The Top Five Instrumental Hip-Hop Albums
A recent Synconation post about hip-hop’s place in the pantheon of poetry got me thinking about the many forms of the genre. The wordsmiths are the first to be lauded as poets, but what about those musically adventurous souls that explore the poetry of the form with mouths firmly shut. Here’s a top five dedicated to the lyric-less purveyors of this most modern poetic form. What did we miss? Who did we snub? Well, bring it on witchyobadself and comment below!
Odd Nosdam – Level Live Wires
David Madson’s take on hip-hop is influenced as much by noise rock, ambient electronica, and the minimalism and tape loop experimentation of Reich, Riley, and Stockhausen as it is by classic hip-hop. Layers of melodic loops, tape and vinyl noise, and fuzzy distortion create a droning, melancholy soup with a tenuous attachment to hip hop via sparse, mid-tempo beats and the odd guest MC (fellow anticon. founder, Yoni Wolf). Madson’s tools and techniques are classic hip-hop. The results are something far more interesting.
Prefuse 73 – Security Screenings
On the other end of the instrumental hip-hop spectrum is Guillermo Scott Herren’s Prefuse 73 album, Security Screenings. Instruments, beats, samples, and voices are chopped, flipped, and reassembled into a glitchy, constantly moving amalgam of hip hop, dance music, and jazz. Prefuse 73 songs swirl and stutter into an often jarring, and often beautiful, mess.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Steven Ellison’s Cosmogramma is a suitcase packed full of hip-hop beats, electronic textures, jazz instrumentation and rhythms, lo-fi sound effects, and the occasional Thom Yorke guest vocal, ready for a psychedelic trip to outer space. Ellison’s family tree has a strong musical heritage, including a few Coltranes, and his music speaks directly to that family history, but in new and interesting ways. His jazz roots meet dance floor worthy bangers that float away through a narcotic haze into orbit. Cosmogramma is music for a Mars rover with a trunk full of subs.
J Dilla / Jay Dee – Donuts
The late J Dilla recorded Donuts at home and in the hospital during his final years of life. Despite his trials, Jay Dee left us with an album that takes hip-hop’s roots in jazz, R&B, and gospel music, and propels them, tripping and skipping, into the post-modern age. The most overtly hip-hop album on this list, Donuts teaches us that we can ambitiously move forward, while lovingly holding on to our past.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
No list of instrumental hip-hop is complete without DJ Shadow’s seminal album, Endtroducing. A pastiche of the last 75 years, or so, of popular music. Endtroducing helped establish sampling as a legitimate artistic form. Impressively, the entire album, every track, is made up of samples…jazz meets R&B meets classic hip-hop meets Metallica, but with a subtlety and style not captured by some of today’s sample heavy works. Endtroducing is a grand recontextualization of the garage sale as high art.