'Lost Sessions' Pete Rock/InI (Vinyl Digital, 2017)

For a producer whose work has set the foundations for much of the melody-driven, you could use the over-used word ‘orchestral’ here, music that is often cited as the soundtrack to the Golden Era/Golden Age  …

this release, Lost Sessions – of previously unreleased in album format of instrumentals from the same period thereabouts – comes as a surprise. Only two of the tracks, ‘Brazilian Breeze’ and ‘The Life I Live’ resembles this earlier aesthetic. I was even a bit suspicious when listening to this record, wondering if it were some kind of trick (though a very cursory check showed me that yes, here is ‘The Life I Live’ with the vocals, with InI from 1995). Moreover, information in this thread from fans/listeners outlines the context of how/why the music was not released in a general sense, but I haven’t had time to check any of this out. 

My other first reaction on first listen was to feel a bit underwhelmed, but this shifted. Without wanting to sound too ‘wild-eyed’ I think this music encourages us to focus on the hidden elements, the sounds behind the sounds. See, for example, the beautiful ‘Guitar’ that opens the record. The title seems a bit strange until you hear the tiniest, almost imperceptible guitar sound in the background, a miniscule ‘ting’ on irregular repeat, while the bassline plays around. The sounds stop and regroup, changing slightly each time and like many of the songs it ends with a very retro-fade (this adds to the impression of the songs being a little shy as there is no dramatic conclusion, the songs creep out of the room almost).

The second track ‘Aretha’ operates in a similar space. Again, what interests me is the way the key sample is so clipped that it is as if famous singer, the reason for the song, is being silenced and our expectations are being denied. We are not allowed to enjoy her voice, or even recognise the song she is singing. This impression is further backed up by the music’s sharp, harsh quality. Yet, this refusal is welcome, especially in an era when a lot of ‘Soul-based Hip-Hop production’ is so overwhelming, so omnipresent it positively drowns out everything else; the only thing you listen to is the vocal sample and the drums. Too much sugar, it's as if we are over-indulging on sweet food. 

Such an effect can be interesting if it is intentional, a kind of musical attack almost in a total-punk-aesthetic that I link back to Gravediggaz/RZA as if the music is battling against what we expect, but most of the time it feels like the producers are so entranced by the sweetness of the vocal sample they allow it to dominate everything else. Even though the original recordings of these artists in the 60s, say from the classic Motown era were always about the elements working together, both in terms of instrumentation but the singer’s interaction with the backing vocalists in particular. 

The other two tracks that stood out are ‘Flash Back’ and ‘Strung Out.’ Songs paired together possibly for their mood of containment, conveyed by an intense repetition that upends expectations of us being able to hear how sounds, or samples, are used. All this creates an interesting psychological space, not openly aggressive – the drums are there, but not highlighted as the most important element – but still a little manic.

Lost Sessions is different to the earlier instrumentals albums Pete Rock has become known for. This could be levelled as a criticism (this music is simpler, less developed), but there is interest in the way certain songs encourage us to listen to music differently.  ‘Aretha’ reminded me of the more challenging, more intellectual aspects of Nujabes’ production. Not the easy-listening, chilled-out, total-completion side that has become so influential today, but his work that highlighted sounds in isolation. Not surprising, as the two artists worked together in this era, see this writing on ‘Still talking to you.’ 

Related article: 'Center of Attention’ Instrumental, Pete Rock/InI (reissue: Center of Attention, Lost and Found – Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics, Rapster Records/BBE, 2003)

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