Various Artists: Stax- The Soul of Hip Hop

various_staxsoulhiphopThe soul behind the samples

The usual exercise one enjoys with hip-hop and other sample-based music is to work backward from the collage to its sources. Sample-crazy DJs such as Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis are often the subject of lengthy crowd-sourced lists that deconstruct the construction, and the releases themselves sometimes include an official list. Some samples, such as Clyde Stubblefield’s performance on “Funky Drummer,” have become so iconic in their abbreviated form that the sample all but eclipses the original source. Other samples continue to live as obscure, failed singles or album tracks only known to a few.

The fourteen songs gathered here, released by Stax primarily between 1971 and 1975, represent the record collection of hip-hop’s parents. These tracks provide figurative and literal ancestors in the form of beats, riffs and breaks handed down from one generation to the next. Heard in full, these productions offer both sonic context and musical ethos in their re-emergence from the shadows of deep album cuts. Only three of these tracks (Booker T. & the MG’s “Melting Pot,” The Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down,” and Rufus Thomas’ “Do the Funky Penguin (Part 1)”) became even moderate hit singles, the rest were rescued from closets and dusty record store backrooms by fans undeterred by artistic obscurity or the need to flip an LP to side two (or, really, play an LP in the first place).

A drum break or instrumental riff that can be effectively looped, stretched and otherwise repurposed doesn’t necessarily spring from an original track worth hearing in whole. But producer Jonathan Kaslow has repeatedly hit the trifecta of artistically meritorious tracks whose samples add catchy hooks to historically important hip-hop releases. The result is a highly listenable collection of old-school soul whose sampled moments will surprise you with their original context, and send you searching for their multiple reuses. For example, those who recognize the signature guitar sting of Cypress Hill’s “Real Estate” may be surprised to find it surrounded by deep bass, stabbing organ, crisp horns and funky drumming on the Bar-Kay’s original “Humpin’.”

Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up On My Baby” is instantly recognizable as the backing for the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” but the original’s cinematic reach is constrained to a small looping sample behind the Geto Boys’ gritty lyrics. Similarly, the signature organ of Wendy Rene’s 1964 “After the Laughter (Comes Tears)” is easily picked out of the Wu Tang Clan’s “Tearz,” but in this case an original vocal sample reused in the chorus brings more of the original’s mood to the rapping remake.

In addition to the best known breaks, many of these tunes offered up second and third samples that led in different directions. Kaslow’s liner notes pay tribute to the original artists and tracks, and trace the multiple reincarnations of their works. All that’s missing is a companion disc of the sample reuses. No doubt (and with great irony) cross-licensing and royalty sharing likely made that financially insolvable. You can hunt down the reuses on services like imeem, but having the often obscure original sources in one place is the real treat. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Hung Up On My Baby Isaac Hayes
Stax Records Home Page
Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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