The Fabric series is renowned for having developed a distinctive and eclectic approach to dance music in a very brief time. The first Fabric mix—Fabriclive 01, mixed by series founder James Lavelle—was only released in 2001, and yet already the series has built a strong legacy on the virtues of its wide-ranging selection of DJs, all of whom (at least those whom I’ve heard) make a point of bringing their absolute best to the metaphorical (and literal) tables. Considering the transitory nature of so much electronic music, compilations such as these serve a strong historical purpose, providing snapshots of different genres and artists at particular times in a way that individual artist albums really can’t. Short of devoting your life to trading bootleg CD-Rs of DJ sets, discs like this can be the best way of gaining historical perspective on this music we call dance.
While series like DJ Kicks and Journeys By DJ have either fallen by the wayside or faded into irregular release schedules, the Fabric series (both Fabric and Fabriclive) continue apace, turning out disc after disc of never-less-than-interesting dance music. This latest installment, mixed by Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba—AKA The Herbaliser—is something of a departure, insomuch as it switches the focus away from the traditional dance music and onto hip-hop. Of course, hip-hop and dance music have always been kissing cousins (regardless of what Eminem may say about techno listenership) so the mix serves as a timely reminder of the common heritage shared by so much of our modern beat-based music. There’s a lot here both for fans of big funky beats and fans of forward-thinking hip-hop, and here’s hoping that the disc finds an audience on both sides of the aisle. (There is reason to it just might: Diplo’s recent genre-bending Fabriclive disc, #24 in the series, was reported sold out through multiple retail channels and rushed back into print after the demand far outstripped supply. So, at the very least, the series has succeeded in putting itself on the radar screen for hip-hop aficionados…)
Fabriclive 26 presents the listener with pretty much everything they could want in a hip-hop mix: a few well-chosen old-school gems, a handful of modern classics, a couple exclusives, and a whole bunch of funky stuff in between. It begins with Million Dan’s “Dogz N Sledgez”, an underground track with raggae-infused rapping that reminds me very much of Onyx, of all things (might be just my peculiar ears). They provide a rather interesting mash-up in the form of RJD2’s “Ghostwriter” and the a capella of “Ground Zero” by Dynamic Syncopation feat. Mass Influence, which comes across as smoothly as if the two tracks were created of a whole cloth. The majority of the first third of the mix continues on the new school underground tip, before dipping into the old school in the form of a segue from the Herbaliser’s own “None Other” into James Brown’s peerless “Talking Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”.
From there we slide into Lefties Soul Connection and their excellent “Welly Wanging”, which sounds like something the JBs would have cooked up while their bandleader was taking a bathroom break (that’s a compliment). I am going to give them extra props for including the extraordinary Coldcut “Seven Minutes of Madness” mix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”—yeah, we’ve all heard it before, but it’s a classic for a reason, and that reason is that it fucking rocks. Just tell me you can hear Rakim begin the classic “Thinking of a master plan” verse without a chill running up your spine, and I’ll call you a Philistine who doesn’t know hip-hop from a hippopotamus…
And ultimately, that’s the point of this mix: a celebration of hip-hop throughout the ages, in all its many forms and incarnations. I’m not going to say that every track holds up as well as “Paid in Full”—some of these newer underground tracks probably won’t have a long shelf life, but that’s the nature of popular music. It’s enough that the mix succeeds in unearthing a few buried treasures—the Jackson 5’s “It’s Great to Be Here” (one of a seemingly infinite number of dynamite Jackson 5 tracks that have been eclipsed by Michael’s ubiquity), the Roots’ “Boom!”, off 2004’s criminally underrated The Tipping Point—as well as introducing the listener to a few newer tracks that succeed in putting a smile on the face of even the most hardened ‘hed. For instance, how the hell did they include a track like Apathy feat. Emilio Lopez’s “It Takes A Seven Nation Army to Hold Us Back”? Yeah, it’s got exactly the sample you might think it does based on that title, and it kicks like a mule, too. I don’t know what Jack White was smoking when he approved that sample, but I wish he’d smoke it more often.
The mix finishes on a fine note with Diplo’s “Newsflash”, off his already-classic debut Florida, and Bugz in The Attic’s “Booty La La”. It’s a surprisingly house-y end to a solid hip-hop mix—but then, it’s an appropriate sign-off despite all that, considering that the Herbaliser have with Fabriclive 26 gone to great lengths to communicate just how elastic and malleable an organism hip-hop truly is.