DJ Premier

'I'm Legend' Smiley the Ghetto Child (AMOB Entertainment, 2010) prod. DJ Premier

Smiley the Ghetto Child, Real Name: D. Cruz

Profile: Born in Harlem and raised in The Bronx, NY. 
He spend more than 20 years in the game, he used to co write stuff for Black Sheep and Chi Ali. He then hooked up with Group Home because Melachi the nutcracker was his cousin. He helped to orchestrate their first album “Livin Proof”, Smiley’s first appearance was on the ‘Tha Realness.’

That perfect DJ Premier mix of a little-known sample (Bob James's 'Dream Journey' - CTI, 1975) and a better-known voice, KRS-One - providing the structure, with a kind of flourish that distinguishes his work. This music is all about balance, keeping all the aspects of it together (and has a kind of happiness about it, reminiscent of a disco remix).     

Brainsick Enterprize - ‘Time to shine/Playin for keeps’ 12” single (United Recordings, 1997) & 'On a Vibe’ in assoc. DJ Premier

Closely associated with Group Home, they featured on the classic track ‘Tha Realness’ on the 1995 Livin’ Proof record

and DJ Premier – the New Yorkers, Brainsick Enterprize is a, if not the, perfect example of a group that exists under the radar for no logically apparent reason. Appreciated by fans, certainly, re-issued in more recent compilations, but with a negligible presence online (no interviews, no reviews, no basic information on  the members or group: zip).

This is all the more surprising considering the consistent quality of the output and distinctive feel of their music that is at once emblematic of an era, but with a style that separates their work from other acts from that time. There is a smoothness to Brainsick Enterprize - the delivery of the MCs has an intense swing, but avoids the sped-up, peppery style of jagged edges, all consonants - ... there's no need to impress.

Sure, the content of the lyrics is nothing much to write about it, but this doesn't bother me as listening to this music, you can hear a pure, unfiltered voice that feels honest. The straight edge nature of this music works like a tonic for me.

But then, listen to this track ‘On a vibe’ - from a 12" 'in association with DJ Premier' -

with its heightened sense of the dramatic. It reminds me of a stripped back, skeletal ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and yet nothing of the 80s-pose remains apart from the initial development at the start. Can’t think of anything else that comes close to the creation of such a powerful atmosphere (without resorting to blood&gore splatterifics). Nothing about the lyrical content stays with me - I don't even remember what it is about - but what remains with the listener is the depth and originality of the production approach. It's super-smart. 

In 2009, a compilation came out Best of Brainsick: Complete Works, 1996-1998 (Loud & Proud) and more recently, in 2016, from Smoke On Records …

P.S. Brainsick Mob/Bransick Enterprize - educate me on this, if there is any difference.  

'Come clean' & instrumental, Jeru the Damaja, prod. DJ Premier (The sun rises in the east, PayDay/FFRR/Polygram, 1994)

My knowledge is full of holes, more often than not I come to things from another direction, this is perhaps the key virtue of having a lot of time these days, long may it last, to follow my interests, with no external pressure: living within a total 'beginner's mind'. This track is a case in point, as I listened to (and loved) the instrumental first and then came to appreciate the track - an undeniable classic, according to the critics and half the planet - with the vocals.

Now, I'm a fan of Jeru the Damaja - most recently listening to his second record, Wrath of the Math an album with a lot of depth, passionate intelligence and humour (at times). What immediately struck me when listening to this track (and reading the lyrics at the same time) is the way he plays with language in such a creative way. 

Control the mic like Fidel Castro locked Cuba
So deep that you can’t scuba dive

I like the way he uses pausing here, allowing some of the word to disappear almost in a way that goes against the grain of a standard style of speaking, as if it's an after-thought when it's the key idea of the sentence. And then he links words to create rhymes, running words on ...

Pseudo psychos, I play like Michael Jackson
When I’m busting ass and breaking backs
Inhale the putrified aroma

so that 'breaking backs/In .. hale' makes a connection with the earlier Jackson. There's a lot of skill here, captured in these details, a kind of elegance even if the subject covers (relatively) familiar territory, not that that is a problem.

But as I mentioned, I came to this music via the DJ Premier-produced instrumental which is something else.

Immediately it made me think of gamelan music from Indonesia, or John Cage ...

Now that striking, so distinctive sample in fact comes from the drummer, Shelly Manne's Infinity (1973) reinforced up by a very popular Funk sample, used by many hip-hop producers over the years. The way in which DJ Premier manipulates this sound, alongside that moment where there is a kind of explosion of noise & nuttiness ('Oh-oh! Heads up 'cause we're dropping some shit') is unexpected and inspirational.

Here's a video from Complex where Jeru the Damaja talks (with others) through the process of recording 'Come Clean'  ..

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