I haven’t bought a new mixtape in a long time. Not because I’m not an enthusiast – quite the opposite, but as someone who was once on top of my game and knew what most DJ’s day to day moves were on a daily basis, I know how tough it can be to stay even a few steps behind what’s happening, let alone ahead of it all… And I’m talking about the days before widespread internet and high speed connections (I know I sound like an old fashioned grump sometimes but I find it fascinating how things have changed so seamlessly and how the internet has been intergrated into everything so easily…). It seems crazy how a while back when you wanted to know the name of a track you’d have to go through some mental and full on name game type shit… I’m talking about the old old days, early 90’s… So let’s go through the options in this 20th century name game :
1. I had a few tracks from the radio that had Tim Westwood talking all over them, but as they were the backing tracks and not always straight up hip hop insrumentals, it was a bastard trying to get the names. There was one in particular that was just killing me – it sounded so familiar but I had no chance at the time so I went around London record shops playing this tiny clip on my shitty walkman to any shop worker who’d listen. Not many, it turned out. Understandably they had better things to do. Well anyway it turned out to be a beat from an Evil D record (the backing track for that first track on Jay Z’s Black Album – you know the one). Sick. The blokes in Mr Bongo played it down the phone to someone and they told me. It was pretty ridiculous thinking back – I had to have the track, there was no other option. It was no thing to traipse around shops playing this stupid micro-clip to the shop folk, at the risk of being a total nuisance. I got the record though. Decent.
2. Play it to everyone you knew who might be into hip hop (or whatever) and hope they can hear something they recognize. Most of the time you’d provoke a smile and a “aaah, just give me a few minutes, I know this…” look which would ultimately lead to nothing and an impatient sigh on your part while trying to appear grateful to the patient listener.
3. Straight up legwork. Often you could just hear the name of the track in the chorus or something, or if you hadn’t heard of the group you could look out for them saying their name in the track and go from there… Like it was ever that simple. But it’s an option. And then you have the same record shop journeys to make but instead of the headphones mission you end up with a foot high stack of records to listen through. The shop staff reaction is surely less tolerant at this stage though, so you need to tread carefully or at least know that you will buy at least ONE of the records.
So much to consider. Record shop etiquette’ll get you every time.
Well, with all this in mind and, in those days, no forums, message boards, websites, mp3s or email, you had to be creative. Sometimes just complete random or lateral thinking was involved, but it was worth it. Accidents would happen but you’d come up some crazy golden goodness along the way so there was a lot to be gained from this time consuming escapade. And I’m definitely not fronting on the internet at all or saying that these methods were preferable to what we have now – hell no, it was terrible! But the sense of achievement was very high.
Anyway, the one cassette which would prove to cause me (and my brother) untold amounts of grief and a whole bunch of wrong records being bought on the offchance was a mixtape by DJ Riz, from around 1993 (on Tim Westwood’s show of course!). Now this mixtape was just fucking insane. I reckon even by today’s standards, a lot of people would flip over this… I’m not entirely sure how he made it but I’m sure it had some ancient technical 4 track science involved. The start was just a dope namecheck scratch (“what’s your name?” “DJ” “Riz” – and so on), and from then on it was just an intense trip into 80’s and 90’s hip hop with a huge amount of other goodies in there too. Even Chris Isaac gets a piece, as does Sade. For some trivial trivia, you can even hear a section of that intro on a Chemical Brothers track (I think it was called ‘Get Up On It Like This’ or something – the scratch sample). At the time I didn’t know much about track names, or producers or associations, much of that stuff. But this tape, this bloody tape, it would haunt me for a good decade or so and present name game after name game… But – I can safely say – it refined all of my crate digging senses and definitely had such a lot to play in my further adventures of record shopping, and even scratches and mixing style. I can’t explain just how immense this wave of hip hop was at that time, and the skill involved – but it just smashed it. I seriously recommend trying to track this one down, and if I find the original tape that me and my brother had I’ll try and put it up here. I’m sure it’s fine, it’s very old and as I found out after years of trying, you cannot find this tape anywhere.
