in many performances. They performed on the afternoon segment of July 7 of that year at the Newport Jazz Festival, which, according to the July 20, 1968, edition of Billboard, “attracted 8,000 [fans], making it the largest afternoon crowd of any Newport Festival” up till that time in history. Of note, other performers for the weekend festival included: Gary Burton, Dionne Warwick, Mongo Santamaria, Nina Simone, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, among others. Another highlight that same July, they played a two-week engagement at the Ambassador Hotel’s famous Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Film footage, available on YouTube at the time of this writing, exists of Ray and his big band doing soulful versions of “Yesterday” and “The Sun Died” at the Salle Pleyel shows in Paris in October 1968. Roger is at the drums just behind Ray. There’s another video clip from one of the Paris shows where Ray does a version of his classic “What’d I Say” and is joined by the Raelettes. These clips are worth a watch and a listen, if they haven’t been pulled already. On a refreshing side note, Roger mentions that back then Ray and the band performed a song for a cola commercial with none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

When I ask Roger about the aforementioned photo of the bass-drum head that’s hanging on his basement wall, the one that has Ray’s visage painted on it—the one with the hole in it—he says, “Ray gave that to me.” We share a laugh as he tells me that during a performance with Ray and his band, Roger had played so hard he had punched a hole in the rear bass-drum head and had to switch the front head to the back and then punched a hole in that one too!

Beyond gaining big-band musical experience from Ray Charles, Humphries says Ray taught him the business side, as in other avenues with which to make money. Ray owned real estate and he suggested to Roger that he buy real estate, too, advice that he and his wife heeded. “People don’t know about musicians,” says Humphries. “They have another life that they do besides just playing music. Because music is your passion. But sometimes, you gotta get into the business world.” He toured with Ray for a year.

Humphries eventually realized he wanted to be near his family and get to know his kids, so he moved back to Pittsburgh, realizing that he could help raise his family and do gigs in the Pittsburgh area once again. He played on saxophonist Nathan Davis’s album Makatuka, recorded at the WRS studios in Pittsburgh with local musicians and released on Seguéin 1971. Davis had returned from working as a jazz musician in Europe and was spearheading a new program for jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. [Sad news: Dr. Nathan Davis, who personally inspired this writer, passed away in April.] When I show Humphries a copy of the album, he says with a smile, “Boy, that’s taking me back a long ways.” While he of course remembers Nathan Davis and other musicians like his friend Nelson Harrison on the session, he unfortunately doesn’t have a recollection of the session itself. The title track, “Makatuka,” in 7/8, is a personal favorite of mine, with Roger’s detailed cymbal work, toms, and drum rolls boiling under a dark bass groove by Mike Taylor on acoustic and Virgil Waters on electric, layered with keys by Joe Kennedy on piano and Don DePaolis on electric piano, and looming overhead are the film noir sounds of Nelson Harrison’s trombone and Davis’s sax, which build until trilling into a storm cloud.Some of the names, including Roger’s first name, are misspelled on the album, but this something that happens fairly often in the hurried world of recordings, liner notes, and credits.

Next, Humphries formed his own band, RH Factor, in 1972, a group which still performs today. In fact, the sharp-dressed drummer sometimes wears a gold medallion with initials “R. H.” on it in honor of this band. He hit the road again around 1980, playing with B-3 man Richard “Groove” Holmes. On Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson’s In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 1980on Black & Blue, Roger is mis-credited as “Roger Lee Humphrey.” Holmes, Humphries, and guitarist Steve Giordano appear on this fun live date, recorded in France. He later played drums on an album by the late guitarist Jimmy Ponder and on a Dwayne Dolphin album. He’s released several solo albums, and started the Roger Humphries Big Band in ’96, where he incorporates band-leading skills garnered from Silver and Ray Charles. He says he likes all different sizes of bands from the trio on up to the big-band format: “I need all of them, because they satisfy my taste buds.” He’s played venues all over the city like the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, City of Asylum, the Billy Strayhorn Theater, Dowe’s on Ninth, Graffiti Showcase, outdoor concerts like the Reservoir of Jazz, and the list could go on. Many legendary jazz clubs where he cut his teeth, such as the Crawford Grill and the Hurricane, closed long ago, the latter of which when a large swath of the Hill District was razed for a public sports arena (now razed too). Though we hadn’t met yet at the time, we reminisce over a show from back in 1995 at the now-defunct Balcony, where he used to play with saxophonist Kenny Blake, at which there was not one Hammond B-3 organ player, not two, not three, but four: Jack McDuff, Papa DeFrancesco, Joey DeFrancesco, and Gene Ludwig all played the beast the same night!

