Tag Archive: turntablism


I first heard of Nubiyan Twist when I went to see Joe Armon-Jones at The Crescent in York last November, as Joe introduced the band he got to bassist Luke Wynter he said he was in Nubiyan Twist from Leeds. My first thought was that’s a great name for a band and that there was another potentially great band coming out of Leeds. It turns out I was right this is another great band coming out of Leeds (though now based in London) and what’s more another great band that met and formed at Leeds College of Music. Leeds College of Music is a respected music education institution in the UK but if it keeps on producing the amount of quality bands it is currently it will become world famous and rank alongside the likes of Berklee in the USA.

But I got off the point for a while there It’s time to get back to talking about the music of Nubiyan Twist and their album “Jungle Run”. On the bands Facebook page under Band Interests it says “To encourage artistic and social unity between different cultures and musical styles.” This is definitely a mission statement the band achieves on this album, they combine the disparate styles of dance music (including House and Drum ‘n’ Bass), Dub, Latin, Afrobeat, Ethio-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Turntablism and Soul into a potent stew of sound. This is quite an achievement considering the band has ten members And also joined in this album by guests Nubiya Brandon (vocals), Tony Allen (drums) the inventor of the rhythms of Afrobeat and Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone) the inventor of Ethio-Jazz. I have to admit that I am very jealous of the fact that the band gets to work with two giants of African music. Another achievement is to not be subsumed by those legends on the track states they contribute to this is a band with a clear identity and incredible musical talent to boot. Bandleader Tom Excell also produced the record in the bands own studio in Oxfordshire in the UK and it’s an impressive feat to say the least to build to get all these competing instruments and talents to play nicely in a mix. This isn’t just an impressive album it’s a lot of fun to the irresistible beats make impossible for you not to dance and the catchy choruses will be in your head in no time.

I know I’m probably repeating myself here but it’s hard to overstate how incredible this album is not only as a musical achievement but something that truly represents what music can be in the 21st-century. This is an album of the Internet age don’t get me wrong there are albums made fused cells are music together before the Internet age but “Jungle Run” is something only truly achievable in a world where you can access any music at any time with the click of a button. This is a real Album of the Year contender and definitely check it out.

Let me know what you think of “Jungle Run” in the Comments.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Ultramagnetic MC’s – “Critical Beatdown” (Next Plateau, 1988)

This month’s Classics Critiqued choice is a sometimes overlooked cult classic hip-hop album by one of the genre’s most ground breaking and off the wall groups. In this article I will explore Ultramagnetic MCs’ originals, the making of “Critical Beatdown”, investigate ideas commonly discussed around the album, its lyrical content, production techniques and the context in which the album was released. I’ll also discuss the legacy “Critical Beatdown” has left.

Ultramagnetic MCs were formed in 1984 by the MC Kool Keith (aka Keith Thornton), Ced Gee (aka Cedric Miller) – MC/Producer, Moe Luv (aka Maurice Smith) – DJ/Producer and TR Love (aka Trevor Randolph) – MC while they were members of the New York City Breakers and People’s Choice break dance crews. After misfiring with their first single “To Give You Love” (1986) Ultramagnetic MCs released their first groundbreaking 12” the minimalist “Ego Trippin”. It featured the first use of the “Synthetic Substition” drum break by Melvin Bliss (later sampled by the likes of Naughty By Nature, Redman and Gang Starr and becoming a hip-hop staple) and some simple but devastatingly effective synth stabs. Amazingly the next 12” was even more innovative “Funky/Mentally Mad” showcased the two key talents of Ultramagnetic MC’s. “Funky” highlighted Ced Gee’s production skills. Based around a Joe Cocker piano sample (released almost ten years before Dr.Dre took the same sample and turned it into a bona fide hit in “California Love” by Tupac) it was a revolution in underground hip-hop. Meanwhile “Mentally Mad” showcased Kool Keith’s incredible freestyle abstract rapping style that dealt with everything from space exploration to sex. These 12” singles received critical acclaim and much support from New York’s biggest hip-hop DJs, setting up Ultramagnetic MCs as hip-hop next big act.