So, in the spirit of fine mixtapes and the understandable but infuriating mixtape code of not including tracklists, let’s have a look at some mixtape greats from the past 10/15 years or so. I’m going to include some more recent 90’s ones and some from a few years back, but like I said earlier – I am not as up on what’s out now so forgive my time cap on this list! Do post a comment if you have any of these or like them as much as I do…
I’d love to hear what you think…
1. DJ Faust : ‘Man Or Myth’ (Bomb Records)
This one’s from around 1996. Like the DJ Riz mixtape, this would give me days of head scratching and years of “how the fuck did they do that…?”, and with the inclusion of DJ Shortee (did she model for Playboy at one point? I think she did…), DJ Shotgun (I think he was Goodie Mob’s DJ at one point), and DJ Craze (his section is utterly, utterly mindblowing), this is 60 minutes of epic and super tight hip hop collage mixtape production with ridiculous creativity and a definite sense of making more out of less. It says it was just made using a multitrack tape recorder and a mixer/turntable setup but if you listen to it you’ll be wondering exactly how they did all that without samplers… Amazing material, and it just makes you hungry for more. Ravenous dammit. I hope you can hear it.
2. DJ Babu : ‘Comprehension’ (Fat Beats)
From around the mid-90’s. More along the lines of the collage style, this has some nasty routines and layered up rawness from the Beat Junkie and eventual Dilated Peoples member. Pulp Fiction samples, live routines, instrumentals and one side of bugged out and smokey downtempo freestyles from Kankick, which is also fantastic. Hard to find now I think (both sides anyway, especially on tape) but if you see it, get on it…
3. DJ Signify : ‘Mixed Messages’ (Four Ways To Rock)
The follow on from ‘Signifyin’ Breaks’, which dealt with some savage psych drama as well as some really sweet oddities, sound bites, samples and record grabs from all over the place. Words and phrases are weaved in with drums and scratches and some heavyweight drum breaks are added to tracks from the past with ease. This was one of the mixes that really changed things for me – along with the other 1200 Hobos sets. The mentality behind the mixes was always on point and when this came out it was definitely onto something other than the basic acapella blends on instrumentals tapes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
4. Mr Dibbs and Jel (Outer Perimeter) : ‘Presage’ (Future Primitive)
Call it a mixtape or a production, this is just a severe and very dark, intensive concept set with a tin foil hat on and extreme paranoia. It’s beautiful. Nothing but New World Order dialogue and related samples with nasty drum breaks (some from Dibbs’ beat records) and those signature rhythmic cuts from the (at the time) big guy himself. Jel smashes it with some gravelly SP chops and minimal but super creative productions and killer techniques that just set the tone perfectly. And it’s even got the Jello Biafra/Ice T snatch near the end. That bugged me out when I first heard it (on the Ice T album I mean – not to blow spots or nothing). I heard this at the time when I was really getting into Anticon and the rest of that kind of hip hop (early Def Jux, Mush, Project Blowed, all that mess) so I consider it as a concept mixtape in line with the Hobos material but you can call it a production too I guess. Whatever it is, it’s daaark.
5. Mr Dibbs : ‘Turntable Scientifics’ (Four Ways To Rock) / ‘Abduction Of The Times 6.66’ (Mary Joy)
…more Dibbsological mayhem, might as well list them both together. The former is a stand alone hour long set of multitrack turntable goodness with beats, cuts, Disney samples and some ace tricks and soundbites. This is also home to the funniest prank call I’ve ever heard in my life. I know people will probably come back at me with Jerky Boys or something like that but you just can’t mess with :
Caller : “Flammable Face, you know who the FUCK you’re talking to here? I’ll have my boys come over there, and Fuck. You. Up…”
Old Lady : “Oh really?”
Caller : “YES.”
He also calls her Tear-Off Nipples. Come on. Genius. I’m not sure if that’s Dibbs or not but it’s just wonderful. Didn’t he get arrested for a prank call tape? ‘Squirrel Pussy’? Am I wrong? Why do I have that memory? Oh well… It’s a brilliant mix.
