Sir, This Is A Library

DJ Muggs and Blockhead rethink sampling. +reviews of Cadence Weapon and Gabe 'Nandez & Wino Willy.

Sir, This Is A Library

Though conventionally released soul, disco, rock, and jazz records comprise much of the foundation of hip-hop's instrumental history, some of the genre's greatest beatmakers have relied on a less public source.

By this point, you probably have heard about library music, a category of predominantly work-for-hire recordings specifically made to be licensed for use in film, television, and other media. Unlike with artists on major record labels, whose songs can prove particularly expensive for others to legally use or sample (and potentially even more so when done illegally), these library recordings cost the third-party far less by design. For decades now, recordings from companies like KPM and De Wolfe Music have proven irresistible sample sources for crate-digging hip-hop producers looking to make new works. But lately, several of these same artists have been taking it to a new level by creating new music of their own for others to easily license.

Madlib super-fans assuredly caught onto his proprietary imprint's ongoing Madlib Invazion Music Library Series series. Together with Eothen "Egon" Alapatt, the Oxnard, CA beat legend planned thirteen total installments with thirteen producers, putting the records out commercially as well for curious listeners to enjoy. Of the twelve volumes that have dropped thus far, the artists involved have included his Jahari Massamba Unit cohort Karriem Riggins, rapper/multi-instrumentalist J-Zone, and seasoned session musician Joe Harrison (Gunna, Anderson .Paak. Taylor Swift).

MILS012: Silver Cloud, by DJ Muggs
17 track album

The latest entry in the series comes from no less than DJ Muggs. Establishing himself in the 1990s as the musical backbone for Cypress Hill, he spent much of that crucial period producing records for House Of Pain, Ice Cube, and Funkdoobiest while launching his Soul Assassins collective. Three decades later, that latter name has become his label and personal brand, defining myriad projects and infiltrating his production work for the likes of Mach-Hommy, Jay Worthy, and Westside Gunn. Though he's not often recognized in the commercial conversation, seeming less interested in adding to major label coffers than some, he remains a formidable force in the underground.

Not too removed from recent curios like Dies Occidendum and last year's oenophilic set Notes and Tones, Silver Cloud matches their dark and esoteric aesthetics. Listening to songs like "Gold Vinyl" or "Religion Of The Street," there's no doubt that he understood the assignment, delivering a cinematic set for would-be Scorseses. "No Time" sounds like a crime on the verge of being committed, the muted boom bap rhythm and recurrent crackle a product of the plotting. Straight out of a gripping reality show but equally useful for a horror movie's Act III reveal, "Rockapella" lets the keys and drones evoke the seriousness of the situation. Still, you can hear how the right rapper (think Roc Marciano) would make "Long Lizard" and the title track their own, incidentally reemphasizing Muggs' enduring street cred.

While Madlib, Muggs, and pals build sample source material for the next generation, others are still finding inventive new uses for the existing library catalogs. Def Pressé, a London-based label, garnered seemingly unprecedented access to the KPM archives for their Crate Diggers series. (This is separate from the label's KPM Originals series, which is essentially in line with the Madlib Invasion Music Library project.) Each volume gives an artist apparently free reign to mine and plunder the catalog to create an entirely new album from. Among those participating to date are Washington, D.C.'s own Damu The Fudgemunk, percussionist Stro Elliot of The Roots, and Chicago-based duo Tensei.

Luminous Rubble, by Blockhead
10 track album

Released just this past Friday, Luminous Rubble marks Blockhead's addition to the KPM Crate Diggers catalog. By definition, it has more of a cohesive structure to it than the open-source Silver Cloud. But in the twenty years since Ninja Tune dropped the essential Music By Cavelight, the New York producer became one of the few true artisans of the instrumental hip-hop full-length. His tongue-in-cheek charm is matched only by his impeccable technique, and decades of dedication culminate here on a sample-based project that feels simultaneously like homage and homecoming.

Coming so soon after the robust 2023 pairing of Backwoodz Studioz showcase The Aux and Lipphead's From the Back, Luminous Rubble excavates quirk and kitsch into sturdy nostalgic grooves. There's the trippy psych-swing of "Fake Badge," the browbeaten jazz of "Scumlord," and the lithe lounge lizard slither of "Homeward Browned Out." He moves like a neatly coiffed Bond villain through brassy revue "Zoomies" and nimbly knuckle-dusts his way out of the noir-ish "Serious About My Fitness." The fun he's clearly having is reflected in punny song titles like "Dork Crystal" and "Move Witch," continuing a tradition of Blockhead's wink-wink naming convention.

Cadence Weapon, Rollercoaster (buy it / stream it)

With renewed discussion this weekend around the wants and needs of the culture, thanks to Kendrick Lamar’s scathing Drake diss “Euphoria," Cadence Weapon’s new album feels even more like necessary listening now than when it dropped a couple weeks ago. Despite the seemingly idyllic outdoor surroundings of its upside-down cover art, Rollercoaster spends much of its time troubleshooting what's wrong online rather than offline. Longing to live in the real world than as some sort of digital avatar of himself, the Canadian rapper rages against the social media hype machine and its myriad forms of artistic repression. Tapping electronic artists for his beats in an overt nod to techno’s Afrofuturist roots, he calls for a general strike for the Grandtheft-produced call-to-arms “Press Eject” and shoulder-checks politics (industry or otherwise) over Loraine James’ deconstructed electro explosion “EFT.” Zeroing in on viral success as a virus, the Drexciya-referencing “Lexicon” decries nepo babies who invade hip-hop spaces and emcees who use ghost writers, while likeminded myst milano dryly dismisses interloping overlords Musk and Zuck on “Shadowbanned.” As cheeky and satirical as things get here, he turns serious and personal on closer “tl;dr” as he crucially outlines the challenges of being a Black artist in this current dismal stage of the Internet age.

Gabe 'Nandez & Wino Willy, Object Permanence (buy it / stream it)

Every time New York's Gabe 'Nandez drops, the city's underground rap scene feels a little stronger. Though Object Permanence may be among his shorter efforts, these five tracks with producer Wino Willy (Tha God Fahim, Your Old Droog) carry some undeniable felt. Perhaps its the recurrent metal references, beginning with the titular blade of "Uchigatana" and moving through the hard rockin' Dave Brockie (R.I.P.) reference on pitch-blackened bap cut "Sweep." On the "Galahad And The Grail, he nods to Black Sabbath and Black Thought within the same sixteen bars. Willy's beats here boost the gravitas, the chops and samples behind the title track supporting rather than interfering with our hero's journey.

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

KING VISION ULTRA & Desde, "Fangs"

Chenayder & Mavi, "Colors"

Black Fondu, "SB 1 3"

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