Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Various Artists, Old School Hip-Hop Vol. 1

Seamless is a UK label that specializes in compilation CDs.  Their Vintage Grooves series focuses on rhythm-oriented music from the ’70s to the ’90s.  Each two disc volume is oshhcompliled by Ian Dewhirst who made a name for himself by putting together the Mastercuts series of compilations in the ’90s.  “Old School Hip-Hop Vol. 1” collects early hip-hop, no surprise there.  All of the currently released volumes in the Vintage Groove series (there are collections devoted to dance, funk and disco) are labeled Vol. 1 with no Vol. 2’s released thus far.

“Old School Hip-Hop” opens with Grandmaster Flash’s “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel” which is an incredible recording and almost worth the price of the collection alone.  Nowadays many of the stars of hip hop are producers who construct intricate beats and mixes using hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of studio and compter technology that automates things like pitch correction and beat synchronization.  Grandmaster Flash was one of the pioneers of the genre and he did it with a couple of turntables.  Untold hours of practice combined with a highly refined ear for pitch and rhythm and an almost inhuman degree of physical dexterity and control allowed him to seamlessly mix recordings live with a smoothness and precision that most people would be hard pressed to imitate with the aid of software.  “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel” was not constructed one piece at a time at the mixing board but was cut live to vinyl.  It displays an ability that’s so refined it’s beyond belief.

Along with ” . . . Wheels of Steel”, Grandmaster Flash is represented by “It’s Nasty”, “The Message”, and “Scorpio” on “Old School Hip-Hop”.  His monumental talent is indicated by the fact that he’s the only artist on the collection who gets more than one track.  The set includes other well known names from the early days of hip-hop including The Sugarhill Gang (“8th Wonder”), Whodini (“Freaks Come Out At Night”), Run-D.M.C. (“It’s Like That”), De La Soul (“Say No Go”), Boogie Down Productions (“My Philosophy”), Kool Mo Dee (“How Ya Like Me Now”), NWA (“Express Yourself”), Digital Underground (“The Humpty Dance”), and House of Pain (“Jump Around”).  Seamless being a UK label some of the tracks on the collection such as King Bee’s “Back By Dope Demand” and Mantronix’s “King of the Beats” played larger in the UK than the US. 

“Old School Hip-Hop” has two weaknesses that may be problematic for serious collectors.  First, a number of the versions included in the collection are labeled as the “Original U.S. 12″ Mix”.  In at least some cases (“The Message” for example) this means you get  a truncated version of the song.  The second problem is that some of the tracks have language beeped out (while others don’t).  This is a real shame because it devalues the set as an archival collection.  If labels are going to put out these compilations I wish they would bite the bullet and put out unedited versions of the tracks they include.

I’m not familiar enough with hip-hop in general or this period of the genre in particular to know whether”Old School Hip-Hop” has value for listeners with a serious interest in this type of music.  I’ve enjoyed the set immensly.  If you don’t know much about early hip-hop and think the music is boring and uninteresting because of uniform beats and vocal stylings this collection will surprise you.  There’s so much going on here that you hear more the more you listen.  It’s also refreshing to hear hip-hop from the days when the music was all about having a good time.  When so much current hip-hop is mired in celebrations of the thug life, miscogeny, cartoonish posturing, greed, blind self absorption, and product placement it can be hard to remember that the genre began as party music played in community centers and on steet corners that was designed to get people up and dancing.  This was a time when hip-hop was about music, not market share in the recording business, street cred, or public displays of bad behavior.  By going back to the music’s early days “Old School Hip-Hop” is like a breath of fresh air that clears out the stink.
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12/30/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | ,

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