While he was working on the debut album that would become “Critical Beatdown”, producer Ced Gee worked on another nascent hip-hop act Boogie Down Productions’ debut album “Criminal Minded” (1987) which showcased a harsh minimalist brand of hip-hop not unlike that of Ultramagnetic MCs. “Critical Beatdown” wasn’t released until the following year, 1988, and this explains in part why it’s often overshadowed by classic albums by Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, Jungle Brothers and Slick Rick, as well as competing with other sterling efforts from EPMD and Stetasonic. In short 1988 was water shed moment for hip-hop. Augus Batey (who wrote the sleeve notes for the 2004 reissue of “Critical Beatdown”) put it another way in a recent article on Ultramagnetic MCs second album “Funk Your Head Up” (1992) “Their 1988 masterpiece, Critical Beatdown, wasn’t the all-conquering hero history tends to have turned it into: crafting their inspirational unique style over a series of 12″ singles, Ultra would have achieved the impact their music merited had the paperwork permitted the LP to come out a year earlier. Throw it in the mix next to the three acknowledged foundational classics of New York hip hop’s early Golden Age – the 1987 debuts by Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions – and we’d today be talking about hip hop’s four horsemen, not the music’s holy trinity. “Critical Beatdown” is not only every bit as good as those records, a case can easily be made that it’s better than each and every one of them. It was hailed as a great album, but by ’88, it was just another one among many.”

When the album did arrive it showcased not only Ced Gee’s excellent sample choices and Kool Keith’s lunatic lyrical style but also Gee’s skills with the Emu SP-1200 sampler and his undeniably brilliant flow. Ced Gee was the first hip-hop producer that chopped up the breaks and instrumental samples instead of simply looping them, which soon became the norm for hip-hop producers the world over. The technique preceded the first sampladelic masterpieces “Paul’s Boutique” by the Beastie Boys and De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” which would be released a year after “Critical Beatdown”. In fact, Posdnous of De La Soul admitted Ultramagnetic MCs’ influence in the 2004 reissue notes – “I think the only people that we looked to for a blueprint when we were making “3 Feet High & Rising” were the Ultramagnetic MCs. They were very different as well, how they rhymed, but they still had more harder-edged beats than what we were presenting.” Another innovation on the album was the proto-drum ‘n’ bass breaks of ‘Ain’t It Good to You’, a track that felt like it was tearing the very fabric of the samples apart as it hurtled towards its conclusion. Other highlights on the album include the organ driven ‘Ease Back’, turntablism anticipating ‘Moe Luv’s Theme’, the fantastically funky ‘Give the Drummer Some’, the tough hardcore ‘Break North’ and the ‘Louie Louie’ sampling ‘Travelling at the Speed of Thought’.

While Ced Gee and Moe Luv provided the ground breaking music it was Kool Keith who was the centre of attention when it came to the lyrical content of “Critical Beatdown”. Though he would later give himself over completely to lyrics about varied subjects such as sex or space exploration he still had one foot in the reality of the street on “Critical Beatdown”, which meant he was taken more seriously by critics and fans. However, the group chose not to focus on the negative things that were happening around them instead going with whatever “sounded good”. Keith’s style was freestyle both in the way he wrote and the way he delivered his mind-boggling rhymes.

“Critical Beatdown” would become instantly influential with Posdnous of De La Soul and Chuck D of Public Enemy praising their unique sound, lyrical content and flows would influence the creation of the former’s “3 Feet High and Rising” (1989) and the latter’s “It’ll Take A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (1988). The influence and innovation of Ultramagnetic MCs and “Critical Beatdown” can be heard in a huge amount of underground hip-hop and gangsta rap artists, everyone from Main Source to Cannibal Ox and many, many more.

Let me know what you think of “Critical Beatdown” in the comments or via our Twitter.

Listen to “Critical Beatdown” here.

