The cover photo of this ‘mixtape’ CD reminds me of an interview in The Face with Bobby Gillespie and David Holmes of some years ago; more specifically a shot of the Primal Scream front man, wreathed in smoke, gazing vacantly off to the left in sullen boredom whilst his cigarette-baring hands flash through a dozen poses of gnarled nervous energy, like some disgruntled Kali on speed. Whether or not this more mellow cover, with Nu-Mark seemingly playing the bongos on two piles of vinyl, is a tribute to that shot or not, Hands On is based in an appreciation of old funk and eclecticism that has a lot in common with David Holmes’ mixes. In a time when most mixtapes are seen more as an opportunity for promotion and a platform for badly segued commercial exclusives than a musical form of expression, this can only be a good thing.
Anyone who’s heard Jurassic 5 on wax, or as part of their relentlessly touring existence as a staple of West Coast hip-hop over the past decade, will have a good idea of what they’re going to get out of this mix: simple yet funky analogue drums that kick, laced with unsubtle but effective basslines, boom bap piano, flourishes of brass and Asian woodwind. It’s a consistent and fun continuation of J5’s tried-and-tested formula that never quite rises to the raw, dirty heights of Holmes’s best work, but neither does it suffer from any extremes of gonzo drug sounds. It’s also the first chance we’ve had to hear a solo effort from the man who appears almost a recluse in comparison with his J5 DJ/production partner Cut Chemist, whose Brainfreeze in collaboration with DJ Shadow is a stone cold classic. For all his lack of public persona, Nu-Mark has undoubtedly been busy, as this selection includes four of his own productions and two upcoming projects whilst showcasing his seamless mixing.
Baring out the tactile nature of the title and the vinyl-eye-view, operating tables scene of Nu-Mark on the inside cover, the first half of the 23 tracks on offer wander through a tasty assortment of funk 45s and their array of warmly textured grooves before gliding via a trio of DJ Premier-produced tracks and a Beatnuts skit into his first self-produced offering, under the moniker Blendcrafters. “Melody” is a headnodder of an instrumental hip-hop club track, employing so much delay that it’s practically dance floor dub; this bodes very well for any future releases by this side project. This is followed up by the lead-off single from Chali 2Na’s forthcoming Nu-Mark-produced solo LP, and unsurprisingly the “brother with tha monster voice” carries off what’s basically a J5 track minus the other MCs effortlessly, chanted chorus included.
From here on in the mix goes truly global, taking in tracks from hip-hop crews from all over central Europe and even Australia, as well as the other stand out instrumental, the head-bob inducing “True Urban Grit” by Prophetix. Although all of the MCs perform at least adequately, I can’t help but wonder whether the initial novelty of hearing French and German MCs might not result in track-skipping over the long-term, despite some nice backing tracks. Perhaps that’s why Nu-Mark chose to add a little MF Doom into the mix before things got truly multi-lingual, in the form of his collaboration with RJD2 on the Viktor Vaughn project, “Saliva”: he’s captivatingly charismatic and universally liked, despite the fact that no-one really knows what he’s saying. Unfortunately, I don’t really want to hear what Key Kool of the Visionaries has to say in American-accented Japanese on another Nu-Mark beat, even if it is the titular “Hands On”. It just sounds like a simplistic imitation of a J5 track, chanted chorus included. Still, at least the accents of the Australian and Scottish crews entertain by themselves, not to mention the latter’s tirade on sexual favours for the ladies on the brashly amusing “68 and I Owe You One”.
After a couple of instrumentals (including a bongo solo—an “Apache” reference to accompany the cover, perhaps?) the mix then finishes on a J-Live collaboration. Sadly, this suffers from much the same understated, lovely-yet-uninteresting problem as a good deal of All of the Above; which is to say it’s good but hardly exciting, and as such constitutes something of a letdown when compared to my bombastic hopes. J-Live does, however, nail the attraction of this mix when he claims “the vibe is here”. This is a quality mix by a quality DJ that delivers a variety of flavours without ever betraying the old school vibe, and as such is more than worthy of providing a backdrop for the summer evenings to come. For true greatness, though, collaborating with someone as truly unpredictable as Bobby Gillespie would be needed.