Hip Hop Roots
hat's astonishing is seeing the number of acts who used any given one of these samples. In an era when DJs and producers are praised for their crate-digging skills and criticized for even dramatically re-working a sample we heard in a song a few years ago, it's easy to forget that there was a time when, despite attempts to keep vinyl labels secret, DJs were not only unafraid to rerun a hook, but would search out specific beats. On Hip Hop Roots, Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman collects what he considers some of the most important of these foundational breakbeats.
The idea sounds like one that might only appeal to heads and scholars, but it works quite well regardless of your knowledge of (or, heck, even interest in) hip hop. These songs for the most part have little to do with hip hop per se, except for having been sampled on either a few important or lots of listened-to records. Looking over the tracklist isn't going to sell you, either—there are too many tracks here you probably don't think you care about. Until you spin them and think, "Oh, so that's where that hook came from!"
"Think (About It)" by Lyn Collins featuring the JB's is the most obvious of these. I don't know Collins, but it's not surprising that the JB's would show up here. The surprising part comes partway through the song when that eureka moment strikes, and you start hearing "It Takes Two" and then a record-load of Public Enemy and Heavy D and Slick Rick and, yeah, this song is hot as Hilton lingo.
You might also get turned around by the Monkees' (!) appearance, with "Mary, Mary." Run-DMC's song of the same title was a landmark moment for the rural white dudes I grew up with, but hearing the Monkees' song with "where you going to?" [hard g] replacing "why you buggin'" suddenly adds a whole level of funk to the mindless TV-soundtracking music I used to dig during my summer vacations.
Just a few songs into my first listen, I gave up on hearing this disc as an archival piece of hip hop history. I don't have the knowledge of old-school hip hop to know for myself how accurate or how broad a sample of early breakbeats this collection presents. I can read the liner notes, and I can reference my own music stacks, and I could do enough research to really break this down for you, but I'd rather just throw the CD on as a Silverman mixtape. After all, are 53 minutes and 12 tracks going to encapsulate anything (and where are the other 25 minutes, Tom? This is a compilation, not an album)?
With this attitude in place, the disc works pretty well whether you're into digging out early hip-hop samples or not. You might have it elsewhere, but you need "Express Yourself" in your library, every bit as much as you need the more obscure "UFO" by ESG (regardless of your interest level in knowing that everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Peanut Butter Wolf to GangStarr to Big Daddy Kane to Afrika Bambaata to Tupac to LL to Rick Rubin has used it). The only flaw lies with the fact that some of these tracks have been edited (usually extended by Jazzy Jay), but you'll have to have a better ear or desire to research to figure out how. You're not guaranteed any tracks presented purely, but they will be presented relatively directly.
And if you decide to do a little basic scholarship, you've got some engaging tracks collected together with useful liner notes. As with the Monkees song, you might find it both weird and fun to go back to this music listening to it through a contemporary hip hop ear. You might also find it worthwhile to revisit some of you favorite hip hop tracks, be it "Night of the Living Baseheads" or "99 Problems" with their building blocks fresh in your head. Alternately, you might just want to dance.