Monthly Mixtapes: “NYC 1996” (September 2009)

September 2009: NYC 1996
DJ Ian Head

September makes two years of my monthly mixtape series, distributed free over the internets. To mark this little occasion, I thought I’d take it back to September 1996, when I first moved to New York City for college, and began seriously buying records – even though I didn’t own a turntable at the time. I’d hit the Fat Beats every few weeks, cop like two records, and then go back to school where they had this “music lab” where you could play shit. I’d bring a blank tape, and make little mixes of my slowly growing vinyl collection. Back then I still had a walkman, and I’d sit on the train playin my new soundtrack to my new city.

Even though DJ Shadow took a shot at the Puffy-inspired business comin outta NYC on his “Why Hip-Hop Sucks in ’96,” beneath the glamour and glitz, to me 1996 was a birthing period from some amazing new artists, as well as some slept on gems from established cats. Don’t get me wrong – the west coast was doin it’s thing as well, and so was the rest of the country. But for this tape, I want to concentrate on New York and my personal experience in beginning to buy vinyl.

Walking into Fat Beats and Bobbito’s Footwork was the first time I’d been in stores dedicated soley to hip-hop culture. Walls full of records. Big binders where you could buy dubs of Stretch and Bobbito shows and freestyles. I copped the first two Rob Swift mixtapes, and asked DJ Eclipse whether I should spend my five dollars on Mr. Complex’s 12inch or Jigmastas – I just wanted the dopest new DJ Spinna beat. All your purchases would have fresh stickers and promo cassettes tossed in your bag. You’d walk into Footwork and DJ Eli would be spinning some promo and Bobbito might be there drinkin a fruit smoothie. The photo of the Lady Pink piece above was taken after asking Bob where to check for dope graf spots.

All in all, it was a classic moment in time.

There are artists who didn’t make this tape that I love, so no disrespect. The selections are more a variety of album cuts and obscure 12inches that span the raw side of NYC-area hip-hop in ’96, and bring back various memories for me. I hope you enjoy.

De La Soul “Sweet Dreams”
This is off a rare EP that was especially hard to find in the 90s. As soon as we heard it was available, DJ Center and I rolled to Fat Beats to grab a copy, but were too late – a Japanese dealer had gotten there earlier, and he had a huge pile of wax set up on the counter, including the last six copies of the De La EP. I had to settle for a dub for years before finding a copy.

Sadat X ft. Money Boss Players “Game Sober”
One of my favorite joints off Sadat’s solo effort. People sleep on how ill this whole album was – lots of DITC production and ill rhymes. I had a dub of the tape but found a signed copy of the wax a few years later in Philadelphia.

Camp Lo Instrumental
One of my first records. Celph Titled (before he called himself that) used to send me homemade mixtapes in the mail, and at one point I hit him with some $$ to cop me two 12inches I couldn’t find out west – Camp Lo’s “Coolie High” and Smooth Da Hustler’s “Broken Language.” This is a b-side on that record that didn’t make the album.

Busta Rhymes “Live to Regret”
Another series of classic tapes from that era was DJ Premier’s Vol. 1-4. Primo definitely delivered some bangers and put me on to this joint, off the “Set it Off” soundtrack. Don’t sleep.

Poor Righteous Teachers “We Dat Nice”
I think I bought this the first or second time I was in Fat Beats. It just sounded so dope. Even though I messed up and copped the radio edit, I don’t regret it – PRT droppin lots of mathmatics as usual, but keep it real positive. This was an album cut I really dug off the release.

Redman ft. Method Man “Do What Ya Feel”
A often overlooked collab from these two – something darker than their usual upbeat party anthems.

Heather B “Recognize”
I don’t know what happened to Heather B, but I always thought she was a sick emcee. Her first album was HARD – I have a white label copy so I don’t know who was makin all the beats (Kenny Parker? Beatminerz?) but the shit hits, and Heather is hungry as hell. If you can find this, grab it.

Rza, Cappadonna & Method Man “Wu Wear”
A vintage Rza verse, rhymin shit like “monosodium glutimate” and “sodium benzoate.” I remember that video where Meth had the Tommy Hill-lookin shirt but it said “Johnny Blaze” instead.

