The 34th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from writer Dan LeRoy, author of The Greatest Music Never Sold and the 33 1/3 book on the Beastie Boys classic Paul’s Boutique.
Dan offers thought-provoking insight on an album that, honestly, I had never heard, which is just another reason I get such a thrill from this series. Visit Dan at MySpace or on his Web site.
Dark Sun Riders feat. Brother J
Seeds of Evolution
(4th & Broadway/Island, 1996)
Two of my favorite hip hop albums are the Beastie Boysâ€™ Paulâ€™s Boutique and Seeds of Evolution, by Brother Jâ€™s post-X Clan group Dark Sun Riders. I wrote a 33 1/3 book about the first, and the second is the subject of this post. But it didnâ€™t really strike me, until Kevin extended this very generous invitation to give Seeds some very belated praise, just how dissimilar the two records are.
Everyone knows, or should, that Paulâ€™s Boutique was pretty much the last mainstream gasp for anything-goes sampling. The Beasties, Dust Brothers and Matt Dike stuffed every groove with as much familiar sonic flotsam and jetsam as possible, but changes in sampling law have made it unlikely any artist will ever be able to party like itâ€™s 1989 again. Seeds, however, resides at the opposite pole. Except for the basslines (played, interestingly, by Quicksandâ€™s Sergio Vega and producer/journalist Rich Tozzoli) and a handful of sound effects, it is boom-bap at its most uncluttered and primal. Thatâ€™s high praise here, because the drums — mostly supplied by producers DJ M.A.T.E. and UltraMan — are simply huge throughout the disc. On songs like the single, â€œTime To Buildâ€ and â€œRhythmous Flex,â€ UltraManâ€™s beats are so monstrous that other instruments are barely necessary.
Part of the pop-culture potpourri of Paulâ€™s Boutique includes lyrical namechecks and nods clustered so densely that whole web sites are devoted to nothing but parsing Paulâ€™s verses for obscure bits of cultural trivia. But Brother Jâ€™s refusal to play spot-the-reference gives the songs on Seeds a timeless quality. Itâ€™s set up like a sci-fi fable, with Brother J and his Dark Sun Riders on a quest for truth and light, in a messed-up, out-of-balance future world that seems not unlike our own. In fact, it might be the only hip-hop album I can recall where the interludes are actually necessary, something like the Broadway-style transitional songs such as â€œSally Simpsonâ€ and â€œ1921â€ in the Whoâ€™s Tommy.
Which brings us to the last big difference. Even people who, post-Licensed to Ill, believed the Beasties were assholes of the highest magnitude would have been hard-pressed not to chuckle at some of the juxtapositions and clever lines on Paulâ€™s Boutique. It is simply a very funny record. Seeds, by contrast, is anything but. The few lighter moments occur mostly during interludes like â€œDay of the Gathering,â€ a splash-panel of an introduction to the whole valiant Dark Sun crew that couldnâ€™t help but make any old Marvel or D.C. fan smile. And while Brother Jâ€™s lyrics resurrect some of the very serious topics (pro-black nationalist, anti-gay) that made X Clan a troubling proposition, itâ€™s hard at least to argue with stuff like the haunting â€œReturn to the River,â€ which describes seeing the â€œyoung and unschooled telling old man stories/teaching lessons never learnedâ€¦no one seemed to care that the shadows were becoming one with the flesh.â€ Sound like any MCs and any hip-hop mainstreams you know, in 1996 or at present? Whatever heâ€™s saying, Brother Jâ€™s forceful, yet refined delivery is a reminder that heâ€™s one of the most unjustly unsung rappers around, something like the missing link between Rakim and one of todayâ€™s more eloquent mic practitioners.
For all their differences, Paulâ€™s Boutique and Seeds do share at least one unfortunate bit of history: both are great albums that major labels had no idea how to sell. The Paulâ€™s Boutique chart debacle, and the Beastiesâ€™ comeback on Capitol, have now entered legend, but Seeds marked, as best Iâ€™m aware, the last time Brother J got a release on a major. Thatâ€™s a loss for the larger hip-hop world; if you have followed the Clanâ€™s recent exploits (as on 2006â€™s Return to Mecca) you know it isnâ€™t like the guy suddenly forgot how to dominate a mic. But if youâ€™ve never heard Seeds of Evolution, you should find a copy at once and hear him at his creative peak. Or better yet, listen to it back to back with the Beasties; it makes a nice rebuttal to anyone who claims thereâ€™s only one kind of â€œrealâ€ hip-hop.
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