(J-Zone is back! Last time, he touched on his favorite 45s for a pre-45 Sessions blowout; this time, he zeroes in on his all-time choice breaks. His new release, Lunch Breaks, a sample-palette of live drums performed entirely by Jay himself, launched last week and is primed for drum-less MPCs everywhere. Always stoked to have J-Zone swing through these parts. Thnx Jay! – DM)
Every hip-hop producer has their favorite drum breaks – until they start playing drums! I had this epiphany two years ago, when I picked up a pair of sticks and set out to learn a new instrument at the tender age of 34 and three quarters. When discovering the wide range of sounds a kit can make and the wide range of playing styles a drummer can use, you begin to hear breaks differently.
You also begin to realize how difficult some of these classics were to play. Nowadays, it’s no longer about which breaks are easiest to chop up, toss into the MPC and boom bap with, but which ones I like to emulate when I practice and mimic the recording of when I’m making my own breaks. So I’ve decided to mix it up and include both: a few choices from a production angle and a few from a (still learning to be a) drummer angle.
In celebration of the release of my ‘Lunch Breaks’ live drum package out now at The Drum Broker, I present my ten favorite drum breaks of all time.
10. Led Zepplin – “The Crunge”
Drummer: John Bonham
Ask anyone putting on a show in the drum section of a Guitar Center who they’d like to be for a day and the answer is probably John Bonham. The freakish Led Zepplin drummer has more Stans than any drummer in history, and although I have different heroes, I’d never front on Bonzo’s brilliance on the set. For fuck’s sake, the dude plays this groove in 9/8 with the pocket of a James Brown jam. And it was the driving force behind “The Magic Number.”
9. B.T. Express – “Energy Level”
Drummer: Leslie Ming
Although rap hasn’t been this fast in years, I’m shocked at how little this joint has been sampled (or if it’s been sampled at all). Leslie Ming is one of my favorite drummers. A session musician in New York throughout the ‘80s, Ming got his start with disco-funk outfit, B.T. Express, where he lit up the band’s Energy to Burn LP with rat-ta-tat-tat drumming from front to back. Accented, machine gun hi-hat marksmanship, syncopated kick-snare patterns and pure pocket make this a gem for b-boy circles and a dance floor smoker for those with soul.
8. Lonnie Smith – “Spinning Wheel”
Drummer: Joe Dukes
When Q-Tip de-virginized this record for sampling in 1990 for Tribe’s “Can I kick It?” he only scratched the surface. Organ trio jazz drummer, Joe Dukes, goes for his multiple times in the song, playing with grooves and giving producers a buffet of rudiments, licks and hits to fool with. One of the very first drum breaks I cut my sample chopping teeth to, there wasn’t one part I didn’t try to flip while learning to hook up drums. The classic Van Gelder Studios sound brings “Spinning Wheel” to life; it’s even more of a pleasure to listen to as an aspiring drummer.
7. Simtec & Wylie – “Socking Soul Power”
Those toms! The toms often play second fiddle in funk drumming and are tuned arbitrarily. But the way the drum set was miked, tuned and recorded gives the toms a bruising thump that nearly distorts the entire mix. This is just a raw, demo-like drum recording reminiscent of the great drum recordings of Chess Records.
6. Lee Moses – “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”
Sometimes it’s all about feel. I’m not sure who the drummer was on this twisted, mind-melting cover of the Motown classic, but it’s just the right mixture of a slightly ahead pocket, fills, jazz tuning and gritty recording gear that bring the song to life. The simple single stroke rolls on the toms for the breakdowns late in the song are gold. The feel and sound are insane enough on their own; the song doesn’t call for any fancy playing.
Danny Brown & Black Milk : “Zap”
Admittedly I wasn’t hugely into Black Milk’s oeuvre but part of it, I came to realize, is how prolific dude’s been in the last few years. I spoke with him for the recent Wax Poetics and thought it was endearing that, to him, he finally “made it” when his parents came to one of his shows.
“My moms and pops were there! It was the first time after all these years that they saw me live. I knew right then and there this is what I’m meant for,” he said. While researching his work I re-listened to his Danny Brown collab, Black & Brown. As it now stands (and I consider myself a fan of Danny’s work) this album with Milk might be the only one where Brown’s abrassiveness doesn’t wear thin– don’t get me wrong, this Danny joint is still one of my favorite semi-recent rap songs. Peep the new Wax Po piece and here’s my favorite joint from the two; it thumps when the drums finally set in, and is such a hard, flashy moment in their young careers.
