Into the Mix
For all its reputation as an industry town, Los Angeles has long nurtured local and underground talent over the radio waves. Sure, we might be neck-deep in Clear Channel these days, but media monopolies aside, L.A. has given us everything from the old Greg Mack Attack mix shows on KDAY in the 80s to the always entertaining Fantastic 4 on KPWR. And then theres this lil program called We Came From Beyond thats been a part of the L.A. hip-hop scene for 15 years now.
Mike Nardones Beyond (Sunday 11 p.m.-2 a.m. on KXLU) has always been way out in front of hip-hops (r)evolutions, whether championing Cypress Hill before the stoners discovered them or helping break the Freestyle Fellowship out of South-Central. Nardones new We Came From Beyond Vol. 2 disc follows up on his 2001 compilation as a snapshot of the mercurial hip-hop underground, and this time he scores over a dozen exclusives from artists like the Visionaries, Medaphor and Aesop Rock.
Like almost every hip-hop compilation ever released, Beyond 2 is a mixed bag, but Nardone scores more hits than misses. Even so, J-Lives Schools In, while an excellent song from this NY rapper, is an odd choice since its been released at least twice before. Wildchilds The Justice is surprisingly cluttered, sounding like a cutting room reject from his better Secondary Protocol album, while Aloe Blaccs Not the One is a forgettable generic memo on macking.
More enticing is Planet Asia and Kut Masta Kurts supercharged Golden Age, a quick-hitting flurry of beats and verses thats one of the best songs either artist has released in ages. The unjustly overlooked Dr. Oop and his Black Love Crew get tweaked off the quirky funk of Afro Joint, while the East Coasts Vast Aire takes the stage dramatically on the unsettling Why Is the Sky Blue? Beyond 2 balances moods as well as artists, offering up moments of humor such as J-Zones smack at freeloaders, Chump Change, or People Under the Stairs harrowing tale of romance, Cholo Dad, but the set gets serious with the subtle politics of Lifesavas/ Declaimes soulful Government Cheese and Apani B. Fly MCs reflective meditation Aint What You Thought.
Of the fellow Angelenos on Beyond 2, the one conspicuously missing is Madlib, unquestionably the most prolific L.A. hip-hop artist of the last few years. This summer/fall alone, Madlib will be everywhere, producing albums with Detroits Jay Dee (known together as Jaylib) and New Yorks MF Doom (Mad Villain), but right now he has Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note.
On paper, the collaboration between Madlib and the venerable jazz imprint makes instant sense. Madlib has already crafted a sizable catalog with his neo-jazz Yesterdays New Quintet, and Blue Note gains access to a new generation of music fans through Madlibs large following. However, Blue Note already did this kind of thing and arguably better in 1996 with its remix project The New Groove. The concept was identical: Tap some of hip-hops best-known producers (Diamond D, Large Professor, Q-Tip, etc.) to dabble with a selection of Blue Notes best-known songs.
Shades of Blue often matches the caliber of The New Groove, especially Madlibs richly textured take on flutist Bobbi Humphreys Please Set Me at Ease or his disco fever remake of Donald Byrds Stepping Into Tomorrow, but much of the set is divided into two types of songs, neither particularly compelling. The first are YNQ covers, such as Horace Silvers Song for My Father or Reuben Wilsons Stormy, and these suffer from sounding like every other YNQ track Madlibs ever recorded. His repeated use of SP 1200 drum loops gives these tunes a funky but clunky feel, and his arrangements are competent but nowhere near virtuosic (not yet, at least).
If these dont do enough, the other half does too much, as Madlib uses the original Blue Note tapes in remixes of masterful songs like Ronnie Fosters Mystic Brew (Mystic Bounce) and Monk Higgins The Look of Slim (Slims Return). Madlib usually leaves the original arrangements intact and then layers on looped drum tracks and a flurry of scratches, but this mostly detracts from how sublime the initial song was. For example, cutting in yells of ho and rock the house over Bobby Hutchersons mellow masterpiece Montara is a distraction, not an addition.
Like the vast bulk of jazz/hip-hop albums that come before it, Shades of Blue generally falls short in both genres. The ambition is admirable, but the uneven execution might leave fans feeling their own shades of blue.
MIKE NARDONE | We Came From Beyond 2 (Razor & Tie)
MADLIB | Shades of Blue | (Blue Note)
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