Sunday, September 12, 2010

Matador Records at 21: Hip Hop Highlights

In celebration of their 21st anniversary, Matador Records will be releasing a special box set, prepped to hit record stores (huh?) on September 28th. The six-CD set will feature remastered tracks from the label's catalog, as well as a full disc of unreleased live recordings. Why is this important? Well, for starters, Matador has been home to some of my favorite independent/alternative/[insert pseudo-sub-genre here] artists like Cat Power (a.k.a. wifey), Pavement, Belle & Sebastian, Interpol, and a handful of others. But little did you know, Matador has also released its fair share of hip hop LPs and singles as well. Matador at 21 features a tiny sampling from their rap catalog, but I thought I'd dig deeper into their crates on my rap nerd steez to reveal some overlooked gems. Here's what I found:

Large Professor
1st Class; various singles

That's right! Matador Records shipped out this great album by Extra P, featuring fellow Queens artists Nas, Akinyele and Q-Tip. To me, the highlight of that record was "Stay Chisel", which was also released as a single (with "Akinyele" on the B-side). Other singles released by Matador include "'Bout That Time" b/w "LiveGuy Saga", "Blaze Rhymez" b/w "Back to Back", "Radioactive" b/w "Blaze Rhymez II". They also put out a mixtape dubbed, quite appropriately, "Large Professor Mix CD 2002". The 5th Chamber's got the hook up.

The Arsonists
As the World Burns; Date of Birth; various singles

What y'all know about about the The Arsonists? Originally formed in 1993 as the Bushwick Bomb Squad, this Brooklyn-based rap group released their two LPs As the World Burns and Date of Birth (also released on 9/11/01) via Matador Records. They released a slew of singles as well, including "Pyromaniax" b/w "In Your Town" and "Backdraft" b/w "Halloween I" b/w "Halloween II", among many others. They even put out an instrumental version (love those) of their first LP. Cop that here. (Side note: Speaking of Q-Unique, he just dropped a solo LP with FatBeats Records. Check it out!)

Dizzee Rascal
Boy in da Corner

Remember when Dizzee Rascal was the new BFD? Dart does. Me too. It all started with Boy in da Corner. Originally released in 2003 under XL Records, Dizzee's debut LP was pushed into the States the following year by, you guessed it, Matador. The album featured the hit track "Fix Up Look Sharp", also released as a Matador 12".

Mr. Len
Pity the Fool; sampler & two singles

I banged this album for a couple of months back in high school. I'm lucky I even heard of this record because it missed most peoples' radars. Anyways, Mr. Len, former member of Company Flow, dropped this solo debut back in 2001 under Matador Records. Pity the Fool featured Jean Grae (you know I love you), MURS, Q-Unique (of The Arsonists; see above), Lord Sear, Chubb Rock and others. Basically, it was an underground affair. The album spawned a couple of singles, with intro track "This Morning" featuring Jugganots, and "What the F@$k?!?" b/w "Straight".

Non Phixion
The Past, The Present, The Future Is Now; various singles

Before Ill Bill and the rest of the crew went for dolo, they were busting heads as one of the illest rap groups of the new millenium: Non Phixion. And before they released their first LP, they put out a cherished sampler tape titled The Past, The Present, The Future Is Now with Matador. As written on the cassette cover: "This is a collection of Singles, Demos, Freestyles, and Promos we have done until now. A taste of what to expect from the Non Phixion debut album... The Future Is Now." Apparently, the group was supposed to drop The Future Is Now through Matador, but the deal fell through. Ah, well. They did manage to release a few singles with the label: "Black Helicopters" b/w "They Got...", "Sleepwalkers" b/w "Thug Tunin'", and "If You Got Love" (produced by Pete Rock).

More Sh!t

In addition to ^those^ great LPs and singles, I'd be remiss to neglect some of the following "miscellaneous" releases:

MC D-Stroy - "The Matador" b/w "Vitamin D"
Matador's equivalent to "Pop 4 Roc"? Maybe. "The Matador" b/w "Vitamin D".

MC Paul Barman - "How Hard Is That?" b/w "Housemate Troubles"
Jewish Nerd rap at its finest nerdiest. Listennnn.

Various Artists - The Funky Precedent Vol. 2
This underground rap compilation featured a roster of emcees you and I have never heard of, with one exception: Zion I. They've got a track on here titled "We Got It" (which was later featured on their Politricks release).

Techno Animal - "We Can Build You" (featuring EL-P & Vast Aire)
Here's an interesting release by dubstep artist Kevin Martin, a.k.a. Techno Animal. (Side note: I wonder if EL-P and Vast Aire have settled their differences...)

Pizzicato Five - "Love's Theme"
This is a strange little 12" released in 1997. Featuring only two tracks, it's still worth a listen thanks to Dan the Automator's trippy "Love's Theme (Automator Mix)". Watch for the Matador shout-out at 1:12.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Experimental Remixes
You wouldn't find me talking about this New York-based rock trio if it wasn't for this 7-track EP released in 1995. With help from friends UNKLE, Moby, Beck and Mike D (of The Beastie Boys), the word "experimental" is perfectly appropriate. Just wait! You haven't heard the GZA's "Greyhound Part 2", featuring Killah Priest. Didn't see that coming, now did you? "Experimental" indeed.

And There You Have It!

...but there's plenty more where this came from. Props to Discogs for all the help. Cheers to Matador. To another twenty-one years! One.