Pop Da Brown Hornet “Black on Black Crime” with Greg Tate
A classic little 12inch from a Wu affiliate (Pop) with a piece of Greg Tate’s poetry, from another 12inch containing some spoken word selections. (Lots of nice vocal samples on that joint..)

Jay-Z “Friend or Foe”
Yeah, everyone knows this joint, but Jay’s record was important and with Jay not fuckin with Primo for years, I had to drop a brief reminder of how dope their were together.

Lace Da Booms “Cut That Weak Shit”
This is that underground NYC sound, the kind of thing you’d heard at 1am on WNYU, cats cutting up doubles.

Company Flow “8 Steps to Perfection”
There was this kid who went to school with me for like a year and a half, this emcee / producer named Kasm. He knew Company Flow and a bunch of other cats, and hit me with this tape of their shit, along with with unreleased early joints from Aesop Rock, J-Treds – all kinds of stuff. I heard the CoFlow shit and couldn’t believe it, copped their “Funcrusher” EP (clear vinyl) immediately.

Natural Resource “Bum Deal”
Probably one of my favorite 12 inches of all time. I may have put this on earlier mixtapes – I don’t really care though, I could put this on every mixtape. This group was sssooooo dope, so much flavor. Great flows, great loops, and…What What (now Jean Grae). The record doesn’t have a tracklisting on it, just the two labels – the silver and black “Negro League Baseball” and the red and black “They Lied.” This is the third song, which might be my favorite.

A-Butta & L-Swift “NYC”
I remember sitting in my dorm room, lights off (roommate asleep) with my boombox on my lap, record button pressed, listening to these classic freestyles and making sure my reception didnt fuck up. These two cats from Natural Elements always seemed to be up at WNYU just going and going for hours. (I posted one of those freestyles here). This was one of their releases, showcasing their classic intertwining flows.

DJ Spinna Instrumental
My high school janitor put me on to Spinna. He heard I was movin out to New York and was like, you gotta check for this cat DJ Spinna, his shit is bananas. Sure enough, there was an EP of Spinna’s beats labeled “Compositions Vol. 1” in the record bin, and I immediately grabbed it. We used to just vibe out to these beats all the time – it’s a compilation of remixes he’s done for other cats, but to me it’ll always be “Compositions.”

Siah and Yeshua Dapo Ed “The Visualz”
This always reminds me of a sunny day. Beautiful samples, laid back, fun rhymes. I think it just got re-released by my dude Noah, but for years it was vinyl-only. This was back when any record you bought on Bobbito’s Fondle Em label was certified classic. I distinctly remember grabbing this off the shelf. I have their sticker stuck to an old speaker somewhere.

— DJ Ian Head


Monthly Mixtapes: Covers Vol. 2 (August 2009)

August 2009 Mixtape: Covers Pt. 2
DJ Ian Head

This is part two of my series of “Covers” mixtapes – the first was my December 2008 mixtape, available here. The liner notes for the first mixtape touch more deeply on my love of good cover songs, so I won’t repeat myself here.

On my side of the country, the heat is sweltering right now. And I imagine it might be like that everywhere come August – although with global warming, we can’t really predict anything anymore. But with hot temperatures in mind, I kept the groove slower and mostly chill on this tape. And n the spirit of Lou Donaldson, I tried to continue to play the funk.

The final three joints are my brief tribute to Michael Jackson – I stumbled upon two of the records recently and felt it would be good to put them all together for this mix. I know a lot of people are burnt out or feel a certain way about his passing being blown out of proportion, but to me Jackson was an amazing, multi-dimensional artist and icon, who gave us extremely positive music – and that’s something I think a lot of us are grabbing onto right now in these times of war, economic crisis and other craziness.

Lou Donaldson “Everything I Play Gohn Be Funky”
One of my favorite records. I dug it out for $10 – I think it was my first Blue Note record that had the jazz-funk sound rather than straight-ahead bebop. I couldn’t believe this cut, used to play it at college all the time, always put me in a good mood.

Michael Urbaniak “Free”
Bizarre rendition of the Denice Williams classic. The way he did the chorus is pretty sick tho.

Mystic Maiden Voyage”
Can’t really reveal the band here. It’s even blacked out, DJ-style on the 12-inch. But another great cover of one of my favorite songs ever – this is the six minute edit, the full-length version is over nine minutes long.

