Whatever happened to the breakbeat? Hip-hop used to have it for a backbone, but ditched it for drum machines. Drum & bass used to chop it into pieces, but discarded it for programmed beats. Even the dance genre called “breaks” has largely abandoned breakbeats in favor of thumping that sounds suspiciously like house. Sure, there are strains of d&b (“drumfunk”, “choppage”) that carry on the frenetic edits of yore, and the genre called “broken beat” occasionally uses actual breakbeats. But whatever happened to the funky drummer, the sound of human timing?
If Miami, Florida’s Induce has any say in the matter, the funky drummer isn’t going anywhere. The drums on Induce’s debut album, Cycle, aren’t the most mind-blowing (for that, try Fanu or Amon Tobin). Some of his drums are programmed or even simply looped. But what unifies the drums on this mostly instrumental hip-hop album is a realistic, human feeling that recalls sticks hitting skins, not fingers pushing buttons. Sampling a breakbeat captures not only the sound of drums, but also the ambience of the room containing them. Even if the drums are then chopped up, they retain this sonic shadow; if you cut up an old newspaper and rearrange the clippings, you still see the paper’s age. It’s this faint recollection of the past that helped make the sample-happy early ‘90s the golden era for hip-hop. Some might call it tapping into the collective unconscious; others might call it “soul”.
But this album is no ancient history book. It has real live humans playing on it—synths, flutes, handclaps, snaps, percussion, Fender Rhodes. Induce has taken these elements and combined them with samples for an organic, relaxing listen. Are you ever intimidated or fatigued by hip-hop albums with 20 tracks, 10 skits, and millions of guest appearances? There’s none of that here. The album proper is 10 tracks, beginning and ending with lovely ambient bits that reference each other. Tracks two and nine—the inside covers, if you will—are a theme and reprise. Tracks six and eight are short ambient pieces. Thus, the album really only has five separate song ideas. The brevity of presentation and depth of production make this a digestible, yet very replayable listen.
The first two proper songs, “Coltrane’s Brain (The Rebirth)” and “Call”, are the most conventional. The former has didactic samples about Miles Davis and playing jazz, and the latter has tasty flute playing. But the hits start coming with “Resuscitation”, a dreamy, yet funky number with haunting sax and disco strings. “Systematic Mechanic” follows with dark ambience over hints of breakbeats. After a minute of teasing, deep bass drops, along with neck-snapping boom-bap beats; the Large Professor would be proud. “Color Clouds Blue” is the album’s epic, with an eight-minute shoegazer hip-hop journey through lush, abstract textures. It’s a rare album that can evoke both “My Funny Valentine” and My Bloody Valentine.
The only blemish on this album is the three bonus tracks tacked on at the end. In and of themselves, they are fine (an uptempo broken beat tune, a quirky interlude, a minimal hip-hop number), but they add nothing to the album and disturb its flow. Leave us wanting more, Induce—or save those tracks for the reissue you might need later on, like a certain other hip-hop producer with likewise shadowy beginnings. Cycle is no Endtroducing…, but it’s a fine introduction.