The now silver-haired drummer is, and has basically been for decades, a jazz-incubating institution, a beacon. And here’s how. He taught and inspired scores of students at the aforementioned CAPA school. Musicians like Tom Wendt, James Johnson III, Paul Thompson, Richie Goods, Billy Porter, and Paul Wells attended CAPA. For years, according to the New Pittsburgh Courier, he’s helmed an annual jazz cruise on Pittsburgh’s rivers that raises funds for his scholarship for music students. And maybe most importantly for the legacy of jazz, he’s run local jams at various Pittsburgh clubs for decades. These have included the Too Sweet Lounge, the Club Café, the James St. Tavern (which later became the James St. Gastropub and Speakeasy), CJ’s in the Strip, and now, since clubs come and go, at the upscale Savoy. At the jams, he usually features seasoned and newer members of RH Factor, like bassist Dwayne Dolphin, saxophonist Lou Stellute, pianist Max Leake, and trumpeter Ron Horton or James Moore, then he has guest musicians step up onstage, like Humphries’ Big Band saxophonist Tony Campbell, drummer Tom Wendt, trombonist Nelson Harrison, trumpeter Sean Jones, bassist Tony DePaolis, keysman Howie Alexander, and conguero George Jones. (This is by no means all-inclusive. The list is long.) Then he mixes in some students and up-and-comers—serious attempts only, as Roger has been known to say, “This ain’t no Gong Show”—for a song or two, so they get some stage time. That way, the knowledge is passed onward, the subject of which was featured in Billy Jackson’s film documentary about Roger called Pass It On. His sense of humor pokes through when he says things like, “All roads lead to ‘Nutville.’” It’s great to see Roger and his fellow musicians doing renditions of Horace Silver classics, Blue Note material, Freddie Hubbard tunes, and various hard-bop and straightahead classics, as well as Humphries’ own material like “Regina.” He did a Ray Charles tribute last summer, which I’m still kicking myself for missing. His drumming is still propulsive, yet tasteful, with a perfect sense of tone, appropriate texture, and a mastery of dynamics, with each aspect adapted to each song—elements missing from much music today.

In 2008, bassist Christian McBride, then serving as creative chair of jazz music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was curating a Horace Silver tribute concert in L.A. in which Silver would be honored as a spectator, as he didn’t play anymore. The list of musicians included Cedar Walton, who would fill in for Silver, Charles Tolliver, Randy Brecker, Bennie Maupin, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, George Coleman, Andy Bey, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. “But,” according to NPR, “there was one musician that McBride was determined to add to the evening’s lineup: drummer Roger Humphries. McBride says he had to track him down. ‘Roger Humphries has been such a legendary underworld figure for so many years,’ McBride says. ‘I mean, he’s one of those kind of guys where he sounded so great on all those Horace Silver records… So it was time for him to make his comeback on the national scene. So Roger came in and just sounded so good, sounded so good—I was really honored to play with him.”

In Roger’s basement, I notice a photo of him standing with one Art Blakey, who is smiling. I scan back to the wall with the Ray Charles drum-head with the hole in it. I also can’t help but notice some drum kits on the floor. I think he still has the Slingerland, but nowadays he says he mostly plays a DW with a big bass drum. For sticks, he uses size 7A, and brushes “if the tune calls for it.” Whatever he uses, as he’s hesitant to make any endorsements, he makes it shine and sound like him. “I just grab a stick,” he says, gesturing to the yard outside. “You could take it from the tree and trim it back [and I’d play with it],” he jokes.

On a more serious note, when I ask Roger “Dad” Humphries to reflect upon the future of jazz, he responds in a calm and patient tone, “Well, the thing about jazzis this. Jazz, in my opinion, will never die, because it’s art. It’s an art form—art doesn’t die.”

09/27/18 New Releases

Philadelphia-based collective Killiam Shakespeare teams with DJ Jazzy Jeff for “Crispus Attucks”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare

Killiam Shakespeare

Killiam Shakespeare is a Philadelphia-based collective headed by Corey Bernhard and Steve McKie. Both musicians have been cutting their chops for years, working with soul and R&B artists like Jill Scott, Bilal, Estelle, and Sy Smith. Their album A Town Called Elsewhere will be released on November 2, and today, they drop the first single for the song “Crispus Attucks,” which features the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff on the cuts.

