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Producers’ Choice

Hip-hop beat-makers Jake One and DJ Signify offer differing takes on the showcase album Hip-hop albums by producers who don't rap--unlike, say, Kanye West or Swizz Beatz, who started as beatmakers before taking to the mike--often fall into two broad categories: The first is to showcase the producer's..


Hip-hop beat-makers Jake One and DJ Signify offer differing takes on the showcase album

Hip-hop albums by producers who don't rap--unlike, say, Kanye West or Swizz Beatz, who started as beatmakers before taking to the mike--often fall into two broad categories: The first is to showcase the producer's sonic and beat-making range--not to mention his Rolodex. (Think of Marley Marl's In Control or DJ Muggs' Soul Assassins; both featured many, many guest MCs and felt as much like compilations as albums.) The other is the mostly-instrumental mood piece. (DJ Shadow's Endtroducing and RJD2's Deadringer come to mind here.)New offerings from Seattle's Jake One and Brooklyn's DJ Signify illustrate the dichotomy perfectly.Based solely on their cities' reps, you might guess that Jake One would be behind the instrumental disc, whereas Signify would be responsible for the posse-cut one. After all, the Emerald City is known to be dominated by music from independent labels; fans of some of these imprints are responsible for a thriving instrumental hip-hop scene. NYC, on the other hand, is still rap's densest stronghold for MCs. But, in fact, it's Jake One's White Van Music that's the rhymers' showcase as much as the producer's; Signify's Of Cities (out January 20), meanwhile, evokes an abandoned metropolis in the dead of night.Jake One's (born Jake Dutton) C.V. reveals him as a precise fit for a project so deliberately all-over-the-place. He's contributed tracks to albums ranging from De La Soul's mature The Grind Date to Beg for Mercy by latter-day gangstas G-Unit's; he's lent beats to genial everyman Lyrics Born's Everywhere at Once as well as Curtis from the richer-than-thou 50 Cent. On White Van Music Jake One shows off his rap knowledge on a couple of songs that offer smart MC pairings: "The Truth" (video below) features Philly's Freeway and Minneapolis's Brother Ali, who rhyme with a complementary urgency; "Oh Really" teams up two sardonic realists from different eras: De La Soul's Posdnuos and Atmosphere's Slug.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WokfJUK0nAkIn all, the album features 28 guest rappers, so it's no surprise that its feel varies: On "Soil Raps," Keak da Sneak, the raspy Bay Area vet, is sly and thoroughly ingratiating. Casual, on the other hand, discusses how every major rapper of the last decade really likes his work on "Feelin' My Shit." (Yawn.) Casual's bluster aside, the quality of the MCs is generally high--as are Jake One's beats. He can throw down rock-hard snares and sneering siren-keyboard as on "Gangsta Boy," a showpiece for Brooklyn tough guys M.O.P., and then offer up a sparse piano-and-hi-hat duet as the backdrop to underground favorite Blueprint on "Scared." The two songs couldn't be more different in tone, but they nevertheless work well together.DJ Signify's album features only one guest vocalist: Brooklyn MC Aesop Rock appears on two cuts. The rest is, with some help here and there--notably from guitarist/keyboardist Matt Kelly-all production work: samples, programming, beats. The mind-movies Signify evokes may not have much plot, but they more than make up for it in sheer atmosphere. "Costume Kids"-- a James Bond theme from hell--features a nifty little sitar riff, overmodulated electric bass, and distant, billowing snatches of high-pitched melody. "Vanessa" begins like slowed-down shoegaze before segueing into slow-mo chase music; "1993" filters cop-flick horns till they sound watery and dreamy.A dozen years ago, Of Cities would have been filed as "trip-hop"--its atmosphere is musty and bass-heavy, the drums are filtered to tickle the headphone ear more than move bodies through big speakers. And like the best of that oh-so-'90s genre, the album is detailed enough to make your snuggled ears happy.