by Jessie NelsonOn his latest release Real Music for Real People, DJ Language asks the question 'What is black music?' By the end of this 21 track beat matching journey, he answers that question with a mix of underground hip hop, seventies soul, neo-soul, and a remix or two to tie it all together. The soul of the album is spoken by Miwa on DJ Mitsus' "Intro": "Once you recognize the beat, you never go back."
Languages' concept for this record when he pitched to the hip-hop label BBE was simple - he wanted to expose them to all the good music coming out of the independent hip hop and soul scenes that they probably wouldn't have the time or interest to go digging for. "I really just wanted to give people a picture of the newer soul stuff... that you wouldn't be able to hear on the radio. Radio and MTV have done a bad job with breaking good new music. Most people don't have the time to go out and seek it. It takes a lot of work. I'm constantly online, getting tracks sent to me. It's really a full time job, keeping abreast of the stuff coming out."
While putting the album together, Language acknowledges that he was influenced by most of what appears on it and had been placing the tracks in rotation at his weekly residency at the Tribeca Grand in New York and others. "A lot of what's on the CD is (due to) a combination of making a list of tracks I was really feeling at the time. I put the word out to... friends of mine who are producers. I cast as wide a net as possible. I was really fortunate; Pied Piper gave me a track six months before it came out, (the same happened with) DJ Spinna and (vocalist) D'Nell. It's a good representation."
The group at BBE trusted Languages musical intuition and gave him free reign as far as selecting tracks and song order for the album. "I had pretty much complete creative control over what they were putting on it. It's not too hard to find someone to be a technician and mix stuff together, I am one of the executive producers, I also produced the last track, and it's an original of mine. I was really only limited by what we were able to license. We were really going after tracks, there were things we didn't know that we'd be able to use until a day before the recording deadline. We had a really great lawyer working with us to clear stuff."
The album is a cross between a street record and a club album. Pete Rock and CL Smooth give their respect to those that brought them up on "Appreciate" and D'Nell name checks everything from Sonic Youth to Allen Ginsberg on "I've Read About." Patrice Rushen brings in the seventies element with "Haven't You Heard." As you go through the album, the evolution of this music becomes clearer, as newer tracks are mixed with tracks such as Koushiks' "Be With" that, while new, maintains an old soul sound. The role of the DJ is more important then ever and that sense of urgency appears on the album as well, especially in the last track by Franky Boissy entitled "What is Black Music?" Language slightly disputes this but elaborates on that idea. "I don't know if the role so much has changed. Maybe with myself and people I see as peers, (such as) DJ Spinna, Charles Peterson, Benji B; I think our role has become more important... more vital than ever. The mainstream media and radio has sort of become more and more consolidated and there are fewer and fewer outlets for people who are making new music. We are trying to maintain a culture and continuity within our culture. I think that becomes more and more important as fewer radio stations are taking chances on new music."
An aspect that does not appear on the album is hip-hops' current fascination with the big business it has become. Nas makes an appearance on "War," but behind a chorus of 'There's a war in the streets tonight...' he's rapping about meeting his wife and child that evening and how he put away the game and reached this point in his life. "I think hip hop in general is at a real kind of turning point right now. Hip-hop has become part of mainstream culture in... the world; it's really taken on the attributes of mainstream American culture. It's kind of gone to being a healthy meal to McDonalds. I think because of that, people have lost sight of the fact that hip hop was not just a style but sensibility out of many things. James Brown, Kraftwerk, The Clash, they made a whole culture out of that, a progressive/open-minded culture. It's become so mainstream and predictable. It's become more conservative 'dress this way, only this way,' which is a contradiction to the original aesthetic of the hip-hop spirit. Instead of being open to folding new things into your culture, it's now about playing for the mainstream hip-hop crowd, the Hot 97 play list. It's exceedingly frustrating if you're a thinking person."
Real Music for Real People is a record that will likely appeal to DJ's, record hounds, and the arm chair hip hop historians. DJ Language's effort to bring the soul and musicality back to hip hop succeeds with this 21 track audio journal of modern hip hop culture and seems to - for now - provide one man's answer to Franky Boissy's "What is Black Music?" question: real black music is Real Music for Real People.
Also see the DJ Language website
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