 

 

A Town Called Elsewhere is mostly an instrumental opus, with each track blending into the other. Hard-hitting beats through programming and live instrumentation, the album blends hip-hop and electronic music with a unique musical sensibility from their jazz training and their experience working with other musicians onstage and in the studio. The vocal tracks are meticulously placed in the album sequencing to further help the storytelling aspect of the album, with additional features from Bilal, Chris Turner, and Amber Navran.

A Town Called Elsewhere is out November 2. Pre-order the album today.

09/27/18 New Releases

Detroit producer/MC Illingsworth dives deep into his imaginary world of “Greens”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare
Illingsworth Photo by Christian Najjar.

Photo by Christian Najjar.

 

As Detroit’s own Illingsworth prepares to release his You’re No Fun album tomorrow via Mello Music Group, we premiere his new animated video for the song “Greens.” The producer/MC’s 2016 Worth the Wait instrumental album solidified Illingsworth as a must-watch within Detroit’s new generation of beat makers.

You’re No Fun expands upon his previous releases, this time with the help of vocal features from Open Mike Eagle and Denmark Vessey. Illingsworth also impresses on the vocal tip with his disjointed raps that mesh perfectly with his own production.

 

 

The music video for “Greens” was directed/animated/edited by Josh Mulligan. Dive into the video and let “Greens” take you into an imaginary world that is both playful and adventurous, while also full of roadblocks and challenges.

Cop your copy of You’re No Fun out tomorrow via Mello Music Group.

And stream the entire album today via Bandcamp, one day ahead of release day:

 

09/24/18 Mixtape

De La Soul Buhloone Mindstate 25th Anniversary Mixtape

Mixed by Chris Read for Wax Poetics & WhoSampled

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare

De La Soul‘s third studio album ‘Buhloone Mindstate’ was released on 21st September 1993 and provided another step change in the celebrated band’s constant evolution. As the group’s last album produced by long time production partner Prince Paul, the LP was no less musically ambitious than previous efforts. Sample material, as before, touches on Soul, Funk, Rock & Jazz, this time with the incorporation of some guest vocalists and notably live instrumentation from jazz/funk legends and frequent James Brown collaborators Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. The result is an album that, even if not their best selling, certainly stands up to its critical acclaim 25 years after release. “It might blow up, but it won’t go pop” as the album’s mantra states.

In celebration of the album’s 25th anniversary we’re pleased to present in collaboration with Who Sampled this exclusive mixtape of album cuts, remixes, interview snippets and of course original sample material, mixed by Chris Read.

Artwork: Leon Nockolds

Tracklist:

1. De La Soul – Ego Trippin (Part Two) (L.A Jay Remix Instrumental)
2. Chris Read – Theme #3 (Scratchapella)
3. Johnnie Taylor – Love In The Streets (Ain’t Good As Love At Home) (sampled in ‘3 Days Later’)
4. Maseo Interview Extract
5. Five Stairsteps – Don’t Change Your Love [Loop] (sampled in ‘3 Days Later’)
6. De La Soul – 3 Days Later
7. Lou Donaldson – Hot Dog (sampled in ‘3 Days Later’)
8. Parliament – Come Out In The Rain [Loop] (sampled in ‘Paul’s Revenge’)
9. De La Soul – ‘Paul’s Revenge’
10. Grandmaster & The Furious Five – Flash It To The Beat (sampled in ‘Stone Age’)
11. De La Soul feat Biz Markie – Stone Age
12. Jackie Robinson – Pussyfooter [Extract] (sampled in ‘Stone Age’)
13. Public Enemy – B Side Wins Again [Extract] (sampled in ‘Stone Age’)
14. Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution [Loop] (sampled in ‘Stone Age’)
15. The Outlaw Blues Band – Deep Gully (sampled in ‘Intro’)
16. De La Soul – Intro
16. Lou Rawls – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (sampled in ‘I Be Blowin’)
17. Maseo Interview Extract
18. De La Soul feat Maceo Parker – I Be Blowin
19. De La Soul – I Am I Be
20. Jeff Beck – Come Dancing (sampled in ‘Area’)
21. Spoonie Gee & The Treacherous Three – New Rap Language [Extract] (sampled in ‘Area’)
22. De La Soul – Area
23. Lonnie Smith – Spinning Wheel (sampled in ‘In The Woods’)
24. De La Soul feat Shortie No Mass – In The Woods
25. De La Soul – Dave Has A Problem… Seriously
26. Michael Jackson – I Can’t Help It (sampled in ‘Breakadawn’)
27. Bar Kays – Sang and Dance [Extract] (sampled in ‘Breakadawn’)
28. Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can [Loop] (sampled in ‘Breakadawn’)
29. De La Soul – Breakadawn
30. Smokey Robinson – A Quiet Storm (sampled in ‘Breakadawn’)
31. Al Hirt – Harlem Hendoo (sampled in ‘Ego Trippin’ (Part Two))
32. De La Soul – Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)
33. De La Soul – Eye Patch
34. De La Soul & Guru feat Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis – Patti Dooke
35. De La Soul feat Scha Dara Parr & Takagi Kan – Long Island Wildin’
36. Duke Pearson – Ground Hog (sampled in Long Island Wildin’)