Liam

Argument for

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

Sampling has always provoked controversy and furious debate since its humble beginnings when Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa looped the breakbeats from rock, funk, jazz and soul records so that breakdancers could show off their best moves. This debate will focus on sampling and sampled based music’s validity, leaving aside the often discussed and sticky issues of copyright. I will be arguing for sampling as a legitimate form of expression and an experimental tool that re-contextualises musical elements into new and sometimes unexpected juxtapositions. I will also look at how sampling and sampling technology developed and its impact on the possibilities for those musicians and producers who exploited its power. By sampling I refer to any manipulation of pre-recorded audio and thus I’ve included scratching and turntablism.

Even in its earliest construction at street parties and clubs in New York in the late 1970s sampling was about the re-contextualisation and manipulation of the source material. The extending of breakbeats by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa dramatically altered the structure of the original pieces of music and the breakbeats took on a new life as a tool in a DJ’s weaponry. With  Grand Wizard Theodore’s invention of scratching and Grandmaster Flash’s development of key techniques the manipulation took to another level. It created new rhythms within a DJ’s set and they could apply their own skill and personalities, which created a new energy and competitiveness that drove the DJs and the music forward. Scratching created rhythms out of abstract sounds which acted as ‘exciters’ for their audiences. Grandmaster Flash showcased his virtuoso knowledge and a series of jar dropping juxtapositions on 1981’s ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’. The record used segments of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ (which name checked Flash), Micheal Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ (the breakbeat from which became a classic sampling staple), ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘Good Times’ by Queen and Chic. ‘…Wheels of Steel’ was the first commercially released record to feature scratching and a style that soon became a main part of the then unnamed turntablism.In the mid 1990s Babu of the Dilated Peoples invented this term to give scratch DJs a solid identity separate from others. Babu believes the first turntablist was Grand Mixer DST who featured on ‘Rockit’ by pioneering jazz musician Herbie Hancock in 1982. As Babu put it, ‘he was not only an integral part of the song or band, he was the highlight’. The now legendary television performance of ‘Rockit’ at the 1983 Grammy Awards inspired the next generation of scratch happy turntablists who I’ll be covering later in this piece.

“The turntable is a musical instrument as long as you can see it being a musical instrument. You’re dealing with notes, you’re dealing with measures, you’re dealing with timing, you’re dealing with rhythm but the outcome is the same music” – Rob Swift, The X-ecutioners.

As hip-hop was exploiting the turntable as a new musical instrument and creating unpredictable musical juxtapositions so was experimental artist Christian Marclay who in 1979, when unable to find a drummer for a performance alongside guitarist Kurt Henry, used a skipping record as a percussive instrument. By the late ’80s Marclay was making waves with his albums ‘Records without Grooves’ (1987) and ‘More Encores: Christian Marclay plays the records of…’ (1989). His techniques varied from playing back damaged records, scratching, assembling together bits of different records to played as one and creating wild juxtapositions between music often at polar opposites of the musical spectrum. One of best examples being ‘His Master Voice’ which combines the sound of “a preacher railing against rock ‘n’ roll with “push, push in the bush” disco, Wagnerian chorales, metal guitar solos and Don Ho” all flitting in and out of focus. There is little difference between what the hip-hop pioneers and Marclay did yet the results are different, proof that the turntable was beginning to develop as an alternative to traditional instruments and traditional ideas about musical composition and performance. They are also the first example of sampling as a re-contextualisation tool, taking from multiple and widely varying sources to create new musical creations and languages in both hip-hop and avant-garde contexts.

The original sampler keyboard, a Fairlight CMI used by ’80s pop acts such as Art of Noise, Heaven 17 and producer Trevor Horn, who aided the acceptence of sampling by the mainstream music press and audience, was superseded by more advanced samplers while the avant-garde began to make inroads into sampling and turntablism using accidents and the effects of worn vinyl.

