Paul Nice
Journey To The Centre of The Beats


n the now as standard mixtape opening freestyle, New York MC El Gant lets us know that he’ll “kill you on your own show quicker than John Ritter”. And, outside of the grieving relatives of deceased stateside sitcom icons, there should be something to suit all stripes of hip-hop consumer on Journey To The Centre of the Beats. Replete with inevitable faux-50s sci-fi artwork and the street cred of Antidote Records, Paul Nice produces a grab bag of frestyls, exclusives, remixes, and bangers, but does so with enough skill to keep it all on target like Jay Jay Okacha free kicks.

So, how does it break down then? Well, there’s the freestyles. There’s an impressive run out for the aforementioned El Gant, who manages to use the line “throwing pussy like a discus”, and a slightly less inspiring off-the-dome performance by Masta Ace, who is rubbish.

There’s the remixes. On “Bullshit”, Jane Doe manages to do what my grandmother has booked in to do next Tuesday, insofar as blowing both Talib Kweli and Black Thought off of a track (“I short MCs like Black History in February”. Nice), and Jhelisa’s “Friendly Pressure”, a slice of mid 90s coffee house soul, which is the kind of music Will Young would play you if you’d just fucked him in a café-bar toilet.

There’s the classics, the “in case of emergency break glass” tracks that are always on standby for occasions like this. So Biz Markie appears and does the “I may be old, but at least my fans are older” act on “Turn The Party Out”, those wacky Shaolinists the Wu keep it on some Cornish tip with a double helping of both “C.R.E.A.M.” and Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” (essential listening for anyone who’s idea of a good track is Meth reciting the Haagen Daas product list), and, oh my, bleak housing cast in iron classic “Shook Ones Pt.2”. It’s a classic, and I’m not sure why. The beat sounds like it was made on a broken stylophone. The lyrics are pretty much a rote cliché run through, but Prodigy and… the other one say them like they’re standing in a darkened alleyway with a torch lighting up their faces until you believe them fully, and you start doodling “I’m only 19 but my mind is older” on all available surfaces.

And there’s the bootlegs. Hey, we all miss 2001,and Paulie gives you FOUR whole chances to relive those halcyon days of “Song by band without guitars” vs. “Song by band with guitars, or perhaps Basement Jaxx”. There’s William DeVaughn vs. Clipse, with the Al Green-lite (Al Lime?) of the former’s “Be Thankful For What You Got” welded onto the car door slamming clunk of “Grindin’”, and creates what “Like I Love You” would have sounded like if it was designed solely to appear on a Tarantino soundtrack. DeBarge vs. Jeru the Damaja and J-Live vs “The Message” are de rigeur rap mix run-throughs (hip-hop DJs had been booting long before someone had the idea of “Without Me” vs “We All Stand Together (The Frog Chorus)”, remember), but thankfully Nice keeps a little something left over from “The Message”, specifically the acapella, and delivers something special with it.

To most purists, putting a new beat behind Grandmaster Flash’s verbals is tantamount to redrawing Manet’s Olympia on MS Paint. You need balls of steel to even attempt such a thing, but Paul Nice attempts, and succeeds, in this riskiest of steps. Pairing it with a old school dub skank, Nice draws an obvious parallel between “The Messages”’s tales of early 80s US inner-city fucked-upness, and the similar work being carried out by the 2 Tone bands in the UK at the same time (this is an American DJ releasing on a UK label, after all). In its new, downtempo, more measured incarnation, it actually sounds vaguely like the Gotan Project, but I can’t see this advertising courier companies. Which is ironic, because over the course of this album, Paul Nice does nothing but deliver.

Reviewed by: Dom Passantino

Reviewed on: 2004-08-27

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