09/11/18 Articles

The Mac Miller Interview

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare

Photos by Robert Adam Mayer.

 

Originally published in Wax Poetics Issue 56, 2013.

Mac Miller (real name Malcolm James McCormick) called while he was in the middle of eating a cup of Easy Mac, leaving him wide open for an obvious stab at his former persona. After all, the young rap aficionado started his career with the name “EZ Mac” at the ripe age of fifteen.

“Hello, this is Mac Miller. I’m calling for an interview with Kyle.”

“This is she.”

[silence]

“No offense, this isn’t like a sexist thing, but I thought maybe you were a secretary, so I tried to be very professional. Didn’t I sound professional?” He chuckles. “I was like, ‘Hello. This is Mac Miller calling in for an interview with Kyle.’ ”

Meet Mac. There’s a slight undertone in his voice that seems to channel Eddie Haskell or Dennis the Menace. From a twenty-one-year-old male, who just happens to be a multimillionaire, this is to be expected.
Over the past few years, Miller has become more of a household name. His show, Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family, is one of the highest-rated shows in MTV2 history and was recently picked up for a second season. His debut album on Rostrum Records, 2011’s Blue Slide Park, shattered expectations when it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and sold over 144,000 copies in its first week. Since then, he’s been riding the wave of superstardom and enjoying every single second of it.

Miller says there’s a misconception that he grew up in the wealthy suburbs, but that he actually lived on the east side of Pittsburgh in the Point Breeze area, which is actually in the city, he explains. Growing up, there was never any doubt Miller was musically gifted. At the age of six, he taught himself how to play piano, drums, bass, and guitar. His older brother was getting into hip-hop in the mid-’90s, and soon little Mac was pilfering his albums.

“The Beastie Boys were like my first people. I guess for a lot of White kids, maybe their first rappers are Eminem or other White rappers, but the first rap album I got was OutKast’s Aquemini. I stole it off my brother,” he confesses. “My brother did go through this one phase where he was a huge Ja Rule and DMX fan. He used to have this sleeveless Ja Rule shirt. It was pretty awesome.”

Throughout the conversation, he mentions the word “White” like it’s a four-letter word. Whether it’s a subconscious insecurity or something he’s simply used to dealing with in the press, he’s quick to point out that his race really never entered his mind when trying to pursue a rap career.

“When I was fifteen, I realized the fact that there were not a lot of White rappers out there, but I tried not to think about it as much as possible because everybody else was thinking about it,” he says. “To me, I just really enjoyed writing and I enjoyed rapping. I fell in love with writing verses. I had this dresser in my basement, and it was filled with so many verses, it was ridiculous. My first raps were big-word-only raps like, ‘The article barnacle anticartigal [sic] phenomenal Geronimo.’ ”

Whatever that means, it was the first sign of an unquenchable thirst for rhyming. Miller attended Winchester Thurston School (a private prep school) and Taylor Allderdice High School (public) in Pittsburgh. He became less enthralled with school and more obsessed with hip-hop once he realized his aim in life was to become a rapper. At first, his focus was all over the place due to his unruly lifestyle.

“I started smoking weed when I was ten,” he explains. “I started smoking cigarettes when I was eight. All of my friends were older than me. I used to be at parties in middle school. In high school, when I started rapping, I didn’t do anything else. We weren’t allowed at people’s parties anymore anyway. We used to be those assholes that would break and steal stuff. We were those guys.

“We would leave parties with iPods and things like that,” he adds. “We would start fights, too, so we weren’t allowed to come back. Instead, we would kick it in the attic, do drugs, and write raps.”

In 2007, he released his first mixtape under the moniker EZ Mac called But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy. After officially changing his name to Mac Miller in 2009, he released two more mixtapes, The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown and The High Life, which caught the attention of Rostrum Records.