There was however a link between all these disparate strands and that was Public Enemy who produced a master class in pushing the basic sampling technology to its outer limits on ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back’ (1988). Public Enemy didn’t just sample a break and lay another sample on top; they tested the samples to destruction. They achieved this by pitching the samples up or down, time stretching and using other non musical sounds to create a musical maelström that summed up their emotional and political feelings. The  sound scape built reflected the atmosphere of their New York environment. This was one of the first great examples of how to truly re-contextualise sample. Rather than superimposing the sample into a new musical environment, Public Enemy were changing the tempo, tone, pitch, timing and even the idea of what elements were. ‘…A Nation Of Millions’ blurred the lines: a trumpet could be a siren and siren could be a trumpet, a breakbeat could be broken and reconstructed, nothing was static anymore. Meanwhile in the UK sample based dance music records had took hold in 1987 with the release of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which became the first UK No.1 to feature samples of other songs. The track paved the way for the rave generation to fully embrace sampling and take it to new places and inadvertently inventing the mash-up over 15 years before the term came into use.

As the 80s rolled into the 90s the sampler became an increasingly important part of dance music and almost completely replaced the synthesiser as the main ‘instrument’ or piece of technology. Roger Linn designed the Akai MPC series of sampler/sequencers and the MPC 60 was based on the Linn 9000 sampler that previously he had  built. This series allowed the user to sample, pitch shift, time stretch and to program using the velocity sensitive pads and sequencer provided. The MPC-60 was used by jungle pioneer A Guy Called Gerald, trance producer BT and Apollo 440 as well as leading hip-hop producers DJ Premier and DJ Shadow.

Akai continued to push the technology forward by introducing CD quality audio and increasing sampler memory and note capacity. One of the most vital records of the sampling era was produced using just a MPC 60, a pair of turntables and a borrowed Pro Tools set-up: ‘Endtroducing…’ by DJ Shadow. Shadow was a turntablist that took sampling beyond purely musical function, he created sampledelic tracks infused with atmosphere and emotion that changed the very idea of what a hip-hop record could be and what even basic sampling technology could do. He wasn’t alone in challenging these ideas as DJ Spooky who also debuted in 1996 with ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer’ was a turntablist ‘whose philosophy merges avant-garde theories of musique concrète with the increased devotion paid to mixing techniques’. Spooky believed that the turntable was an instrument in its own right capable of expressive musical composition and manipulation. Equally influenced by John Cage and Kool Herc he provides a link between the avant-garde work of Christian Marclay and Japan’s Ground Zero and that of hip-hop’s most far out turntablists DJ Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike. A more direct contemporary with Spooky is DJ/Rupture who shares some musical influences (hip-hop and dub) and both create extreme music: Spooky’s is ambient (or illbient) and Rupture’s is more experimental and aggressive and utilises ethnic influences.

As the noughties dawned dance music seemed to catch-up with hip-hop, turntablism and the avant-garde. Sample heavy releases like The Avalanches’ ‘Since I Left You’ from 2001 demonstrated that dance music could produce something on a similar scale and weight as ‘Endtroducing…’ and shed some of dance music’s gimmicky use of samples. Though sonically different from DJ Shadow’s work, ‘Since I Left You’ had an advanced complexity that had been left relevantly untouched since the days of A Guy Called Gerald’s pioneering early 90s albums. Mash-up culture and sample based releases exploded after this; one of most critically acclaimed artists being Girl Talk (Greg Gillis). Gillis has often been in the middle of controversy about his employment of sampling and has featured in two documentaries about copyright: Brett Gaylor’s ‘Rip: A Remix Manifesto’ and ‘Good Copy, Bad Copy’. The peak of Girl Talk was ‘Feed the Animals’ from 2008. Originally conceived as a single piece of music which Gillis then sliced up into individual tracks made completely from samples of other recordings, the album was released under a Creative Common’s Attribution Non-Commercial Licence, which meant he had to fully credit all material sampled in the sleeve notes to legally profit from its sale.

Recently sampling has seen the emergence of a young generation of music makers influenced by the sample employing hip-hop and dance artists that dominated the ’90s. Artists are using samples as a starting and/or finishing point for compositions like Washed Out’s most popular song so far ‘Feel It All Around’, which revolves around Gary Low’s ‘I Want You’. Pantha du Prince explains that he takes a slightly different approach, ‘I sampled a lot of bands. Then I took the samples out in the end. I took the samples in, made the track, and took, for example, the melody or the chorus and then I took the track out again. With The Chills you can only hear it at the beginning and the end.’