One of our all-time favorite mixes is Age’s Audio, a blend of old soul, breaks, and rare cuts which continue to (no pun intended) age quite well years later. After all, it kicks off with Quinn Harris’ “All In The Soul” which is hardly a bad way to start any sequence of music.
It cannot be overstated how much influence and just overall pleasure we’ve gotten from O-Dub’s site, the venerable Soul-Sides. From the blog’s consistency to its superb song picks, it’s nothing short of, I think, one of the best blogs ever published. So we were certainly geeked when selected tracks from the site were pressed onto vinyl– Soul Sides Vol.1 and Vol.2, respectively.
Through the years, O-Dub has dropped by Nerdtorious and I’ve had the honor of adding to Soul-Sides. This year, however, marks Soul-Sides’ 10th anniversary! To celebrate (and as a goodwill token) Volume 3 was released for download. Though it’s a bummer we won’t see it on wax, these songs, in short, are completely quality driven-as is Soul-Sides has been for a quick decade. Here’s to another 10 years – DM
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Blackilicious, Chief Xcel, Gift Of Gab, One More Robot
I was lucky to pen the coverstory for the last issue of One More Robot, the premiere art & music magazine out of Dublin, Ireland. For the latest one, themed the “The Crime Issue”, I interviewed Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel about one of the most colorful yet anti-crime records ever, their debut, Melodica.
It firstly reminds me of being young with a backpack full of distrust for all things radio. But it was also the pair’s first outing and still stands out to me as far as Bay Area rap goes. Pick up the latest issue of OMR and relive hearing “Swan Lake” for the first time all over again. Below is an excerpt of the transcript.- DM
Let’s start off with basics. How old were you guys when this was recorded and about how long did it take to make?
Gift of Gab: We were in our early twenties, I’d say 22 or so.
Chief Xcel: Off and on, it took about a year finish. It was actually released as a cassette tape first [laughs]. We probably haven’t heard it since the mid-nineties.
But you guys had already recorded together prior, right?
Xcel: Yeah, we had teamed up about 5 years before we actually sat down and made Melodica.
How advanced was your studio at this point? What equipment was this primarily made on?
Gab: We were still in our dorm rooms then [laughs]. Everything was kind of makeshift. And although we all had been making music for a few years then, we were just in our learning phase.
Xcel: Basically, we used a MPC 60 and a Tascam 4-track. Not much really [laughs].
Did you two have certain concepts in place before making it? Or was the concept simply good rhymes and good beats?
Gab: It was our first project together and we had been together since high school. We were hip-hop heads and just wanted to make some sort of contribution that would be respected by our peers.
I understand Melodica was recorded mostly at Dan The Automator’s place? Did he have any influence on the project in any way?
Gab: That was at a time when our crew was young and just formed. So even though he didn’t work on the EP directly, just being around Dan definitely had an influence. I think it’s important to always surround yourself with creative people whom you respect.
Doris & Kelley’s “You Don’t Have To Worry” was my favorite “new (to me)” song of 2013. Granted, it was released in 1967 to little or no acclaim but it flipped my wig this year when at a DJ gig in Bernal Heights with DJ Ferrari aka Forty Fivan. He played it, I ran to the speaker.
Ferrari said that night: “This ain’t hard to come by, but it ain’t cheap.” By far the most moving and impactful song I’ve been lucky enough to hear in 2013. Vocals are killer right out the gate and the arrangement doesn’t drag. I couldn’t find much on Doris or Kelley so please hit us with any info if you’ve got it! For now, enjoy the slow, sultry burner.
Glad to finally have this in my modest crates and glad to add the “audio” aspect back to the site, which, after all, is an “audioblog” first and foremost. More audio to come!
It had been years since I spoke with the Bay’s own, DJ Q-Bert. But the time was apt given his TWO releases this year and his continued impact on the game. Titles like “Yoda” or “Einstein” would be outrageous if it were anyone but Q. DJ Jazzy Jeff recently called him the “Jimmy Hendrix of Turntables”. Peep Q-Bert’s new projects and our recent discussion HERE via MIXCRATE.