Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lootpack - Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)

Long before Stones Throw veteran Madlib was, well, a Stones Throw veteran, he ran with an outfit known as Lootpack.  Comprised of Wildchild, DJ Romes, and Madlib, the crew met up in high school and began producing and rapping as if with genetic benevolence.

Madlib, Otis Jackson Jr., was immersed in a musical childhood.  His father, Otis Jackson Sr., was an adept band leader and instrumentalist.  His credentials range from session work with Johnnie Taylor to Tina Turner, giving insight into Madlib's penchant for invoking soul sounds in his production.  His mother, Sinesca, is a blues guitarist and a folk songwriter.  She, herself, comes with a hereditary predisposition for the 'phonicsphere'.  Her mother and her mother's mother were blues musicians as well.  Finally, helping to round out his education in the classics was his uncle, Jon Faddis, who's career as a trumpet player is well documented in the Jazz World.  Faddis' work with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Ayers, and Bob James would foster Madlib's youthful interest in cratedigging.

Encouraged by his father and uncle, Otis Jr. would explore their encyclopedic vinyl collection, testing the potency of each dusty analog recording.  It's hard to believe that this exposure wouldn't be formative in how he came to galvanize west coast underground hip-hop beginning in the mid 90's.

In 1994, Madlib got the chance to produce a single, "Mary Jane", with Tha Alkaholiks.  The Liks, a  funky west coast hip hop group, were clearly impressed with young man's work ethic.  Madlib is known to work in isolation for 12 hours a day, in addition to whatever work he does with collaborators.  On their subsequent debut LP, Lootpack was invited to produce and rap on the song "Turn tha Party out".

The track opens, calling out "Jack" Brown, Wildchild, to spit the first verse.  He acquaints himself with the microphone, immediately curling bravado-drenched lyricism with an off-tempo swagger.  ...I'll Carey, Mariah took her back, and show her how I Pack, Loot Kick lyrics on originally outtrack, black in fact, People call me moody, I simply knocks the booty, Pull up my hoody, and then I bust a Sam Goody.  This signature (though, can narcissism really be a 'signature' to any hip-hopper?) palette of egotistical content would provide the basis for all of his work until, perhaps, Kiana, a song about his daughter he put out in 2002.

Now, admittedly, a static thematic element is not a great selling point.  The phenomenon plagues the legacy of some great artists, like B.I.G., while its forbearance has been invoked as proof for the profundity of others.  Nevertheless, deft, witty writing often peels from the chaff revealing itself as ultimately talented, albeit esoteric.  Biggie is far less often derided for the subject of his writing, than exalted for the adroitness of his locution (except by the PMRC).

The same can be said of Wildchild, the voice of Lootpack when a nascent Quasimoto isn't gracing the mic.  Though he repeatedly levels assaults at imposters in the industry, the weapon he uses is multifarious and strong.  He fires round after round, lyrically assassinating those who come in his way.  Gettin versatile when I smile, toastin to the funk, All punks put your glasses down, or end up in the trunk.  This sound would later be crystalized on Lootpack's 1999 debut album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote.  

In 1996, Peanut Butter Wolf heard the track on a college radio station and hunted the band down.  A small release and poor distribution amplified the intention of the task, and when both parties finally met, it resulted in Lootpack signing to an inchoate Stones Throw Records.  The partnership seemed fated.  Peanut Butter Wolf has a special ear for discerning talent.  In the choked hip-hop scene of Southern California, he's been able to pick out prodigies, such as Madlib and Charizma, to create a canon of golden age-driven, nostalgia-inspired independent hip-hop.  His label is nearly synonymous with the remembrance of a bygone era/milieu/genre (it's kinda hard to separate time, place, and sound with these artists).  A simple one: where emcees' lyrical strikes retained an air of comedy, where producers didn't need the most expensive gear, where rap still connected with its ancestral funk, blues, and soul.

Soundpieces: Da Antidote is the only full length LP The Lootpack (who often refer to themselves as The LP) committed to vinyl.  It's scathingly aggressive, yet tempered by the funky rhythms and idiosyncratic rhyme structures.  My backbone attack wack poems, got mad rap tones, I destroy fake Madlib beats and Crackerjack poems.  It's beats are grimy, gritty, and goading.  This is due, in major part, to Madlib's affection for the E-mu SP-1200 drum machine and beat sampler.  As Ben Detrick characterizes it, the machine is known for, "crunchy digitized drums, choppy segmented samples, and murky filtered basslines", which came to typify the B-boy era in New York.  The ionic golden age instrument was over a decade old when Soundpieces came out, making a prominent statement about the status of emergent musical technology.  Madlib, the harbinger of the B-boy Renaissance, was about to bring back this classic sound and incite a revival on the west coast.

The album's resolute theme is contrasted by its downright silly interludes and execution.  Underlying the B-boy ethic was an adherence to controlled juxtapositions.  They listened to music, took beautiful melodies and broke them into abrasive (at least to honkies), percussive tracks.  They danced violently, yet peace was preserved.  And in the cypher, they attacked each other verbally yet mostly in jest.  Remember, these were the years before gangster rap.  The weighting of this album is a reflection of just such an aesthetic.  Make it known you're the best, while keeping it civil.

The real significance of this album, lies in its ability to transport you from the sphere of hip-hop to which you've grown accustom.  It draws you away from the days where a G-pass and Parental Advisory were the criteria.  It reminds you that hip-hop was once tied to the great musical tradition which gave us icons like James Brown and Gil-Scott Heron.  It inspires you to search the crates at your local record store (or iTunes?), for the funk and soul that mesmerized a young Lootpack.  At 74 lithe minutes, it gets you asking, Where's the rest of that real B-boy shit?


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