“Walk on By” Undisputed Truth, Pete Rock, Isaac Hayes
Thought I’d mix these three together – a few dope versions of Bacharach’s classic.

Young Holt Limited “Look of Love”
More Bacharach. You can’t really do a “covers” mix without some flavor from Burt. I love the piano on here.

“Cubano Chant”
Another one of my favorite songs ever. Can’t reveal this one but it’s a great cover. Has anyone ever done a bad cover of “Cubano Chant” though?

Emotions “Aint No Sunshine”
This is a dollar record, and probably my favorite song on the album. Smooth, funky cover though – love the breakdown.

Jimmy Ponder “While My Guitar Gently Wheeps”
Had to play most of this cut. There’s a version somewhere with Ghostface just straight rhyming over the song (much like his classic “Holla”).

Grant Green “Ease Back”
I’m big on jazz covers of Meters / Allen Toussaint tunes (see Lou Donaldson above) because you just know the musicians are gonna go hard, and it’s gonna be some funkyass shit. The stuff you gotta blast on a sunny summer day.

Charles Wright “Light My Fire”
Real slow but soulful version. Just thought I’d drop in a verse real quick.

Zulema “Where Your Are”
Part one in my MJ tribute, a great 45 I picked up awhile back that I rediscovered recently.

Davina “I Can’t Help It”
You can find this in the bargain bin if you look hard enough. Smooth 90s-style version of the classic. Shout out to DJ Center.

Cal Tjader “I Want You Back”
Grabbed this the other day at a small beach town in Washington. You’d think Tjader might slow it down or cheese it up, but it remains pretty funky and true to the original. Hope you enjoy.


Bonus Mix: MESH Radio / Root70Lounge

Exclusive Mix – Download here (mp3)

Just finished this exclusive mix for MESH Radio ( and ROOT70 Lounge (, which the the Japanese label I’m on. The mix features many other artists on ROOT70, as well as new and old, mostly underground, flavors I’m feelin right now. It runs around an hour and a half. Hope y’all enjoy, full track listing below:

Mr. Supreme “Instrumental”
Blu (UK) “Spinnin”
Phraim “Tailored”
VERA Clique “Hands Up”
Elaquent “Are You There?”
Eligh & Murs “Thought Process”
Alliance Crew “Sessions”
Replife “The Left Side of Things”
Eryka Badu “Soldier”
Khingz “Blacc Han Solo”
Nick Nack “Fighting Facts”
Lucid Music “Like This Like That”
Pete Miser “All in My Head”
J. Dilla “All Good” (instrumental)
Pete Rock & CL Smooth “It’s On You”
DJ Krush “Roll and Tumble”
DJ Quiet “Mr. Liar”
DJ Ian Head “The Jazz Parlor”
Dollabin “Every Record”
Oddisee ft. Skyzoo “So Muthafuckin Soulful”
Doodlebug “4. OZ’s”
Oddisee “When Everything Changed”
DJ Ian Head ft. Opoetik “NightSky”
DJ Soares “Vida”
Collapsible Mammals “Knowledge Beginnings”
Fakehunters ft. Melodiq & JustBrea “Just Breathe”
Mic Crenshaw “Master of Ceremonies”
Amaze 88 “The Cool Out”
St. Germain “Street Scene”
Bahamadia “Ruff’n’Rugged” (instrumental)
Gabriel Teodros “Chili Sauce”
Evolve-One “The Special”
Georgia & Mos Def “Roses”
Dwight Trible “Otherworldly”


Monthly Mixtapes: Cross-Country Digging (July 2009)

July 2009 Mixtape: Cross-Country Digging
DJ Ian Head

It’s the season of rehearsal dinners and dry cleaning – yes, my friends are getting married. This past June I spent three weeks traveling, mostly by train, around the country to take part in the festivities. Being that one wedding was in Philly and another in Los Angeles, and that I hate flying on planes, AND that I’m currently unemployed, I figured roll Amtrak-style and hit a few cities in-between. New York? Chicago? Pittsburgh? I’m there, kickin it, eatin donuts, Ethiopian food, and digging in a grip of crates.