Conclusion

With so many approaches to re-contextualisation how can sampling not be a valid form of musical expression? It is no longer as easy for those that oppose sampling to dismiss it as lacking in originality or depth. Technology’s development and the artists above has shown that it’s possible to create new pieces of music that emotionally connect with their audience or elicit a new physical movement or mental association that didn’t previously exist. Whether it is through  using turntables as instruments of re-contextualisation in hip-hop and avant-garde, a dance for creating euphoria in dance or nostalgia in newer genres such as chillwave, a sample is the inspiration for a song or the icing on the cake to finish it off. How ever artists choose to use and manipulate samples it is a strong relevant form of expression with a lengthy history on which to draw.

Argument against

To argue against sampling in this debate I will look at sampling’s claim to re-contextualise pieces of music by tailoring them into new compositions and the idea of sampling as a form of colonialism.

The claim that sampling re-contextualises a piece or pieces of music is naïvely reductive and  a complex and detailed idea simplified. We accept an artist or recording does not exist in a vacuum untouched and unaffected by outside forces and when we discuss a recording we are also discussing its context, its discourse. Transplanting a 16 bar loop from one recording to another does not and cannot alter its original context as it is intrinsically steeped in its discourse. The musical context has been altered but an entirely new, modern context has not been created. Discourse is not something ignorable, it is part of the fabric of a recording and an essential element in what makes that recording identifiable and understandable therefore sampling is capable only of stitching together pre-existing contexts not creating new ones. That transplanted 16 bar loop is still particular to a recording created at a specific time by a specific artist and is identifiable as such. Its context has not changed.

It is possible to link sampling to colonialism: taking work from one artist, sometimes without payment or accreditation, for the commercial gain of another taps into the dishonest domination of one force over others, similar to the discussion in the Cultural Tourism article. In an interview with Hybrid Life, Nicolas Jaar talks of his feelings towards sampling, “Of course the problem with this is the colonial problem, like imperialistic…I have absolutely nothing against Cadenza, but the song ‘La Mezcla’. They can pay whatever to…the person that did it. I could never have someone steal the core of (one of my records) like that. Simply because of this weird colonial thing, for me it can’t not have that context. Maybe for most people dancing it doesn’t have that context, but for me there’s the driven techno and then on top there’s some crazy Spanish lady singing. It’s not honest! I understand how it’s appealing, and I understand how it sells, and I understand that’s the world we live in…but I wouldn’t want to do that.” As Jaar points out taking from one recording and adding it to another could be construed as theft and in turn dishonest and thus dishonest musicianship. An important attraction of equipment like Recycle, Ableton and turntables is that it easily endows users with the advanced ability to unrecognisable transform a record sample and scatter it into a new composition, which feeds into the musically fraudulent colonial tendencies of artists who sample and leads back to the discourse in recordings discussion.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar/love-you-gotta-lose-again-mn”>Love you gotta lose again /// Nicolas Jaar (Double Standard Records)</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar”>Clown and Sunset</a></span>

The borrowing from past records for the bulk of new material in genres such as hip-hop and the (over)use of certain familiar passages leads to a repetitive language of sounds and aesthetics and there will be, or already is as suggested by The Guardian’s recent article on hip-hop sampling, an inevitable exhaustion of vintage albums, which leads to a possible debate highlighting hip-hop’s contradictory braying pride of having the newest, most innovative sound but using aged, and at times conventional, recordings. An ideology of employing the past to build the future does not create previously unheard music, a new item or a new context, as explained early, it is solely an adapted preceding and inherent discourse.

Vier

Spotify playlist:

Sampling debate

In November 2009 I read ‘When Will Hip-Hop Hurry Up And Die?’ as part of the Notes on the Noughties blog series for The Guardian written by Simon Reynolds. Reynolds began by discussing a piece by New York Times journalist Sasha Frere-Jones that suggested 2009 was the year that hip-hop finally died. He continued Frere-Jones’ proposal with adding that between 2005 and 2010 hip-hop had stagnated, lost its grip on the charts and even its biggest stars and producers admitted they were “bored” with a now “corny” genre. In the article and on his Blissblog Reynolds opened the subject up to question whether genres actually do die and concluded that hip-hop isn’t dead, just out of touch with the zeitgeist and a weakened commercial force.