‘Abduction…’ is a killer set drawn from ‘Tags Of The Times 3’ which features all kinds of heavyweights who are still shaking things up these days, and this was back in the early part of this decade. Folk like Aesop Rock, Dose, 2mex (SFR stand UP!), Buck 65, the whole lot… The thing that really got me was the beat edits. Dibbs takes the beat and re-edits it with parts of the next beat and rethinks the idea of a mixtape. It was such a great idea and with this kind of music (you know what I mean! The more abstract side of hip hop I guess you could say) it sounded like a whole new genre. It was nuts. I’m definitely very influenced by this – in fact, if you take a listen to my ‘Mug Of Soda’ mix (I think it was that) you can hear these influences very clearly. No biting. Well… Anyway, it’s dope as hell. I love this. You should hear it if you haven’t…
6. DJ Craze & Klever : ‘Scratch Nerds’
My friend ‘ZILLA’ introduced me to this one. I first heard Craze on ‘Man Or Myth’ (the Faust mix) and didn’t really pay much attention from then, which is pretty dumb… I liked what he was doing with drum & bass but I’d sort of gotten over my drum & bass years and didn’t hear much from him. But this is just raw – insane scratch patterns and ridiculous skills, and the beats are just eardrum breaking. Funked up patterns and techniques and for once it’s a lot of fun to hear two guys practising. I know that’s what a lot of the Sqrach Piklz mixes were about but unfortunately I didn’t hear much of them. Shame.
7. DJ Fuseone : ‘iRregular I’ (Epitome Of Fresh)
Another super technical set, although here it is most definitely as much about production as it is scratches. The beats are almost Amon Tobin-like in their depth, and there is a really hefty and immaculately produced sound – this would fuck your hummer up no question. There are loads of guests later on too but it’s all so well mixed and mastered that there are no perceivable changes in quality, anywhere.
8. DJ DQ : ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’
I picked this up at a Sage show, matter of fact. This guy was selling mixes out of a big box. It’s dope, just like someone coming back from a huge record digging haul and spinning the finds but there are some really fresh multitrack ideas and some very sweet patters and layering. He DJ’s for Glue these days I believe but I haven’t heard much for a while. Really inventive stuff…
9. DJ QBert : ‘Wave Twisters’ (Thud Rumble)
I know this is a newer one, but it’s hard to know where to pick from in the Qbert catalogue. I’ve heard this one through more than a few times though so I know it better than other releases. Typical booming beats and minimal soundscapes which he layers up with space noises and pure psycho scratches. I don’t know what part comes first, the beats or the ideas for scratches, but this is one of the most fascinating space jams I’ve ever heard.
10. Cut Chemist : ‘Rare Equations’ / ‘The Litmus Test’ (A Stable Sound)
Love this guy. You could probably put Brainfreeze and Product Placement up there as well, with DJ Shadow. These two though are just a really neat display of what he’s about, although I reckon the latter is the most characteristic. I ‘inherited’ Rare Equations from a friend on a crappy tape, dubbed who knows how many times, and it stayed a part of my walkman listening for years. Funk originals, lots of rap references, some freestyles and some rarities from the J5 crates, along with some nice Tim Westwood snatches too. Daaaaaaaaaaaag, as ya boy would happily put it. The Litmus test, however, is just production beauty. Good goddamn. One of the most creative methods of presenting a back catalog I’ve ever heard. Mixes, remixes, exclusives, new edits, it’s got just about everything and it comes and goes, pulling out the tablecloth so quick you’re just left staring. The edits are amazing and the whole set is mixed together so skillfully. This is great.
10. DJ Melo-D : ‘The Turn Fable’ (Beat Junkies)
A smash from the Beat Junkies catalogue. I heard this around 1999 or so and he totally floored me. The Jimi Hendrix ‘Fire’ routine is just pure insanity, and I don’t even think he sped the tape up. The cuts are sharp as hell, the rhythms are precise and the mix sections are deceptively simple, with some really intricate semi-juggles and tech cuts all over… Really savage – try and get on this one if you can find it. It’s just incredible.
…I’ll also add – anything by DJ Spinbad. He did some jaw dropping mixes back in the 90’s and I think he’s doing them to this day. One of his intros is quite honestly one of the deadliest intros I’ve ever heard on a mixtape. Jeez. Whether it’s the 80’s pop sets or the straight up hip hop sets, you’re onto something very special indeed…
Wow, I really went off there. I think I’ll leave this here for now. Jeez. Sorry about the rambling… I’ll get off here. Any comments are gratefully received – I just wanted to present some classics and goodies, but please don’t think that this is in any way exhaustive – there are literally hundreds more.
…and if you want me to listen to anything and see if I know what it is… I respect the old fashioned way so get at me!
Thanks for reading – hollaback.
Blognarant 4 life.