“Obviously, the one thing you hear about the music industry is that it’s slimy and don’t trust anyone, yadda yadda yadda, but being from Pittsburgh, Rostrum was like the gatekeeper,” he says. “They had the connects. When we started getting offers from people, I used to bring it to them. They would say, ‘I don’t think it’s tight, or I don’t think it’s a good one.’ I didn’t feel comfortable working with people I didn’t know. I had known them for three years before we even worked together. When I was about to put out K.I.D.S., Benjy [Grinberg, founder of Rostrum] heard it and they wanted to sign me.”

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.

 

For most teenagers, this would seem like an appropriate time to explode with anticipation, but Miller was practically unfazed. For him, this was always the plan and how his life was supposed to go.

“I wasn’t really set up to go to college,” he says. “So my goal was to make rapping a profession for real so I could make money and survive. By the time I was seventeen, I started to get a little buzz, so I barely went to school. My teachers were pretty cool though. They didn’t trip on me too much. At my school, you could basically choose if you wanted to learn or not. Senior year, I had an apartment right across the street from school. I would go to class sometimes, sometimes not. I barely finished at the end. I was pretty intelligent, so I was okay just getting by with the bare minimum.”

With his high school diploma firmly in hand, Miller was now free to devote all of his time to his career. Along with Grinberg and Rostrum vice president Arthur Pitt, he had a solid strategy for how to execute his first official full-length. So when Blue Slide Park dropped on November 8, 2011, the chaos that ensued was anticipated. It was the first independently distributed debut album to top the charts since Tha Dogg Pound’s 1995 release, Dogg Food. Again, Miller stayed grounded. In fact, he was just happy he finally had proof he wasn’t all Internet hype.

“The whole thing was, ‘Oh, Mac Miller is just some Internet White kid. He has YouTube views, but he can’t sell albums.’ I wanted to have an independent number one album; that’s what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “So we put a good plan of attack together and we did it. When it happened, I was excited and everything, but that’s what I set out to do.

“We knew everything else we were doing had been promotion for the album,” he continues. “All my mixtapes were promotion for my album. I had singles that weren’t on the album that were selling a lot. A lot of kids liked me because I was the underdog. I wasn’t rapping about being rich. I was just like one of you guys that liked to make music. So I think they kind of just supported me because it was direct from me to the fan, so they went out and bought like nine or ten albums. They knew that I needed it. I didn’t have big business. I didn’t have the funding.”

He has support from his musical peers too. Stephen Bruner, otherwise known as Thundercat, has known Miller for a little over a year, and they’ve both been collaborating with producer Flying Lotus, who produced the lead single “S.D.S.” on Mac’s current album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off. Bruner naturally gravitated towards Miller during a chance encounter and discovered Mac had been playing secret jazz shows in L.A. at Don Randi’s famed jazz club, the Baked Potato, under his pseudonym, Larry Lovestein.

“I could immediately feel that connection with Mac,” Bruner says. “He has a very jazz-orientated mind, so I could sense that from the beginning. Mac is one of the tightest rappers I know and just an all-around cat. He’s very lively and has so much character. He’s like one of the Little Rascals. All he has to do is not get anybody pregnant and he’ll be all right,” Bruner says with a laugh.

“With a guy like Mac,” he continues, “you honestly don’t know what he’ll do next—it’s like Tyler, the Creator. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.”

No one could predict what followed. Things weren’t as simple as they appeared on the surface. He released his seventh mixtape in 2012 called Macadelic. While on tour in support of the album, Miller experienced a bout with substance abuse that had many of his close friends and family members concerned. He became addicted to a mixture of promethazine and codeine, otherwise known as “purple drank” or “lean.” He put on thirty pounds and was pushing two hundred. “I was really fat,” he says with a laugh. Thankfully, it was short-lived and he quit in November 2012, shortly before MTV2 began shooting his reality show.

“When you’re young and you have a bunch of shit going on, it’s nice to take a vacation,” he says. “That was just my version of a nice vacation. I was zombified and not worried about anybody else. It was kind of nice, but it grew to the point where my friends didn’t know what to say to me anymore. I would just be locked away in my studio. I was gaining a lot of weight. I could just feel that I was very unhealthy. At a certain point, I got sick of the closest people in my life thinking I’m a piece of shit. Everyone thought I was super addicted to it. So I just stopped. It wasn’t like this huge battle.

