Wax Runoff: Bobb Deep [JSPRO-01]

/ 07.13.2017

After the unfortunate loss of Prodigy on June 20 I’ve been thinking a lot of Mobb Deep’s grand contributions to music and vinyl culture. Prodigy’s counterpart, Havoc, learned the art of MPC sampling around 1993 with help from infamous Q-Tip. In 1995 – smack dab in the middle of the golden age of hip-hop – The Infamous was released to major critical acclaim.

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The genius behind the sampling was true to New York City form and undeniably classic. Growing up in New York during this time, it was hard to escape the now classic style cemented in legendary albums like the aforementioned, Nas’ Illmatic, and Notorious B.IG.’s Ready to Die. The producers behind these albums were masters of re-purposing old vinyl tracks for new life in rap, and I can recall it being some of the first impetus to buy vinyl at the flea markets in Chinatown.

As MPCs began to get traded in for Pro Tools, the essence and allure of hip-hop started to be diminished and eventually the golden era came to an end around the turn of the century; many people who were interested in the vinyl aspect of this music lost interest.

But those individuals and artists who are dedicated to a craft, and vinyl culture via production have dipped below the radar. Mixtapes played a major role in the underground music scene in New York during that time, and the ubiquity and ease of burning CDs expanded their reach from corners in Brooklyn to bodega counters across all boroughs. Big record execs with swollen dollar signs for pupils were unwilling to give “old” style mainstream exposure, and mixtapes became the main route of delivery for vinyl sampled music art.

Though I started to explore other genres, these mixtapes always made me smile, reminding me of some of the initial reasons I became infatuated with records and vinyl collecting. In 2005 I came across an unassuming mixtape CD in a West Bronx neighborhood that immediately piqued my interest. The artist credit read Bobb Deep in an identical font that I had seen on Mobb Deep sleeves prior. I brought Queensbridge Meets Kingston home with me and was instantly impressed with the creativity of the samples, and the depth of the drums that are hard to match without sampling vinyl.

The actual engineer behind this project was boom-bap saint DJ Swindle. He took most of the tracks from the heavily pressed and circulated Bob Marley Greatest Hits 12” Legend, and spliced it up to exist around Mobb Deep verses. I played the absolute hell out of this CD, and lost track of where it ended up by the end of high school. But the amazing sound on the record had forged an unforgettable niche in my brain.

Fast-forward to 2017 when I found myself at a rare and odd record fair searching out forgotten disco and funk. I came across a man from Chicago who specialized in impossible to find Japanese releases in mint condition. Flipping through his crate and scoffing at the prices, I was about to move on when I saw it. Bright green cover with the yellow lettering – how could I ever forget? I couldn’t believe it, but someone in Japan had commissioned an off-label pressing of Queensbridge Meets Kingston. Even though it was a tight groove LP (5 tracks on each side!) I had to have it. I managed to convince the Midwestern gentleman to let me have it for $50 and I was off racing back home to turn my amp up and melt into nostalgia.

While admittedly a couple of the tracks are in a way uninteresting, the greater core of the record sounded just as deep, rich, and full as I imagined. The titles of the tracks retained some of the best and most memorable Mobb Deep originals. The true aspect that made me fall in love with this record was how far the re-imagined compositions tended to exist from the originals. From the small guitar scale snippet on “Survival of the Fittest” to the drum ‘n’ bass structure of “Gangstaz Roll”, the record is a beautiful example of the place vinyl has in not only presentation, but also creation. The fact that someone in Japan felt the need to press a run of this record two years after it was released is a testament to how powerful the format can be for the people who can appreciate this music.

This record is essentially non-existent. It has never been sold on Discogs and prior to that record fair, I was unaware it even existed. There are three two-track singles that were released the same year of the CD via AV8, but I couldn’t imagine not enjoying this record from track as it was fully intended. Even so, these singles seem to be the only instances of Bobb Deep circulating on the internet.

The music world lost a great contributor and pioneer when Prodigy passed away last month. However, the inspiration he and Havoc left on youth and music producers resonates strongly. If they had never championed the vinyl sample sound, I don’t think DJ Swindle would have ever engaged in this project. But thanks to him, this stupid-rare gem will be out in the world, floating around, waiting to spellbind another music lover who refuses to dig anywhere except the deepest of crates.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.