But there are some limits to this kind of digging. First off, I’m on a strict budget (like I said, un-em-ployed) so I’m givin most of my attention to the dollar bins. Second, I’m not tryin to haul dumb records around with me – I already got all those extra wedding clothes, some books, and my laptop (Did I mention I was co-djing one wedding?). So I had to be choosey. At the same time, if I had come up on a crate full of rare gems for cheap, you know I woulda boxed it up and mailed it home.

But that didn’t happen. What did was adventures in stores and flea markets, from Burbank to Brooklyn. Hit some classic spots, can’t reveal everything but anyone who runs through Pittsburgh has to hit Jerry’s, a landmark record spot with boxes of 45s to the ceiling. Jerry will probably be behind the counter cleaning records.

What I came home with was an eclectic set of joints, some for sampling and some for just vibin out to. I tried to make the mix flow between genres as easily as possible, but there’s definitely some obscure selections. However, I feel like all these songs have a unique, soulful quality to them. Some records even tie in thematically to my three weeks of couch surfing. However, despite my reason for traveling, these are records you’ll probably never hear at a wedding. But that’s probably a good thing, right? Hope you enjoy.

Bernard Purdie “Way Back Home”
Maybe a record you’d normally end a mix with, but thought I’d switch up and put it at the beginning. Great cover of the Crusaders classic. I found this one in NYC, early in my journey. The store had a mint copy for $25, but this one was $2, and plays fine.

“Just Beyond”
Pulled this out of the dollar bin right before leaving the spot. The cover was crazy looking and it was on MoTown. Crazy psych-soul shit I’d never heard of before. I love it when you take a chance and find a gem.

People “Somebody Tell Me My Name”
An ill pysch-rock 45, there’s not really a break on here but the production is so heavy and I felt the lyrics. Again, sometimes it’s just the feel of a record, it doesn’t have to be “super funky” or whatever. I felt like his talkin bout wandering the city related a lot to my adventures.

Lonnie Smith “Eleanor Rigby”
Can’t really pass up on a cheap copy of any Lonnie Smith record. Great jazz cover of one of my favorite Beatles’ songs.

The break heads know bout this. I’d been lookin for this 45 for years, the homie had a copy he used to play out all the time.

“…Soon Be Yesterday”
Ok so my dude Jumbo used this for an early Lifesavas cut (pre-Quannum), and played the original on his radio show back in the day. Shit was so smooth, I asked him what it was and he told me it was a certain group of female soulstresses. After listening to almost every one of their albums though, I still hadn’t found the sample. Then I’m in NYC and pull this out the cheap bin, had a curious cover, and boom – after years of lookin, the song appears. Some people might front but to me this is smoothed out slickness.

Pigeon John ft. Abstract Rude “Life Goes On”
The beauty of Amoeba record stores is the cheap hip-hop promo bins. I always loved this cut, especially the way Ab Rude styled on it. Vintage west coast underground.

Nancy Wilson “Ain’t No Sunshine”
A couple producers freaked this loop back in the day. A great cover – if you don’t have this, go check the local dollar bin.

“Where is the Joy”
Slipped a little piece of this joint in there for added flavor.

Soul Children
I spent about a day tryin to remember who used this break. Then it came to me.

“Here I Am Baby (Come and Take Me)”
Don’t get it twisted, my reggae knowledge is WEAK. But I was lookin through a stack of 45s and felt this Al Green cover was pretty heavy.

Idris Muhammad ft. Ish
There was no cover but I couldnt resist another copy of “Power of Soul,” such a dope record. I figured I’d spice things up with a classic Ish (Butterfly) verse.

Art Blakey and the AfroDrum Ensemble
Beautiful record.

Bob Dylan “George Jackson”
Not what you were expecting? This is actually a pretty rare record, and I was happy to finally locate a copy. Shout out to Not4Prophet for putting me on. It’s a powerful song dedicated to the murder of Black Panther George Jackson (please check out “Soledad Brother” if you haven’t heard of him) that doesn’t appear on any of Dylan’s albums. As July 4th is around the corner, a time when many will be spewing patrotic patriotisms, I thought it’d be good to end on this note that conveys a bit more truth about our government’s actions that what you see on CNN.


