I don’t want to get into a missive bemoaning the death of hip-hop, but a little care goes a long way. Forget about the fact that producers and MCs have all but abandoned the concept of organic collaboration, most tracks nowadays just sound like a race to boost the bottom line. They’re too sterile. The best producers are the ones that display a lived-in, emotional connection with the music.
Brenner’s Breaks Volume 1, then, is on some real shit. There’s a real spirit living in these tracks, and the sprawling narrative becomes a voyage. While most modern hip-hop producers try to blow their load in three minutes, 100dBs uses a softer palette, tempering the energy. Like the tortoise, he wins in the end. Unlike his earlier work, the source sounds no longer dictate 100dBs destination – he’s in the driver’s seat, and his tools are a means to the end. It’s now his voice entirely.
100dBs finds natural collaborators in Ryan O’Neil and J-iLL. O’Neil has an old-school flow, smooth with the ability to cut on a dime, but he’s better when he’s spitting about someone other than himself. He and 100dBs are blatant with their love of the old-school, opening “All You Need” (mp3) by personalizing the famous intro to “The Breaks” before segueing into a fluid bass-and-flute head-nodder that comes straight from a smokey jazz club. It’s nice to hear someone else hasn’t forgotten about Bradley Nowell, who makes a posthumous appearance on the track.
O’Neil juxtaposes nicely with J-iLL, who manages to be hard and unrelenting, yet sensual. The co-ed duo work well together on “War” (mp3), managing to overcome the beautifully haunting military beat with a pair of commanding verses. But me, I’m a sucker for a strong woman, and J-iLL’s “I Still Love You” (mp3) makes my blood pump. The sweet, vintage soul sample and her tough girl routine mesh nicely.
100dBs, though, also finds success with some hip-hop heavyweights. He’s most impressive working with OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” (mp3) — most attempts at such a classic would be groan-worthy, but the bouncing bongos, clean guitar affectations, and twinkling piano maintain the sincerity of the original while giving it a new flavor. “Criminology” (mp3), featuring Ghostface and Raekwon, is somber. A bleak electric piano deteriorates over declarative snare hits and a somber horn, an approach that tempers the aggressiveness of the MCs. A resigned “What does it matter?” sample completes the heartbreaking mix.
100dBs doesn’t fall into the trap of over-thinking the process or worrying about how to stand out from the crowd. Instead of trying to create a new sound, the talented producer takes all the little things you love about classic hip-hop and decorates them with his own tasteful touches. Brenner’s Breaks Volume 1 is gritty and soulful, comfortable like a pair of worn-in jeans. The result is familiar –- Breaks isn’t the flavor of the week or month, it’s the flavor of hip-hop.
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