Then in December I watched the ‘UK B-Boy Championships: World Finals’ on Channel 4. I was astonished at the moves and routines on display and how it had developed since its birth in late seventies, New York. After the programme finished an idea occurred to me. Maybe hip-hop music was stagnant but the other elements were flourishing away from the media spotlight.

In this piece I will briefly discuss the current state of hip-hop before exploring in more detail the other areas of hip-hop culture: break dancing, graffiti, outsider art and turntablism.

Though not entirely moribund, hip-hop music is in a bad way. At the commercial end and in the underground there is a lack of anything inventive and, worse, little that demonstrates the traits of an enduring classic. At the beginning of the noughties commercial hip-hop was enjoying a flush period of creation and innovation. Across the US and UK new strains and variations of the music were showing a way forward beyond the traditional samples and breaks formula. US producers including Timbaland and The Neptunes were exploring new ways of programming and manipulating beats and rhythmic measures using computer technology. Crunk and Dr. Dre produced superstars that ruled the charts and critics took on Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne as their new darlings. Though the US underground struggled to keep up due to its purism, it still produced artists and albums of note. In particular the Stone’s Throw and Def Jux labels were responsible for pioneering records by Madlib, Cannibal Ox, EL-P and Jay Dilla yet the majority of underground artists hesitating to embrace some daring records neutralised the scene. Meanwhile in the UK, artists such as Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascal, Phi Life Cypher and producers like Lewis Parker were establishing their own brand of hip-hop and its sub-genre grime. The innovations in England were more restrained. Parker’s melancholic sound, Roots Manuva’s absorption of a wide range of influences encompassing dub, dancehall and club-orientated music led to him consistently evolving his sound throughout his career. These trendsetters, however, found increasing numbers of pale imitators riding on their coat tails, leading to a lack of faith in the scene and a realisation that the repetition hindered wider commercial success so some redeveloped their sound and image in order to achieve.  Former grime MCs Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder are among these artists and Sway is now featuring on and producing tracks for American R&B stars like Akon.

So while hip-hop music seems to be stagnating, the other areas of hip-hop culture have evolved and are thriving. In the last ten years graffiti and its relative outsider art have moved into the media spotlight thanks to the work of Banksy, Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja (Massive Attack and The Wild Bunch), Jamie Hewlett, the Faile collective and many more. The former of these art forms developed from its origins on the New York streets in the ‘70s as a way for artists to express themselves and which group they were a member of into a style that has not only entered mainstream consciousness but has commented on socio-political and international issues and ideas before traditional media. Examples of this is the brilliant satire of Zevs and Blu, the hard hitting War Paint exhibition by 3D, which informed UNKLE’s ‘War Stories’ album artwork and the original Throw Up and Wildstyle lettering has evolved into stencilling (popularised by Banksy), Stickers or Slaps, Pieces, Blockbuster and Heaven. Though it has yet to be accepted by many in the art world as ‘true art’, graffiti is being included in art galleries and becoming a wider acknowledged form of artistic expression. Even York, where I live, young people are commissioned to create works with the help of a graffiti artist. While it is hidden well out of the city centre, it’s a step in the right direction for such a tourist-oriented place and outside art.

Like graffiti, break dancing or ‘b-boying’ has also enjoyed increased media and cultural exposure in the last ten years. This has included new TV series in the form of ‘Break’, a 2006 S. Korean drama about a break dancing competition and ‘Over The Rainbow’ which centred on characters who b-boy together. Documentaries ‘The Freshest Kids: A History of B-boy (2002) recorded the evolution of b-boying and ‘Plant B-Boy’ (2007) followed competing crews as they travelled the globe. There was also the ‘B-Boy’ videogame,  the comic book ‘Hip-Hop’ that launched breaking in S. Korea in 1997, a novel called ‘Kid B’ by former b-boy Linden Dalecki and in 2005, a Volkswagen Golf GTi advert featured a CG Gene Kelly break dancing to a new breakbeat version of ‘Singing in the Rain’ by Mint Royale. A b-boy even won the woeful Britain’s Got Talent in 2008, getting the opportunity to perform to royalty and helping seal b-boying’s place as a new media force.

