I love underground, independent hip-hop. I don’t think it gets its proper due. There’s just something about listening to talented, hungry emcees over unpolished beats that you don’t find in much mainstream music. There’s that certain aesthetic, the DIY hustle, that shines through the music. People keep telling me I’ll grow out of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In high school I spent a lot of time buying used tapes at one of Portland’s classic record stores, 2nd Avenue Records. Most of the store was vinyl, but they had this old wooden cabinet in the middle of the store and you could pull out these giant, heavy drawers full of cover-less, beat-up tapes for $2 each. I loved digging through those drawers, and sometimes I’d spend my lunch money on some new music. After grabbing a tape or two, I’d occasionally wander over to the hip-hop vinyl section and peak through. But it was a pointless mission since I didn’t have a record player.
However, I was a bit of a computer nerd, and I did have a 2400 baud modem attached to my dad’s PC. Around 1995, I found myself on a “BBS” (google it) message board emailing with a young emcee and producer in Florida who was accumulating heavy amounts of obscure, independent hip-hop vinyl. He volunteered to fill up any blank tape I sent him with the best hip-hop he had, and it was too good of a deal to pass up. I’d send him two tapes at a time, and get them back a month or two later, packed full of all kinds of independent hip-hop, b-sides and remixes. Stuff from all over the country. It was an education, and I can’t thank that dude enough for being so generous. He’s now a fairly well-known producer and emcee in New York, who has worked with many of the artists he dubbed onto those tapes. When I moved to New York in 96, I started hitting Fat Beats, Footwork, and other spots, not just for the latest wax, but also some of those classic joints from those mixes. Over the years I’ve tracked many of them down – but there’s still a few that elude me.
The first mixtape I made for internet distribution in 2007 was collection of 90s independent, underground hip-hop vinyl. Honestly, I don’t have a copy of that mix anymore – I’d looked on old hard drives, CDs, everywhere – I can’t find it. So I thought I’d take it back with a similar theme, and play an hour of independent hip-hop vinyl – it’s not strictly 90s releases, but most of these joints are at least 10 years old (I can’t believe it’s 2012…). A LOT of records got left off this tape – those that made the mix are some favorites and obscurities that hopefully not everyone has heard before. I tried not to play too many records that appear on my past tapes, and I also tried to span the country geographically.
So for the backpacker, underground heads like me that hear this, hopefully you enjoy.
— DJ Ian Head Read the rest of this entry »
Download: July 2012 mixtape “Warm Weather”
I had a different idea for this one going into it, but feel pretty good about how it came out. Play it while driving to the beach and pretend it’s 1991.
Pieces of a Dream
Went on a sweaty, Saturday morning mission to three spots over in Greenpoint. Not highly successful, but once again the cheap bins came through with the heaviest treats. Copped a promo copy of Saafir’s classic “Light Sleeper” / “Battle Drill” 12 for $3, including a vintage Saafir sticker on the jacket.
Aside from that, a Cannonball I hadn’t seen before – “Prism” – with some Axlerod-produced cuts and such, and a couple other 12s. When I got home though I started looking through my recent record stacks and realized how many joints I’d copped in the last month and how little I’d been able to listen to them. While the obsession never dies I think there’s moments where I need to pull back for a minute and get to studying what I have in the crates. Especially during this three-day weekend as I plan out the next mixtape.
So this morning I started going through some records I’d had for awhile that I hadn’t pulled in a minute. Thumbing through I noticed a number of records that need to get cleansed – but that’s for another blog post. Finally I got to a classic – Black Heat’s self-titled album, which I’d copped because I knew they’d had some b-boy classics, but then never really went back to. Today I listened to it all the way through – one of the best funk albums I’ve heard in ages. Ridiculous and heavy, so glad to have it in the crate.
Definitely gotten it in this past week on the digging. A week ago, I pulled myself out of bed at 4:45am on a Saturday to stumble to the subway, sleepwalk to New Jersey Transit, and somehow make it on board the SEPTA train to Philly. Like some kind of 90s music video, my train arrived parallel to another train from the Philly suburbs, carrying none other than partner-in-crates Verb Math (aka Dave) and we stepped out onto the platform from adjacent trains like it was all pre-planned. (Only slightly)
Anyway, enough with the play-by-play. Basically, the mutual mission was the Philadelphia Flea Market (There has been a hesitation to reveal locations like this in the past due to the competitive digging aspect, balanced against telling good stories and sharing tales of finding great music. I still battle with it, but for the most part there’s enough to share, especially at these flea markets. If you’re gonna wake up early and spend the time to go in on these records, then you deserve to know about some spots, if that makes sense.), an occasional occurrence I’ve found myself at over the past decade, sometimes with much success, other times with nothing, but still worth a trip out of New York. (At least it always makes you feel like you’re dedicated to this crazy shit!) We weren’t super early, but we made it in time to cop a couple things, check a couple obscure cats. Dave went home with that Headhunters piece he’d been scouting out for awhile, and I took some risks on a couple fusion pieces, along with some $5 jazz records. One piece I picked up that should prove to be a sunny weekend classic:
No cover for my copy, but still well-worth it, along with a couple others I can’t reveal just yet.
Download: May 2012 Mixtape – “Beats on the Wire”
I’ve held down two-hour phone conversations about just one season of “The Wire” with friends – there are no other television shows I can think of that come close to captivating me in that way. Whether it’s the story, the acting, a specific character’s trajectory, the politics – it’s upper-echelon viewing, probably the standard for modern dramatic television. It’s like a giant movie.
I always wanted to make some kinda tape like this, whether or not others have already beat me to it. There’s so much great dialogue you could probably make a 12-part series of tapes, each one thematic, dedicated to a character or a season. This was just some of my favorite dialogue that I mainly pulled off YouTube – it’s just scraping the surface.
Record selection was focused on instrumentals I hadn’t pulled out in awhile, stuff that people might have played twelve times when it dropped but has been stuck in the crate for the last couple years. I tried to match most of the moody beats with relevant dialogue, but I wasn’t trying to get too overly subliminal or deep with any selections.
The tape is a SPOILER ALERT. It’s a bit of a risk making it – I know some of my friends still haven’t seen the show, and I would recommend against listening if you haven’t finished the series. For those who have experienced all five seasons, hopefully it’s a fun, slightly heart-wrenching little trip down memory lane.
— DJ Ian Head
PS: I dropped a short mix for Record Store Day the other week. Click here to download.
Love this kinda stuff. Imagine the mixtapes you could make! But what can one person do with so many records, besides sell them?
Unplanned, straight from the crates, just throwin some 45s on the plates and droppin in and out of styles flavors and other things. Just out here with this crunchy vinyl.