“No one thought I would beat it,” Mac continues. “One day, two of my friends from Pittsburgh came over. I was in L.A. They were just looking at me, disgusted. They came for a week to work, and they obviously didn’t want to work with me while I was all on drugs. So I didn’t do any drugs when they were here, and I just started feeling better. So I just decided to put it down.”

Miller bounced back and forged ahead with his rap mission. He started eating healthy and working out three times a week. He worked even harder on his latest album, which dropped in June 2013. Miller and the rest of Rostrum are still heavily on the independent grind, pushing the album. The new record delivers more introspective lyrics and concrete production work with high-profile producers like FlyLo, Clams Casino, Earl Sweatshirt, Alchemist, and the ubiquitous Pharrell (while Diplo and Tyler, the Creator contributed the bonus tracks, and Mac himself did a handful of tracks under his pseudonym Larry Fisherman). A few rappers make notable appearances as well—artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Jay Electronica, and Tyler, the Creator. This fresh group of collaborators could quite possibly give him more credibility within the hip-hop community, especially for those who initially dismissed him as just an “Internet White kid.”

“It just happened naturally,” he says of the collaborations. “I didn’t go out of the way and be like, ‘Yo, I need to work with Flying Lotus and Earl Sweatshirt because that’s going to be make me cool.’ It was just the actual mutual interest in every aspect of music and that we all like the same style of shit.”

“A lot of times, he can match [clothes] better,” a highly caffeinated Earl Sweatshirt jokes. “I also like his facial hair. I know he hasn’t showered in a minute. No, he’s a sweetheart. It was easy making the record with Mac because he’s my friend. It didn’t have to be some drawn-out process to do music. It was like, once we giggled enough, we could sit down and do music. He’s a genius.”

Lyrically, it seems that Mac Miller is exploring who he is, but not all his lyrics truly reflect who he is as a whole. When he speaks, he seems genuine and thoughtful. He’s goofy. He laughs easily. Behind all of the tattoos, there’s a sense maybe he’s just a kid who is still trying to figure it all out.

“I think everything happening right now is just me getting more comfortable with being myself and not having a brand,” he says. “I’m trying to get rid of the idea of even having a brand.”

As he wrestles with shedding the adolescent, “frat boy” image, working on becoming a more mature man, plenty of evidence of this dichotomy is found throughout the album. He often seems introspective and heartfelt, speaking philosophically about life, fame, love, lost relationships, and the death of a close friend; the next moment, he is immature and hollow, treading well-worn roads of rap misogyny and raunch.
“I think that’s the beauty of music,” he explains (while eating a pretzel). “It can be whatever you want it to be. There are going to be people that dissect the album and they may find some things in there, or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not as clever as I think I am. I thought the beauty of it was you can just enjoy it at face value, but if you get into it, there’s definitely some shit in there.”

Watching Movies with the Sound Off is another step in the evolution of Mac Miller, who has really just begun his young career. But at this moment, Miller is content being a twenty-one-year-old rapper living the dream. He has the nice house. He has the expensive car. He has two studios. He was recently rated number nineteen on Forbes’ “Hip-Hop’s 20 Top Earners” list. He made over six million dollars last year, which is more than most people earn in a lifetime. However, the most incredible thing about Mac Miller isn’t that he’s hit all of these milestones before the age of twenty-five; it’s that he did it all independently. Billboard called him “a new blueprint of success,” while Forbes questioned if he was “indie music’s savior.” He didn’t get here by mistreating people along the way or making foolish choices. He flooded the Internet with his work, found the right people, and got his hustle on. It’s paying off.

“Having money allowed me to have a house where I have fun making music all day. The Forbes thing—I mean, it was dope, but every now and then, I like to be abstract, conceptual, and spiritual. It’s the complexities of dualities,” he says. “Sometimes, you want to be like, ‘Yeah, bitch, what’s up?’ It feels good every now and then. Back then, when I sought after that type of success, it was my way to tell everyone who saw me as this little White kid that was never going to make it as a rapper—well, I’m on that Forbes list. I thought that would make me feel super good to put it in everyone’s face and put in my own face. It really shows who somebody is by how they act when they get a lot of money. If you ask anyone around, I hope they would say I don’t carry that attitude. Someone said I had that rich-person glow,” he says, laughing. Personally, I like to carry myself as the brokest rich dude you’ve ever known. Like, if you come to my house, all I use is plastic silverware. I’m not on some high-fashion shit, buying $500 T-shirts.

