Various Artists - The Soul of Hip-Hop (2009)

Various Artists
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MCing, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti---the four elements of hip hop. It was early in its inception, when the music was fuel for parties and protesting more than anything else, that the esteemed sound providers realized that songs with extended 'breaks' gave ample room for dropping rhymes and dance moves; hence the art of 'sampling' (interpolating an established track under an MC's verses) was born. Some are easy to dicipher because they've been used and heard so much: i.e., easily three-fourths of James Brown's catalog. But others are so obscure, or woven so skillfully into the mix, that it takes practically an audio autopsy to trace their origins.  That is the real joy in hearing Stax' salute to its many contributions, The Soul of Hip-Hop.

MCing, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti---the four elements of hip hop. It was early in its inception, when the music was fuel for parties and protesting more than anything else, that the esteemed sound providers realized that songs with extended 'breaks' gave ample room for dropping rhymes and dance moves; hence the art of 'sampling' (interpolating an established track under an MC's verses) was born. Some are easy to dicipher because they've been used and heard so much: i.e., easily three-fourths of James Brown's catalog. But others are so obscure, or woven so skillfully into the mix, that it takes practically an audio autopsy to trace their origins.  That is the real joy in hearing Stax' salute to its many contributions, The Soul of Hip-Hop.

As for how 'easy' the samples are to determine, it varies; "Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth" opens the collection with a great big 'Duh,' since it's been used by one of the earliest hip-hop duos, Eric B. & Rakim. Isaac Hayes' "Hung Up On My Baby," played just a little slower on the RPM scale, is easily recognizable as the backone of "Mind's Playin' Tricks On Me" by the Geto Boys, as is the greasy, 'comin' atcha with a gangsta lean' extended groove of "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic," which buoys Ice Cube's "I Gotta Say What's Up" from his Kill At Will EP. 

Some of them take a little listening before the 'aha!' moment is obvious: "I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over" disguises the break for over 3 minutes before the listener realizes that its ominious tones made Notorious B.I.G's "Who Shot Ya" even more stark and added desolation to Faith Evans' "Alone in This World." William Bell's "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" carries the distinction of having its concept, as well as its title, being transformed into another soul gem, Jaheim's "Put That Woman First," while the others, at least for this reviewer, remain on the 'obscure and beyond' scale, but still reveal a lot about the feel and flavor of hip-hop (the pimptastic vibe of "Get Up and Get Down" by the Dramatics, the ferverish funk of the Bar-Kays' "Humpin'," and Rufus Thomas' "Do the Funky Penguin," which, in concept, likely led to rap's early dance records, like Joe-Ski Love's "Pee-Wee's Dance").

With everything old becoming new again and yesterday's stars still collecting royalty checks from today's rappers perusing their catalogs, it's a music set like this that helps hard-core music fans respect the architects that much more and gives depth to their reservoir of soulful hip-hop. While it could've included the tracks that use its samples as a bonus, Soul.... highlights some of the best classics behind the hits and is essential for anyone into the organic beginnings of both genres.

By Melody Charles

 

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