Various Artists: Tommy Boy Presents Hip Hop Roots

John Bergstrom

Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman offers you this internationally-distributed mixtape. Quick--name that sample!"

Various Artists

Tommy Boy Presents Hip Hop Roots

Label: Tommy Boy
US Release Date: 2005-08-23
UK Release Date: 2005-10-03
Amazon affiliate

One of the nice things about having your own record label must be the ability to curate and release albums like Hip Hop Roots, essentially putting a corporate marketing department and international distribution behind your own mix tape. That's what Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman has done here, collecting a dozen 1970s and '80s tracks that, as he puts it, "[represent] and still [are] the cornerstone for Hip Hop".

Fair enough, but let's talk semantics here for a minute. On its cover artwork, Hip Hop Roots also claims to include "[t]he original soul, funk, & rock songs that inspired hip hop classics". These songs are performed by everyone from James Brown and Bob James to The Monkees and Billy Squier. Billy Squier? Well, it's not such a secret in hip hop circles that his '80s work has been heavily sampled, mostly because of its booming, ultra-compressed drums. Now let's say I decide to build a new, ultramodern house in the suburbs. And for the front door I use a slab of wood that came from an old oak tree. Has that old tree inspired my new house? No, it's become a component of it. It'd be more accurate to say my house has implemented the tree.

So, when Silverman tells me that a sample from Squier's "Big Beat" is the "cornerstone" of Jay Z's "99 Problems", I'll buy it. But did the Squier song inspire Jay-Z? I doubt it. What's the difference, you ask? The difference is in giving Squier and his producer Eddie Offord too much credit, because "Big Beat" is the same dumbed-down, ultra-polished take on Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin as nearly all Squier's tracks from the era. The only thing it inspires me to do is roller skate. And, as much a classic as David Bowie's "Fame" may be, was it really the impetus behind Sir Mix-A-Lot's classic "My Posse's On Broadway"? Or did it happen to include some beats that were ripe for sampling?

You see, this whole "roots" concept is messed up, anyway. You could, for instance, argue that hip hop's true roots lie in dub reggae, but nothing of the sort is featured on Hip Hop Roots. Furthermore, while it's fun to listen to these tracks and play the "spot the sample" game, many times it's the hip hop producers who are more responsible than the artists for incorporating a certain sample. For example, it wasn't really Run-DMC who made James' "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" the foundation for their own "Peter Piper". Rick Rubin, who produced the 'DMC track, is more responsible. But Silverman's liner notes make no mention whatsoever of producers or their role.

Here's my suggestion: Just enjoy some of the ultra-funky gems that Silverman has assembled -- songs that really did inspire hip-hop in one way or another. I'm talking about the slicing hi-hats and near-rapping of Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun". Or Ly Collins and the JB's' "Think (About It)"; which, if it weren't from 1972, you'd swear included samples itself, what with those breakbeats and all the "Oooh! Yeah!" interjections. Or how about that insinuating bassline on Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Express Yourself"? Or the multi-tiered, NY skank of Cymande's "Bra". You can't deny that hip hop as we know it wouldn't exist without James Brown and his funky drummer, and a live "Give it Up or Turnit Loose" is a great reminder of that.

As for the wildcards like Squier, Bowie, and the Monkees' "Mary Mary", they certainly do add some diversity to the proceedings, illustrating how sampling has allowed hip hop production to become about as all-inclusive as you can get. The only real unwelcome track is ESG's "UFO". Regardless of how many times it's been sampled, it sounds like a Can outtake, and not a very interesting one in 2005.

Ultimately, Hip Hop Roots is a mixtape from Tom Silverman to you. That's about as deep as the philosophy needs to go. And, if this is what happens when Silverman rifles through his record collection, let's hope he does it again.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.