Monthly Mixtapes: Summer Fusion (June 2009)

June 2009 Mixtape: Summer Fusion
DJ Ian Head

There’s the back cover of a Ramsey Lewis record that kinda symbolizes fusion for me. It’s one of the first records I ever dug up. It has the whole crew of musicians, chillin, rockin various funky styles of clothing. One dude though – he’s rockin these sunglasses with an extra lense in the middle – a lense, possibly, for the metaphysical “Third Eye.” It’s that kinda vibe – mystical, funky, political, and just plain out there – that’s some fusion ish. In that spirit, I play Roy Ayer’s “The Third Eye” on this mix.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what “fusion” is. There’s jazz fusion, rock fusion, disco fusion – obviously, we’re talkin bout the fusing of different sounds, styles, genres, ideas, etc. But did it start in 1977 or 1982? Did certain artists pointedly try making fusion music, or did it just come out sounding that way? Maybe some musical scholar can school me in all this, but to me fusion is just that certain fuzzy, funky, borderline cheesy sound that it seems artists from all genres tried out at one time or another, usually in the late 70s and early 80s. Sometimes it worked – a lot of the time, it really didn’t. Or at least, for me it doesn’t – but some of it might have been the hottest ish out in 1979. I just wouldn’t know, I was only one year old.

One thing fusion has blessed hiphop with though is some FUNKY ASS SAMPLES. There’s some deep, deep grooves in some of these records. Basslines, choruses of voices, hard drums, funky Rhodes pianos. The key is finding these grooves, and the problem is avoiding the points where the sappy saxophone or harsh guitar suddenly make you think of a bad love scene in an 80s Chuck Norris film. Other times, however, the groove might ride out like a sunny day cruisin with the windows down, some west coast type chillin.

I tried to put together a mix of both short breaks and longer selections. I’m not sure if all of this qualifies as “fusion” technically speaking, but to me it has that abstract, funky quality that you don’t find earlier in the 70s, when shit seemed more raw-sounding, or later in the 80s, when it got all Jimmy-Jamm’d out with electro drums and basslines (don’t take that as a dis, I’m just describin sounds here – I love me some Rhythm Nation).

These aren’t the rarest of records, but on this one, I can’t really reveal the selections. These are some obscure-ish, funky samples – and yeah, they’re samples. Like, I might sample them. Or others already did. So just vibe out. It’s mostly jazz-related musicians, and many who recorded on Blue Note, which put out a lot of great fusion-ish records in the 70s.

Hope you enjoy!

— DJ Ian Head


Monthly Mixtapes: Tribute to Ramsey (April 2009)

May 2009 Mixtape: A Tribute to Ramsey
DJ Ian Head

Personally, I don’t think Ramsey gets the love he deserves among the beat heads and collectors. It’s true his records aren’t sampled as heavily as other artists, and that he was very successful, so his titles aren’t that rare. But the dude is ridiculously talented, versatile and funky. He kept his rhythm section tight, and his production value high – while there might not be a lot of open drums, the kicks and snares are definitely hitting hard, often in a really raw, ill way, especially on the records he put out on the Cadet label. His LPs are full of heat, whether it’s the big singles or album cuts.

The first Ramsey record I picked up, and really one of the first records I ever dug out of a crate, was “Maiden Voyage.” I knew that there was a break on there that Pharcyde used, and another little something sampled by Black Sheep. But I couldn’t help listening to the entire record, especially songs like “Maiden Voyage” and “Les Fleur” that had a crazy, mystical vibe to them. I’d never really heard music like that before, and I’m not sure if I have heard anything like it since. Jazz and soul and classical and some other things flowing all together.

Which is what’s great about Ramsey Lewis. His catalogue is gigantic – this mix mainly focuses on about ten of my favorite albums, put out on the Cadet and Columbia labels, but is not to say his other work is less impressive. Even on just these records he branches styles from symphonic, funk, soul and straight-ahead jazz. He’s recorded and performed with orchestras, but has also said he just loves making people dance with his music. It’s not that he tries to “do everything,” it’s just that it seems like he has endless creativity in how he approaches his records.

Ramsey did a huge amount of cover songs – some records being almost entirely covers of other songs, from the Beatles to Aretha Franklin to movie scores. This is often a bad sign with other jazz artists – usually it means a record filled with half-assed, cheesy covers that the label forced them to record in hopes of the extra buck. But Ramsey’s covers are funky, often raw – he’s hitting the keys hard, and with a bass groove and solid drums backing him up. Nothing overdone.