Before watching the B-Boy Championships I admit I wasn’t aware of b-boying’s evolution and hadn’t expected the transformation in techniques and professionalism. I have been to hip-hop club nights and seen people break dancing in a ‘cipher’, where one or two b-boys compete in the centre of a group, and while enjoyable it didn’t signify the athletic displays I witnessed in the programme. Individuals and crews demonstrated an incredible range of routines and skills and the competition also represented the international spread of this cultural component. B-boying is huge in Japan and S. Korea and I was surprised by the Dutch, Ukrainian and Russian teams’ entries. It illustrated a thriving sub-culture and the ideas expressed about hip-hop’s apparent death were underlined by the lack of any contemporary hip-hop backing the performances.

To lesser degree, as its last great period was in the ‘90s, turntablism has continued to develop throughout the noughties. It has become a wider accepted form of musical expression and the turntable is acknowledged in some quarters as a musical instrument. Brand-sponsored tours and the transition of turntablist to acclaimed producer experienced by several artists demonstrate a mainstream acceptance and documentaries such as ‘Scratch’ that document the sub-genre’s past and present and the release of ‘DJ Hero’ in collaboration with the likes of DJ Shadow, DJ Q-Bert and others are further proof of this. Another major development is the increasingly popular audio-visual turntablist who, like the internationally adored DJ Yoda and Coldcut, manipulates and scratches musical and visual elements.

Although hip-hop music is in stasis, it or any other genre cannot be pronounced dead. There are still signs of life and creativity yet I do concede that statement albums and charismatic performers are few and far between. Kanye West’s actions have been criticised (and rightly so) but there is no doubt he is one of the few rappers/producers who truly continues to espouse the hip-hop spirit. A restlessly challenging and prolific creator, his persona and sound evolve with each new release whilst still undeniably Kanye. Since ‘The College Drop-Out’ he has rarely dropped a beat and in the last 18 months alone produced the brilliant if difficult ‘808 and Heartbreaks’ and presented Jay-Z with a fully sequenced version of ‘The Blueprint Vol.3’, which was a more varied affair that showcased a new dark pop/hip-hop sound and in ‘Run This Town’ produced a stone cold classic. Furthermore West has already nearly finished creating his next record that it will surely signal another change and controversy.

The question is: what now for hip-hop music? Where does it go and who will take it into a new era? There are some possible contenders. One is LA’s Flying Lotus who has great credentials. He is signed to Warp Records, a label with a 20 year history of innovation and his collective and own label, Brainfeeder, allows him access to a range of artists and their skills. However, despite the hype around the releases I have yet to hear anything that compares to his live performances but this may be an artistic choice. Another candidate is fellow Warp signing, Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke. Like Flying Lotus he is part of a collective, LuckyMe, and he and Flying Lotus have both been categorised into the wonky style, a sub-genre of hip-hop that incorporates unstable time signatures and sits between hip-hop and dubstep. The difference with Mohawke is that he is venturing into production for other artists and has no problem adapting his ideas for mainstream music. This may mean that the old adage of ‘today’s underground is tomorrow’s overground’ could become true for hip-hop for the first time since crunk and grime temporarily took off in the early noughties and that the other elements of hip-hop culture can only continue to find new ways to innovate and new avenues in which to endeavour. With graffiti founding its own art spaces like the Lazarides Gallery and finding its way, legally and otherwise, into traditional art galleries, people’s exposure to and understanding of this phenomenon will only improve. Alongside this, progressive theatre companies are using b-boy performances, which expand audience awareness and participation. Despite being perceived as a niche activity pursued by an elite of geeks, turntabilism has become the most high profile. It has moved into people’s living rooms and with the release of DJ Hero will engage with an entire new audience. There is a very positive outlook for these sub-cultures and I can’t wait to see the progress they make.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to discuss them in the comments section.

Spotify playlist (HHTP link, then Spotify link):

Hip-Hop Culture Blog

Hip-Hop Culture Blog

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