“I’ve seen people come out the gate and have an ego, like, ‘I’m the shit,’ and they are brushing people off. Then they get a wake-up call one day when the person that they shit on is the person that’s in charge of something they need; like they tried to interview you in the beginning and you made them feel like an idiot, but now they’re the editor of a magazine. They’re going to be like, ‘Fuck this dude.’ So to me, it’s like, why shit on people because of some type of current position that is described by society as greater than or less than? All of that shit changes. The future president of the United States may be a five-year-old kid who can’t do the dishes. I mean, who cares?”

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.

08/31/18 Mixtape

Steppin’ Heavy Mix Series #3: Random Rap

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmailShare

For the third instalment of the Steppin’ Heavy Mix Series, Wax Poetics are honoured to present Induce’s immense “Random Rap” mixtape. Keeping with the all vinyl and original pressings only remit, Induce has gone in curating a mix of rare and hard-to-find “Random Rap” gems.

Induce’s track by track breakdown:

1. Blue Black – Bon Vi / Bon Vi Remix (Gangrene) 1995

Given the name of the mix series, I had to start off heavy and this rare holy grail 12” from the front man of Unspoken Heard is just more of that classic mid 90’s jazzy style Unspoken Heard were known for. I found a stack of these a few years back and had no idea what they were until I put it on the turntable and was happily surprised. 

 

2. Diffarent Kombonation – International (Infin-T Entertainment) 1996

Not a very hard to find record from these DC natives, but I like the vibe and how the heavy drums come in for the verses. A bit of Hieroglyphics crew vibe, especially on the production side.

 

3. Slum Brothers – The Sure Shot (Suicide Records) 1995

I always liked this first single from the duo from the Bronx called the Slum Brothers. More mid-90’s jazzy vibes in the vein of Jay Dee. 

4. The Supa Friendz – So Fresh Remix (Unsigned Wreckordings) 1996

Another hard to find gem from the Supa Friendz crew consisting of Mad Skillz, Danja Mouf, Lonnie B and others. Staying with the jazzy style of the time, the supergroup trade verses Scenario style to great effect. 

5. Nightbreed – Long Time Coming (Fortress Entertainment) 1998

6. Nightbreed – 2 Roads Out The Ghetto (Fortress Entertainment) 1998

Woooo, another Random Rap holy grail 12” produced by Charlemagne (not tha god) with heavy, dark vibes in the vein of Mobb Deep “Hell On Earth” LP. Consisting of Ka of Natural Elements and Kev, this was their sole release and I couldn’t help but put both songs because they’re so good. Would be great to see if they had more stuff lying around unreleased. 

7. Showtime – Sweet Sixteen (Kimante Records) 1999

This is a record I discovered a few years back that didn’t even exist on Discogs until I added it and not a ton of information on these guys is available, although in my research I found an amazing blog post deep in the internet from producer Applejac on his personal blog, so I’ll break it down here to hopefully shine some light on these guys and this solid record. 

Showtime was a duo from Atlanta/Decatur comprised of producer Applejac and his cousin Big Dippa, who formed the group on a whim and a dream. During the sessions for what would become their first single, Applejac whipped up the beat for “Sweet Sixteen” and imagined it as a posse cut with fellow Decatur rappers Second Kings, and Tense aka Maccstyles, who eventually would form The Eastern Bloc collective. They ended up putting out a couple more releases and collaborated with Lone Catalysts, but the group fell apart once life started getting in the way. Anyway, I really like the vibe and their endearing everyman flows. 

8. Street Platoon – Mean Streets (Not On Label) 2001

The first release from Los Angeles’ Street Platoon, who have ties to Psycho Realm and very much share a similar dark DJ Muggs/Wu Tang sound spin this tale of street life with wonderful lyrical detail.

 

9. Brown Sirround (aka Djinji Brown) – The Set Up ft. Snake & Kali (Leftshoo Records) 1998

Gotta give a shout out to my man Djinji Brown for this one. Best known for producing Supanatural’s “Buddah Blessed It”, Djinji Brown moved mostly behind the scenes of hip hop and eventually would make a transition into house music, releasing records on afro house legend Osunlade’s own label Yoruba Records. Although this release under his alias Brown Sirround from 1998 is pure underground Indie Hip Hop flames. Not a terribly hard record to find, but heavy on quality nonetheless. 

 

10. Now Born Click – Now Born Soldiers Remix (StepSun Music) 1995

The Staten Island crew Now Born Click aka New Born Click represent Shaolin to the fullest, with their Rza style production and flows/vocals reminiscent of Onyx or just the general ruggedness of the time. They may or may not actually be Wu-Tang Affiliates, but the song is so dope, so I mean, does it even matter?

