tylus Magazine... Bryan Neil Jones... Exclusive Review... So what exactly are labels trying to accomplish when they release a retrospective disc? It’s undeniably a masturbatory action. (In this way, it’s a like a record review.) For one, labels are trying to give a reminiscent nugget to long time fans. Amidst an era of home digitalization such an intention can’t push many disks. For two, a more financially viable option, they are trying to expose new fans/listeners (there is a subtle difference) to the label’s oeuvre. An effort to attract newcomers and stroke one’s own “catalogue” requires a certain amount of braggadocio. Yet, Up Above Record’s retrospective, Exclusive Collection, mixed by label stalwart DJ Rhettmatic, and its accompanying promo pack, take egotistical self-aggrandizement to a distasteful extreme. Consisting of three disks, and a nine page DVD insert sized text which attempts to convince us that Up Above Records is the best hip-hop label ever to emerge (and that it’s unstoppable roster has made no artistic missteps (and if you are a real hip-hop head you know this already)). I guess the pitch is to non hip-hop heads, or they are trying to reinforce the idea that Up Above fans (think about the aforementioned distinction) are hip-hop heads with impeccable taste.
The first disc, The Exclusive Collection, is a collection of notable singles from the label’s catalogue mixed and spliced by Rhettmatic with turntable antics and shouts-outs serving as transitions between tracks, or between portions of tracks that Rhettmatic has rearranged. The second disc, The Full Song Collection, consists of the same songs represented in their straight versions without any DJ dicking. Finally, there is a third disc of jpeg images of the singles’ original artwork. I’m confused as to how to approach this review? Should this hoopla be considered as a whole, as an indivisible monad? Well, the graphic design on the covers isn’t that hot, with the exception of the mic/pistol hybrid gracing The Beatnuts “Simple Murder,” and when rendered on my PC’s software are blurry, subpar scans anyway. Also, half of the images are shots of Rhettmatic himself hamming it up in a smoking jacket, posing in a mansion with a glass of cognac in his hand. The Full Song Collection, as a disc of what were originally to be stand out tracks, doesn’t really work as an long playing album. The main course here is The Exclusive Collection.
Rhettmatic does an excellent job of controlling the flow between a string of unrelated singles. The hard cuts between the differing beats are weaved and woven with flourishes of scratching and pitchshifting—all the usual tricks. These instrumental interludes not only showcase Rhettmatic’s turntable skills, they often feature shout outs recorded (some by phone by the sound of them) especially for this mix. “DJ Rhettmatic... exxxcccclllusssivvve collleccctttionnn...” repeated between every track is the only thing that gets in the way of the groove. As for the source material: the majority of it is mid-90’s hip-hop, heavy on the funk horns, and warmer softer grooves than today’s harsher drum machine punch-n-stutters. I’ve my preferences regarding MCs, as I’m sure you have yours. Sadat X has always tickled my particular fancy. He was Kayne West before Kayne West was Kayne West. Sadat makes multiple appearances. The centerpiece undeniably, though, is Jay Dee’s “Fuck the Police.” It’s somehow cocially relevant, politically confrontational, yet doesn’t dip into meaningless thug posturing, and is coupled with a percolating drum loop and a matching flute sample that puts both the Beastie Boys and Jethro Tull to shame. Jay Dee’s version is simultaneously a homage and a criticism of the NWA song. This is hip-hop at its best. Appropriately, Rhettmatic places this two minutes of perfection directly in the middle of the mix. It’s the peak.
Then there are the tracks that I don’t like, beats that don’t bump and MC’s that have no flow. But who am I to point this out? It says right on the cover that Up Start is artistically unmatched. This is the part of the review where I would make bad jokes that my editor would cut. Dilated Peoples are overrated. Fuck the police.
Reviewed by: Bryan Neil Jones
Reviewed on: 2004-04-09