For me the intention behind this is simple: to highlight the lineage of hip-hop production and beat making from the turn of the millennium to the present day, and perhaps shed some light on the fairly quiet revolution that has been taking place under the surface of mainstream media in recent years.
With some strange tags being applied to the current standard in beat making, I feel it it is important to shed some light on to this lineage. This is a journey from late 90s crate digging, to the circuit-bent soundscapes of the so called ‘post-dilla’ era.
I hope this music inspires you as much as it has inspired me these past 11 years.
Jim 2tall, London, November 2009
This mix started as a joke of sorts. Early on in 2009 I returned to the UK following a stint in Asia and Europe during which I wrote a rather lengthy article about what I saw as a rebirth of the classic boom bap sound in the work of a new school of modern-day producers that spanned genres, countries and styles (read it here).
This article was conceived and written over most of the time I lived in Japan (about 18 months) and came with a mix, which took a shot at the then rising use of the term ‘wonky’ to define the new generation of beats made with a hip hop sensibility but embracing a range of influences never really heard before in hip hop’s history.
Back to the point, in early ’09 2tall came round to mine for dinner and as we discussed this and that the idea came up, I’m not quite sure how, to do a retrospective mix of what we saw as this evolution of boom bap – a short history of the evolution of a sound aesthetic. For, as we’ve discussed since starting this, boom bap is very much an aesthetic to us, not a genre or whatever else some might want it to be. And so the idea was to try and paint a sonic picture of how we felt this aesthetic, and therefore hip hop to a greater extent, or at least the production side of hip hop, had evolved over the last ten years to where it is now, enjoying a renaissance of interest worldwide.
The first thing we did was grab a pen and pad and jot down all the names of producers and tracks we could think of on the spot, creating a skeleton of the tracklist and mix. Over the next few months we fine-tuned the idea before spending a few days canvasing both our physical and digital crates to put together the tracks for the mix. We tried our best to ensure we had tracks from all the producers we’d thought of as well as others we’d originally missed and that all tracks were given their correct years (and yes before anyone comments we did fuck up in some places and left some people out).
Fast forward a few months to the summer and it became clear that while we had some years locked down, others were going to need more work to fill them up and make the whole thing more complete. By this point we’d decided that the mix would be a collaborative face-off of sorts, with 2tall and myself each taking one 5 years to mix (he took odds) and doing the final, eleventh year, together.
And this is where Clockwork entered the picture. Having already provided us with ideas for tracks/producers we’d missed out on, he let us raid his own crates for the majority of the tracks from ’99 to about ’04. And then 2tall had the rather good idea to also ask him to do the artwork for the mix, by which point it was only normal to make this a 3-man affair and also ask him to lace the entire thing with cuts and additional touches.
The entire thing took roughly 2 weeks to put together I think, but spread over about 8 months as all our collective schedules collided and we spent a good amount of time changing mixes, adding tracks, and polishing it to be something we all felt needed to be a statement worth making, not just another mix.
As for the name it’s a combination of the aforementioned work and our beliefs about where the origins of this new school of production lies. It’s also a hat tip/joke in the direction of Simon Reynolds. For those who don’t know, Reynolds, an influential UK music journalist/writer, is responsible for establishing the theory of a Hardcore Continuum to explain the evolution of British dance music in the 90s all the way up to the 00s, at which point it all went a bit pear-shaped for both him and his theory.
2009 was not just the year that the beat came back to worldwide prominence, it was also a year where Reynolds’ theory was broken down and rightfully (depending on where you stand) contested by a new generation of writers and producers. For me it was only right that any discussion about a Hardcore Continuum in the 00s should include hip hop’s influence on dance music mutations, and that is where the name came from – as I said a joke, but also a semi-serious statement. As far as I’m concerned the music of people like Loefah, a godfather of the dubstep sound, owes as much to hip hop’s golden era boom bap as it does dub and sound system culture. And that’s why two of his most famous tracks are included in the mix, as well as productions from people like The Bug, Joker and other not-directly-related-to-hip-hop producers. It’s the aesthetic we wanted to showcase, not the genres.
As we drafted a list of names for the mix it became clear that this was going to be bigger than either of us had originally imagined. Combined with our belief that this should be done properly or not at all, we came up with a simple, well to us anyways, way of doing it – keep it within 80 minutes to allow people to burn the mix to a CD, or on a cassette like we used to back in the days. Having a time limit forced us to limit each year to 7 minutes max, resulting in a 77 minute mix which could be padded with intro and outro to reach the limit of 80 minutes.
