The hip-hop DJ is a strange beast -- strikingly original with her arrangements of beats and samples, yet totally unoriginal because she's using music others already created. Once this combining of sounds has been done masterfully, how can anyone sound new? Can anyone surpass DJ Shadow's Entroducing? Not bloody likely.
But they keep trying. And Greyboy's got a twist, his own angle -- hip-hop beats and jazz. Lots of kids do that these days, but Greyboy did it first back in the early '90s. For the last ten years, Greyboy, a.k.a. Andreas Stevens, has been combing the west coast, looking for the best jazz, funk, and soul breaks and samples with which to populate his albums. Soul Mosaic, his newest, is a "case study in roots, soul, and funk". It's written right on the album sleeve. Looking back over his discography, Greyboy's full-length records come out every three to six years. He doesn't rush. Soul Mosaic marks his fourth full-length on Ubiquity Records. The album pays homage to all the above-listed genres while simultaneously remaining firmly rooted in the evolving hip-hop tradition.
The album opens with "Genevieve", a sleek, shuffling track that incites stylish walking and features San Francisco Bay-area vocalist Bart Davenport. He puts a mean and soulful spin on the melancholy vocals. Greyboy enlists the help of turntable artists, D-Styles and Ricci Rucker for "Son-Ray", a hiccupy but totally danceable second track.
"To Know You Is to Love You" features '70s-inspired, soulful keyboards and harmonica as well as another fine performance from Bart Davenport. The Stevie Wonder cover works great over a candlelight dinner or on the dance floor.
Track nine, "Got to Be a Love", is Soul Mosaic's strongest composition. East Coast soul singer, Sharon Jones, shouts and shimmies her way through the soulful lyrics, while her powerful voice bounces along with guitar licks straight off a James Brown Record. Greyboy and guest, Quantic, add the scratches, working the magic that is the hip-hop producer's -- creating a self-contained and complete song out of any number of components.
The next couple tracks dissolve into that featureless landscape of boring beats and nondescript keyboard melodies. The funk rhythms sound tired and while still totally head-bobbable, they're gone from memory as soon as the song changes.
"Gotta Stand for Something" is downright danceable with funk-infused rhythms that would be a hit at any hip-hop club and Sharon Jones slamming her way through the strident lyrics. This track is right up there with "Got to Be a Love", mainly because of Jones's vocal prowess, but also because Greyboy puts darker and even more driving beats under her.
The two remixes at the end, "Genevieve" and "Got to Be a Love" provide creative and alternative opportunities for stylish walking. The Paul Nice remix of "Got to Be a Love" especially calls for boogying with its sexy guitar and bass riffs.
Soul Mosaic is a fine effort from hip-hop DJ veteran Andreas Stevens. Working in the genre for over a decade has given him plenty of time to perfect his arrangements. He's got a great ear for what fits together. He also has an obvious reverence for beats, funk, and soul. On this album, he pays tribute to those genres and in the process creates a collection of songs that are made for shuffling and dancing down the sidewalk. Get your headphones, your velour sweat suit, your Adidas sneakers, and Soul Mosaic and enjoy your afternoon.