The melding of Yasiin Bey’s soulful poeticisms and Marvin Gaye’s transcendental harmonies was always destined to be a heavenly combination no matter who was behind the blend. Thankfully for music lovers, the divine inspiration to concoct this project struck Nashville producer Amerigo Gazaway; known for his remixes imbued with an audible respect for the original artists, and an inventiveness that breathes new life into old classics. After he released Fela Soul, his storming synthesis of De La Soul and Fela Kuti back in 2011; the then 26 year old producer set his sights upon the back catalogues of two more legendary ensembles with Bizarre Tribe; A Quest To The Pharcyde. This dream collab was a pivotal release in the ‘mash up’ sub genre of sample-based beatmaking, taking well-loved material that was firmly ingrained in the collective consciousness of Hip Hop’s loyal core and distilling it’s essence anew.
When this first release in the Soul Mates series announced it’s arrival by fusing two of my all-time favourite songs on Inner City Travellin’ Man; the way in which this talented producer seamlessly incorporated so many sounds from both tracks was stunning, as was the harmony created between these diverse musical elements. What I was expecting was a hip hop reinterpretation of Marvin’s melodies topped with Yasiin’s vocals; what I got was a highly musical collaboration between two generations of America’s most prolifically poignant writers mediated by Amerigo Gazaway’s attentive ear. From the introductory interview that sets the scene DJ Honda initially orchestrated, to the organ break half way through, and right on up to Gaye’s vocal climax; the song is a sample-flipping tour-de-force.
Black Star’s self titled album is one of the classics that got me into this thing we call Hip Hop back when I was 14; so it’s hard for me to count the amount of times I’ve tried to keep up when imitating the rapid rhymes Kweli and Mos sprayed on Definition. The relaxed reinterpretation found on Definition Of Infinity not only allows you time to digest the quickfire content both MCs relay; but also demonstrates the ability of the pair, as the pacing and delivery they demonstrated can be fully appreciated within this slower setting. I Want You’ Til The Summertime‘s serene sounds send Gaye’s anthemic Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) sailing into I Want You on a breeze cooler than Gazaway’s sense of style. The arrangement is deceptively complex despite sounding simple; the chops are clean, and the transitions between sections are as smooth as Bey’s words. The OG sample Ayatollah flipped on Black on Both Sides plays out to introduce the big-band swing (like Duke Ellington) of Gazaway’s Ms Fat Booty retake; as Amerigo takes the iconic song and gives it a Berry Gordy sheen, sounding like showtunes playing at Hitsville U.S.A. Teddy Pendergrass adds his sensual sounds to a slower, soulful Yasiin flow as Gazaway drops The Panties; taking a more romantic approach to match Marvin’s seductive side and beginning a theme that continues on Workin’ It Out, another chilled tune that extends the previous song’s seven minute sprawl and solidifies it into a short burst of soul that sees Bey playing lothario once more.
Mathematics is the quintessential Premier sound, and one of the greatest collabs ever recorded; you could lay those lines over the Sesame Street theme and I’d still rap my ass off like it was the hardest tune since Bring Your Whole Crew. By the time ‘buka buka buka buka’ kicks in, all doubts have already been laid to rest; Peculiar Mathematics keeps Premo’s sense of stomp and tactfully emulates the HQ DJ’s instantly identifiable hat and kick sounds without biting, Gazaway even finds time to slip in ‘Do your math’ and ‘Understanding microphone mathematics’ for even more dope sample points. “T” Plays a Cool Loop plays more cool loops than the title suggests, and provides a welcome interlude after so many mind-blowing melds of style so far. This fairly straight-ahead genre piece takes jazz, DJ Shadow’s knack for placing vocal sample and Madlib’s seamless use of drum rolls and knits them together with Amerigo’s sterling sense of structure; leaving Yasiin’s whirlwind verse off Common’s Hurricane to kick off the upbeat, party vibes on Time (To Get It Together). After the chorus is where the song really takes shape, breaking the mould it previously set to expand the celebratory atmosphere as Gazaway gets rowdy; stacking layers of claps and ad-libs from Marvin into a flurry of sound that emanates disco fervour.
‘All you see is crime in the city right?’ Inner City Breathin’ is the most outright Hip Hop beat on the tape, the drums have that thick 2000XL sound, and the simple three note refrain that made Respiration so effective occasionally rears it’s head amongst the bustling crowd of sound that this intuitive beat maker structures, with a busy urban feel that although cluttered, remains clear. The second movement that underscores Tammi Terrell’s sweet vocals is as amazingly atmospheric as the first, and adds another groove to this already rich re-imagining. Kanye and West are two words you won’t see me type too often; but on Two Worlds even Yeezus’s presence can’t dampen the fire Bey’s breath stokes as his rhymes fly fast and Amerigo penultimately ends the tape with another amazing audio amalgamation. Soul Mates Radio finishes this first half off with dulcet doo-wop croons and some affirmations on the idea of soul mates; before a shout to the Tribe once again with a computerised voiceover that could have come straight off Midnight Marauders. Side two can’t come soon enough.
*After writing this with the purpose of promoting YG & giving you the link to download it, the RIAA have filed a takedown notice against Amerigo Gazaway, barring him from offering this amazing album to the people. To support his work, encourage the release of the second half, and add pressure to allow the first side’s re-release, share this piece via your social networks, tweet Amerigo your support, and stay up on developments via his bandcamp and website. Apologies for writing a thousand words on why you need this tape then denying it you! Hopefully it’ll be back out soon, if he charged twenty quid for the tape to fund clearing the samples I’d buy it straight away.