We stuck to this pretty much until the end, when we started adding quotes from interviews with many of the artists featured in the mix. This ended up pushing the mix slightly over 80 mins, meaning you won’t be able to burn a CD but you’ll definitely be able to fit it on one of those good old 90 minute tapes. Each year is under 7 minutes, and with over 200 tracks in the mix, the rough average is 20 tracks per year.
As I spent a few months putting my half of the mix together something started to occur to me. As the years went on, moving closer to the end of the decade, the music became denser, more intricate in a way but also much busier and fuller of the multitude of influences that were only hinted at in the earlier years.
If you look at the tracklist you’ll notice that as we move towards ’09, the years have more and more tracks, ending with 32 tracks mashed together in the last year. This isn’t to say that there was less dope stuff in 99 than in 09, however it’s I think a just reflection of the current state of things: beats/instrumental hip hop/electronic music is more popular now than at any point in the last ten years, and when you combine this rise in popularity with key factors like the internet and easily available, cheap (read free for some) music-making software and hardware you end up with more music and more producers. This in turn means you end up with more average stuff, leaving you to work harder to find the dope shit. I do believe though that there is a high standard of quality stuff out there today, and so the mix reflects that.
Over the ten years we’ve charted, some of the producers we’ve covered went from being lauded in the (mid to) late 90s, to ignored in the early to mid 00s (the time of greatest evolution in many ways as people did what they wanted with little attention from most), to lauded in the mid to late 00s. This last move lead to homogenisation as a ‘scene’ formed around names banded about by the media in an attempt at showing the next big thing was here. Nothing new there, as anyone who remembers the word trip hop will attest to.
As I’ve explained in my Return of the Boom Bap piece and interviews with certain producers since then, ultimately to me it all boils down to hip hop in the end, or to be more precise a hip hop aesthetic, no matter what some might think or say. However this isn’t to say that it is hip hop, but rather that the roots are quite clearly there and should not be ignored in favour of catchy names or beliefs that this is something new, when it’s actually a movement that has been bubbling under for over a decade.
Despite our best attempts at cataloging this evolution we still managed to miss some producers. At one point it became a sort of running joke between us as we’d email or text each other every other day to ask if we’d included producer X or not and trying to see if there was still time, and space, to fit them in if we hadn’t.
I can’t even remember exactly all those we did forget but their absence doesnt’ mean anything other than the fact that we forgot them, due to the sheer size of the work we undertook.
Geographically speaking the mix also represents the physical ties of boom bap’s evolution as well as our own. The majority of producers are either American or English, with appearances by Japanese, German, Canadian and French producers (I think that’s all the nationalities, but I could have forgotten a few). As edIT remarks in a quote lifted from my interview with him last year, the sound is truly global today thanks in no small part to the internet. Despite being responsible for carrying the hype and accelerating the birth of genre names and homogenised approaches, the internet is also responsible for bringing producers, labels and fans together and spreading the sound to all four corners of the globe.
As previously mentioned the finished mix is complimented by cuts and sonic tricks from Clockwork and a collection of quotes from producers lifted from interviews available online.
This last element was something 2tall and I decided on from the start and felt was in some ways as important as the music being showcased. This mix is a total nerd/trainspotter’s trip. It’s a mix that is best enjoyed in the privacy of your own ears, loud and with your mind focused on what’s happening – the quotes have all been placed in specific parts of the mix for a reason, and if you know why then you’ll no doubt enjoy it that much more. It’s a hat tip to all those who came before and who made mixes to be more than just a collection of tracks – they made it to tell a story, and that’s what we wanted to do.
It’s ironic, or actually fitting, that I should be writing this sitting in a cafe in Manhattan, New York City. After spending the best part of the year putting it together it looks like it will go live as I’m in town, and it’s rather fitting considering New York’s ties to the history of the boom bap aesthetic.
It’s also quite fitting that the mix should be dropped at the end of the year. I originally wanted to get it out around early autumn but as 2tall said to me one day, it’s better this way as the decade is ending and this mix is after all a look back on what has happened over the last ten years. This is our statement about the last ten years. And like all good statements it’s more than just words.
Thanks and love go to 2tall and Clockwork for being the best two collaborators I could ever hope for on this, and to all the producers featured in the mix, those who I know personally and those I don’t. Each and everyone of you has been an inspiration to me, as a fan, writer and DJ, over the years and this is my way of saying thank you.
Kper aka Laurent Fintoni, Nov 09, New York City