So here’s a brief selection of some of my favorites. I tried not to include anything that I had already used on a previous mix – Ramsey is in my top ten favorite artists of all time, and you can count on me dropping his joints on many other mixes down the line.

“Intro / Black Bird”
Ramsey was getting almost psychedelic with it, especially the way he started a lot of tunes, and especially on this record, Mother Nature’s Son. It was like, psych-jazz versions of Beatles songs. A lot of that was also the influence of Charles Stepney, this album’s arranger.

“Mighty Quinn”
The song that put me onto Ramsey. Pharcyde sampled that break for an interlude. Little did I know that there was much more to Ramsey that a short breakbeat.

“Jade East”
Real upbeat, feel good vibe, but also with some more kind of crazy, psych-noises and guitars along with horns. HARD drums. Great song.

“Hot Dawgitt” w/Interview Pt. 1
This is off the classic “Sun Goddess” record, the title track is a classic, but most of the record is fire. Don’t know whether to categorize it as jazz or funk or something else.

The second Ramsey record I copped, a warped copy of “Salongo” that I knew had to be ill because on the back cover his man was wearing these sunglasses with that had three parts – we used to call them “Third Eye” sunglasses. Some crazy 70s shit. The record is crazy, Afrofunk-rhythms and Latin vibes, plus fusion.

“Back to the Roots”
Title track off another dope record, more straight-ahead stuff, but just nice and upbeat.

“Kufanya Mapenzi (Making Love)”
When I found this 45, I thought it was some exclusive shit. It’s just so crazy sounding!! The organ, the breakdowns, the hihats…sick. Sometimes I drop this at parties.

“Wandering Rose”
Check how he flips styles and rhythm on this cut, relaxes the vibe and then pushes it forward, then brings it back, opens it up again. And the drums are so raw.

“Collage” w/Interview Pt. 2
My dude Alex was probably right there with me digging up Ramsey early on. He put me on to a couple records that I was missing back in the day too. So when I told him I was doing the tape, he was like, “You gotta put Collage on there.” That bassline is crazy.

“My Love for You”
Slow, but check how deep this cut is. Original composition from his percussionist / violinist, Ed Green.

“Whenever, Wherever”
Another Charles Stepney piece, kind of abstract but really ill. Love the use of voices at the beginning, and the way the tempo switches.

“Goin Hollywood”
Cool joint off one of his soundtrack LPs.

Had to put one of his soul covers on here, and why not Aretha? Used to bump this in my college dorm room. I love the feel of the joint when it’s just bass, drums and piano. It could have been cheese, but it’s not.

“Love for a Day”
Some might think this is a little too cheese-fusiony, but I think there’s a sick groove to this, especially the way Ramsey is playing. This is a dope record, lots of ill basslines on here – “Solar Wind.”

“Cry Baby Cry”
Another cover, but so soulful! Plus cool moog sounds.

“Les Fleur”
Had to end with this. Minnie Riperton + Ramsey Lewis = Classic.


Bonus Mix – “Bedroom Sessions Vol. 2”

Bedroom DJ Sessions Vol. 2 – Click to download

Two mixtapes for May! The first is the second installment of Bedroom DJ Sessions, featuring more under (and above) ground hip-hop and instrumentals. When it comes to current hip-hop, this is mainly the kind of shit I’m bumpin. Please support the many independent artists featured on this mixtape:

Diego Bernal – “Summer’s Over” (instrumental)

Dollabin – “Get There”

Damu the Fudgemunk – “Same Beat”

Diamond District – “I Mean Business”

Kinetik – “Future Jazz” (instrumental)

Blu – “Amnesia”

Dirty Hairy – “Sentimentally Maaaad” (instrumental)

DJ Deckstream ft. Mos Def – “Life is Good”

Devin the Dude ft. Joseph Edwards, Jr. – “Your Kinda Love”

Marc Mac / Visioneers – “Runnin”

Moka Only & Gabriel Teodros – “Hang Around”

No Name the Nameless – “No Sunshine”


Bonus Mix – “Nas Mix”

DJ Ian Head – “Nas Mix”

A short mix I did a couple years ago, just some classic cuts + a few exclusives from white labels and such. Thought I’d throw it up for yall to check. It was made before the last couple albums came out.