[30 July 2008]
Talking to someone ignorant of the dedication that goes into properly chopping and flipping a sample will most likely lead to the usage of words like “thieves” and “crooks.” Then there is the magical question: “Why does he/she steal someone else’s music and call it his/her own?” Then the examples start flying out like Diddy’s various hits in the late ‘90s that required little more than simple cut and paste jobs by the Hitmen. Even some of Kanye West’s more obvious rips, like Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman” for “Gold Digger”, could be mentioned; though it’s fairly obvious that West, even with his megalomaniac attitude, is a very talented producer. So what is a hip-hop head to do besides smack some sense into this person? Well, DJ Kon & Amir have made it quite easy for you with their latest, Off Track Vol. 2: Queens.
This duo’s specialty for crate-digging is well documented by both the artists themselves and critics alike. Kon & Amir have put out numerous mixes—including six volumes of On Track—as well as two albums that more or less perform CPR on old, forgotten tracks. These collections of rare classics prove that calling Kon & Amir mere “crate-diggers” would be an injustice. Like their more well-known contemporaries, Kon & Amir aren’t simply concerned over building something new out of a relic. It seems like they want to educate others while cherishing the music of the past. And on this Vol. 2, which is the second of five planned Off Track records, they give you a taste of disco, without the gaudy outfits, and Africa, without the expensive plane ticket.
Although you can get funky to both discs, Kon’s is the one primed to make you sweat. Chock full of disco and dance gems, it’s impossible not to feel the infectious, albeit cheesy, rhythms on tracks like Angela Tinsey’s “Get Down with Me” and “Keep on Moving” by Phillip and Lloyd. Also, let’s hope that someone snatches up those excellent horns on “Keep on Moving”. Although many of Kon’s picks are buried treasures, it’s difficult to get past the kitsch of disco. While it did basically birth hip-hop as we know it, much of the music felt forced and soulless. Also take that as a critique of the music Kon chose to highlight, not the producer himself.
Then there is the tribal beauty of Amir’s disc that includes a plethora of African tracks that inspire deep thinking and deep grooves. The blunted “Boma Yeah” by Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus kicks it all off with a mellow, steady pulse that lures you right in. Just as contagious is Theadora Ifudu’s “Hello There” that features drums begging to be chopped, flipped, whatever, so long as they are used by someone. But that’s not to say the song doesn’t hold up on its own, because it does. The same goes for “Theme Maboneng”, a jazzy track from Abacothozi featuring some killer organ.
Like many other mixes of this nature, this compilation is not made for everyone. As useful as it is to show off the art of digging, some will simply dismiss it. To be fair, the criticism of this simply being a collection of someone else’s music is warranted as well as one of the reasons this album’s score isn’t higher. On the other hand, of course, producers-to-be and lovers of hip-hop will embrace this with open arms. Not only can you learn about digging first hand, but it’s a way to get inside the heads of producers/DJs who are constantly looking for samples aimed for blowing minds. Some of the tracks even hold up on their own, no matter how corny they are, though it is hard to really get down to disco these days.