When I was a teenager I was pretty intimidated by hip hop music. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. Some of it I liked quite a bit. But the problem for me is that I’m a pretty introverted guy for the most part. In conversation with friends and acquaintances I can hold my own, for sure. And in work situations I can be the take charge guy, but it wasn’t always like that. Growing up I preferred to not be in the limelight. I wasn’t the life of the party, nor was I the center of attention. I held court in my bedroom most of the time, either listening to countless hair metal and Rush cassettes or I was plunking on my guitar. Of course being a promising guitar slinger at 15 AND being an introvert was a scary prospect, too. Everyone wanted me to “play something, man!” No,….man. I preferred the solace of a dimly lit bedroom, headphones, and my guitar plugged into my Rockman. That’s how I rocked out.
So what does all this sharing and self reflection have to do with me and rap music? Well, even though I secretly craved to drop the beat and shut someone down in a rap fight that wasn’t my personality. I always felt rap and hip hop were for the extroverts. Those folks craving to be seen and heard. Those who could walk into a room full of strangers and leave that room with a room full of friends. And really, mainstream hip hop was(and maybe still is) a lot of bragging and bravado. Lots of machismo and misogynistic crap. I felt the beats and grooves weren’t enough to get me to sit at the hip hop table in the cafeteria. And really, a lot of the people at the time I was in high school listening to rap and hip hop were the douche bags that would push you from behind in the hallway going to class and say nasty things to girls that would’ve rather not heard it. These guys weren’t the best representation of the hip hop community, yet that’s all I had to go on back in 1991 in this godforsaken town. Still, I dug the Beastie Boys once Paul’s Boutique hit, and I liked Run DMC, LL Cool J, De La Soul, and Urban Dance Squad….secretly in my bedroom. Despite me being a quiet soul, I loved the beats and the grooves. Hip hop had the grooves that my pasty white, long-haired LA metal bands terribly lacked.
Well fast forward to, like, just last year when I discovered the world of instrumental hip hop. I was oblivious to the instrumental hip hop album. I guess it makes sense as these producers are trying to get performers to use their beats for their songs, so the producer makes an instrumental tape of their beats and shops it around in the hopes of a Snoop Dogg, Kanye, or Jay Z biting. Somewhere along the line guys like J Dilla, Flying Lotus, and DJ Shadow realize that these beat tapes sort of stand on their own. They can release these instrumental albums and people are gonna dig ’em, rhymes or not. Well for someone like me this is the best. I can get down to the grooves and not feel mildly embarrassed with overtly sexual or drug references while I’m picking up my son from school.
My love of the instrumental hip hop began with Flying Lotus. I quickly picked up most of his albums, with Los Angeles being the closest to a straight up instrumental hip hop album. That one concentrates on groove with a healthy dose of atmosphere throughout. Everything that came after was far more out there and, dare I say, psychedelic at times. I love all his records, but Los Angeles is my go-to for straight up groove and feel. Earlier in the year I picked up J Dilla’s Donuts. That one is killer, man. It feels like Miles Davis’ On The Corner processed through some urban time machine and spit out grittier and even groovier. It’s a testament to the soul of Detroit and J Dilla’s love of music. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… is yet another I find fascinating. It feels just as much like an indie record as it does a straight up instrumental hip hop album. I love the longer tracks on that one. I also think it’s DJ Shadow’s best record.
My newest find is Oddisee’s The Odd Tape. I first found out about Oddisee a couple of years ago when a friend recommended his album People Hear What They See. For me, that album is the perfect mix of smart lyrics, catchy wordplay, and great beats. He doesn’t do the violence, drugs, and sex thing in his lyrics. They’re socially conscious, which I appreciate. I also got into Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music that year as well…which in turn made me a huge Run The Jewels fan(a little more on the expletive side of things, so I listen to them on my headphones during workouts.
What I didn’t know was that Oddisee makes his own beats and has released a couple instrumental albums, one of which is the new The Odd Tape. The Odd Tape is very much soul-inflected. Musically it reminds me of the 70s, with a street soul and gritty groove vibe throughout. Oddisee doesn’t seem interested being hard or tough. His instrumental tracks have an upward swing to them. You can’t help but feel good listening to them. He’s a guy that I can dig both his instrumental tracks as well as his tracks with rhymes on them.
So I’m still that painfully awkward pale guy, but I feel I’ve loosened up a bit. These instrumental hip hop records have opened a whole new world of groove to this guy. And also a whole slew of albums I can play in the car with my kids and not feel embarrassed over as well.
And really, I’m not nearly as pale as I used to be.