11. Mister Voodoo – Lyrical Tactics (Fortress Entertainment) 1996

Another Charlemagne production and founding member of Natural Elements along with Ka from the earlier Nightbreed tracks, this 12” sits on the high end of the rack and I feel with time might keep getting pricier. Out of all the tracks on this mix, I have the most connection to this one. When I was in high school in Miami, the college radio station at UM had a show called the Hip Hop Shop hosted by Darnella. I cannot overstate the importance of Darnella and her selections’ influence on the hip hop scene in Miami, she educated a whole generation. This was a Hip Hop Shop staple when it came out and it still bangs. 

12. Hi-Lo – Rock On / Rock On Remix (Noizemaker Records) 1995

Probably the holiest of holy grails on this mix, this obscure one and only 12” from Virginia’s Hi-Lo is quintessential mid 90’s style hip hop. Using a similar sample to Common’s “I Used To Love Her” run through the SP-1200 sampler, Hi-Lo provide the vibes. Not much else is known about these guys either. Would love to hear more or hear their story. 

13. Ram Squad – Shisty ft. Bahamadia (White Label)

And on the opposite end of the wallet breakers, this white label is a pretty easy one to find, but the rare Bahamadia appearance with her Philly associates on the B-side was the main draw for me. Classic Philly flows and vibe. 

 

14. M.M.O. – Freeze! (Echo International) 2000

More Wu-Tang affiliates, although this time it’s for sure, if not just as distantly related. Made up of Itchy Fingas Sha and Trigg-Nomm, MMO put out a few singles in the early 2000’s, eventually disappeared for a while, released a second LP in 2008, only to vanish again.  

15. Cool Lee Rock – Step To Me (L. Brown Records) 1989

Along with the Deva-B track later in the mix, this is one of the oldest cuts on the mix. The term Random Rap generally describes very obscure releases from the 90’s to the early 2000’s, as Hip Hop was still somewhat a niche genre throughout the 80’s, but even earlier on you can find some things that flew even lower on the radar than usual. This Cool Lee Rock track from 89 foregoes the minimalist drum machine style production that was JUST going out of the style for the jazzy loop style later made popular by Native Tongues and Pete Rock. With his rough NY voice and effortless flow, Cool Lee Rock could have held his own with Kool G Rap and Kool Keith but for unknown reasons disappeared into obscurity. 

  

16. East Coast Assassins – The Payback (Noar Records) 1996

Sounding like EPMD predating the previous track, this dis track is actually later 90’s and popped up in the midst of the East coast / West coast beef era. The only problem is nobody ever heard it to care. 

 

17. Deva-B – Hit Man (L. Brown Records) 1989

The B-side to the Cool Lee Rock, it may not be as good, but it still goes and I could imagine if only it was recorded by a Kane or G Rap, it might have been a bigger song. As with a lot of this stuff, Deva never put out another record and there’s not a ton of info on him. 

18. Lord The Arkitect – Listen Closely (Worldwide pt. 2) ft. Mic Geronimo & Royal Flush (Bottumz Up Entertainment) 1998

Basically I’ll listen to anything if Royal Flush is on it. While the b-side has production by Large Professor, it’s this joint with the classic Gwen McCrae sample and Mic Geronimo that pulled me in. Too bad Lord hit it and quit it, only ever putting out this one release. 

19. Lifers Group – Real Deal (DJ Shadow Remix) (Hollywood BASIC) 1991

Ok, so this isn’t THAT obscure and maybe not even considered random rap, but the track is hard and an early DJ Shadow production. It was a rap group comprised of convicts currently incarcerated. Also of interest is the vocal sample Prince Paul used for Slick Rick’s “Behind Bars” which describes jailhouse anal rape (insert awkward emoji face)

20. Makeba & Skratch – Mama Feel Good (Nuff Said Records) 1991

And I had to end it like i started it – with a Steppin’ Heavy holy grail. This cut from the Syracuse, NY’s Makeba & Skratch LP doesn’t disappoint and is the definition of why good Random Rap records go for loot. Rarity is only part of the equation, and when a record is rare AND a banger, you got a grail on your hands. There’s no logical reason why this record wasn’t huge or why they weren’t eventually signed to a major. 

 

Stay tuned for the next mix, and find more from Induce here:

Twitter

dublab.com/induce

Instagram