Monday, June 1, 2009

Sample Set #135: Critical Beatdown

I know I say this often, but this set right here is something special. In my "career" of digging for samples, I've never come across such challenges as faced with this set. Truth be told, tracking down the samples themselves weren't too difficult. Rather, it was what I was looking for that was so unique. On what other album and for what other sample set would I have to re-watch portions of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in order to obtain snippets used on tracks? Only Kool Keith and his Ultramagnetic team of MCs! That's right, folks. Before RZA and the Wu-Tang were chopping up Kung Fu excerpts for their gritty posse cuts, Ultramagnetic were spinning Star Wars and other space oddities. Aside from digging through my DVD collection to record the audio from A New Hope, my work was still cut out for me. I now had to do some searching online to acquire something a bit stranger. You see, Ultramagnetic also sampled some segments/commentary of the launch of the STS-1, the first flight of the Space Shuttle (Columbia) program. Again, only Ultramagnetic. The YouTube clip to your right contains the same sound snippets which were spliced onto "One Minute Less", with some historic video footage to add to the delight.

These guys also managed to add a portion of a Ronald Reagan speech into one of their tracks ("Ease Back"), but I didn't even bother looking for it. The picture to the left might be helpful in explaining my motives. Other noteworthy samples included in this set are James Brown's "Blues and Pants", perhaps most notable for its use on Biggie's "Just Playing (Dreams)". And to balance the playing field, we've also got Joe Cocker's "Woman to Woman", risen to hip hop relevance on 2Pac's "California Love". I'm always interested in hearing how underground/lesser-known cats flipped samples before the big-names took their shot at it. You might be surprised by the quality of these efforts on tracks like "Mentally Mad" and "Funky", respectively. Of course, you'll also notice that a sizable portion of the samples (comprising roughly the last quarter of this set) are straight off the 2004 re-release of Critical Beatdown, from 12" originals like the aforementioned "Mentally Mad", "Bait", "A Chorus Line" and more. The more, the better, right?

A few months back, Unkut put out an article discussing all the positive merits of Ultramagnetic MCs' debut Critical Beatdown. Robbie goes in-depth on the history of the crew and the quality of the music. Case in point, he makes a valid argument in support of his favorite album. While I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say that Critical Beatdown is the greatest rap record of all time, it certainly is the greatest overlooked rap record of all time. As Robbie points out: "The fact that most kids under 30 don’t know shit about Ultra outside of that Dr. Octagon crap is the primary reason that shit ain’t sweet out here in the rap world." I can't lie. As a 21-year old going on 22, I'm green behind the ears when it comes to lots of this stuff. I had heard of Ultramagnetic MCs before, but hadn't really been motivated to check out their music until Common dropped these bars on BE:
I'm raw, hustlas get your baking soda/
Too many rape the culture/
Leave rappers with careers and they faith over/
It's a war goin' on, you can't fake bein' a soldier/
In the basement, listening to tapes of Ultra-/
Magnetic, to the fact the messiah is black/
I'll turn the TV down, we can take it higher than that/
I wonder if these wack n****s realize they wack/
And they the reason that my people say they tired of rap.../
Hopefully the release of this set will give some of you fellow young'ns the incentive to check out this gem from the golden era! But only on one condition: Turn it up!!