t ain’t just the Redwood bulk in a brother’s Adidas no more, Missy. The mixtape’s a contender now, so ma don’t rattle us could-have-beens no mo. It’s all fitting together in a way that defies conventional sizing-up. With artists like Jason Forrest, Diplo, and Dangermouse, proto-mainstream’s long-since gone all mix and grab, smashing together sounds akin and afar into full-length records made for file-sharers and hipper-than-thous alike.
But mic-check backwards a bit, and this story’s grown a little moss between the toes. The mixtape developed as an underground DJ’s tool, both in post-post-punk UK and post-new-wave NY. From there, it wound up in the laps of love-swooned debutantes and eager sixteen-year-olds; both wanted the freedom and prestige of a format they knew would play happily in the cheap boomboxes of lovers and friends alike. The digital music era was still decades away, but the transportable format was at hand.
In many ways, the mix was the first ILM tool, a what’s-it-how’s-it guide to everything that’s driving the attentives. It turned into a seminal means of flaunting underground cred or expressing everlasting oh-look-what-I-have-for-you’s. But after the critical success of what we have to see as a burgeoning mainstream fave (i.e. indie=the numbers ain’t big but Christ the voice is large), last year’s Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1, it’s a cut and paste art form that’s rapidly losing its stigma of sloppy amateurism and emerging as one of the mid-aught’s most legitimate, and increasingly outré, artistic endeavors.
And yet, there’s an obvious absurdity in handing out ratings that compare to the original works included in what’s essentially a digital DJ set. I mean, shit, you look at the grade above and begin to think I’d be damn hard-pressed to size up Quality Control or Midnight Marauders in more glorious terms. But what Controller 7 has done with this source material is so seamless and consistently mind-robbing that if the boy were indeed pulling a set at the local Hamms-damp-dive (I’m dying to say Meister-Brau but I’d betray my roots), I’d attend. Every. Fucking. Week.
The back-story goes like this. Controller 7 is California DJ Tommy McMahon. After an initial mix landed him on Urb’s Next 100 of 2002, he went silent for a while. But now comes Bumps, a slick bitter-batter DJ-set on which he’s slogged together a record-collector’s feast of golden-era hip-hop. Shit is obese. Through thirty-two tracks, he punches together aged luminaries like Pete Rock, BDP, Nas, Beatnuts, A Tribe Called Quest, and Cypress Hill into a riveting primer of vintage-beat music. With nary a second to breathe, he’s on to the next garbage beat. JB samples, random flute loops, and the guerilla-boom-box mentality of the era own the day.
And that’s just the kind of swerve Controller 7’s after. It’s all for old time’s sake, rusty plumbing and sick crusty glory. His transitions are swift and sharp, and he pulls it off with the confident aplomb of an artist who’s consumed almost every piece of hip-hop wax from the last twenty years. Cypress Hill’s gem “Hand on the Pump” (yeah, that one) slips into Black Sheep’s horn-blunted “Have U.N.E. Pull.” The smooth fifties static of Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of crams up against a pulsating reminder, all stuttering piano samples, that I see ya grinning / I’m beginning to think that we’re friends / And if we are friends / Then we are far from fools / So I will venture to let you into my sphere, cool? MC Serch’s Northern-soul-Hockey-schtick “Back To The Grill”’ and its bump-in-the-day groove barrels broke-brained into Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf’s staunch “That’s Word.” Through it all, Controller 7’s spinning stays so staunch you’ll be tempted to throw eighteen-year’s worth of records on eBay.
So yeah, even after all of my outdated academicizing, the mixtape may still give off the lingering funk of a music-obsessive’s facile grab-bag. But this ain’t your blue-eyed Human League-Moroder-crowded DJ set. People with far better taste than your brother James are unloading the best jams onto CD. Let the “Classic Proto-Disco for Your Birthday” Maxell and all those House of Pain anthologies he put to tape melt on the dash. Wage your digital cement-boomheading this late summer with some platinum Bumps, and leave that ossified-soul-sampling shit alone.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: AUGUST 1 – AUGUST 7, 2005