Sub-genres, regional sounds, and waves might make an uninitiated listener wonder if the 6 p.m. mixshow at his or her local “Power,” “Jammin’” or “Hot” is playing one genre of music or 12. Still, even with all of the separate sandboxes in which the cool kids choose to play, they do sometimes find common ground. Listening to different producers’ and emcees’ disparate approaches to the same source material can often produce surprising results. What catches one producer’s ear might not make it out of a record store’s bargain bin (or more accurately, a small blog’s .rar file) for another. The beauty is that it is all still Hip-Hop.
See three completely different rappers and producers take on the “Huit Octobre” from French jazz fusion outfit, Cortex.
1. MF Doom, “One Beer”
On MF Doom’s “One Beer,” the track’s producer, Madlib, takes an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach, simply pitching up then looping the opening few bars of the sample, while intermittently mixing in a high-energy keyboard solo from later in the song. Originally used in his pairing with J Dilla on “No Games,” the hyperkinetic drum work and celestial songstress of the “Huit Octobre 1971” are like lowering the rim to eight feet for Blake Griffin. The results are unsurprisingly stellar.
Still, the most exciting aspect of the song is the villainous, metal-fingered, emcee. MM…Food was actually Doom’s first album as himself, or more confusingly accurate, as his first alter ego, since his debut album Operation Doomsday. After spending five years as a three-headed monster, half of Madvillian, and a traveling vaudeville weirdo for hire, it was good to just see him don the mask and let it rip.
And rip he did. Every part of the kitchen sink rattles around Doom’s demented brain and rolls off his tongue like the trash chute of a tenement building. He scolds emcees, has several internal conversations mid-verse, flirts with women, and somehow manages to squeeze in a Redhead Kingpin reference for good measure–all while using a highly technical multi-syllable style and sounding like he just woke up.
2. Troy Ave, “Merlot”
Seven years later, Brooklyn dope boy Troy Ave would take a decidedly different angle. Producer Sonny Dukes also knows a good loop when he hears one, but sticks to the tempo of the original and leaves it be. Troy, recognizing the breezy qualities of the instrumental, creates a testament to all things fly with “Merlot.” Ave is a capable lyricist, but his best quality is the confidence he exudes with every bar.
When he asks a new conquest “You ever chill out on a yacht/without your bikini top/getting high and smoking pot?/Me neither/I’m just on some new shit,” you believe that he’ll plant a pair of expensive shoes on the deck of that vessel sometime in the near future. The use of imagery here, paired with Troy’s charisma, is what makes “Merlot” work.
3. Wale, “Fa We We”
Speaking of work, few mainstream emcees have worked as hard to reposition themselves musically and image-wise as Wale. Starting his career as a critical darling from a previously untapped region for hip-hop, Wale’s debut didn’t exactly burn up the charts, and he spent some time in Hip-Hop post-hype purgatory. Following his brief exile, Wale teamed up with Rick Ross, dropped a Grammy-nominated radio hit, and returned to mainstream love-hate glory. Many wondered whether the DMV native sold his soul for mainstream success. Wale answered his critics, first on Twitter and then again with the release of his latest tape, Folarin. A standout track from Folarin is the freewheeling “Fa We We.”
Producers’ Digi+Phonics’s reworking of the original jazzy number focuses on the vocals, and adds new drums and keys. Wale’s intensely clever lines hearken back to “Please Listen” from his well-regarded 100 Miles & Running mixtape. What makes Wale such an easy mark for internet trolls and actual haters alike is the fact that he cares so much. Since the internal struggle between newly successful Wale and hip-hop purist Wale (“Try to stunt on my haters, give these young niggas hope/And with this drive I will traffic intellectual dope”) is so evident every few bars, the song makes for a fun and interesting listen.
Three emcees. Three producers. Three perspectives. No parts of this hip-hop triptych have much in common in terms of content, flow or the overall vibe–and each emcee is clearly different from one another–yet each is related simply because of the sample. These cool little iPod shuffle coincidences are the reason why I need to keep chargers everywhere I go, and why hip-hop is, in fact, alive and well.