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"Can’t Stop The Pro": An Interview With DJ Excel

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-”Can’t Stop the Pro”: An Interview with DJ Excel

Way back in March, I sat down with DJ Excel with a bunch of cigarettes and Starbucks and just started talking, mainly bugging him about his career as a beatmaker and Baltimore Club producer from the start, which for him kicked-off with a chance meeting in a mental institution in eighth grade. My main attempt as to fill in the holes in Excel’s career and explain why there was a gap between his first Club record from 1995 and his return to the scene almost a decade later. Excel sent the interview back to me recently, accompanied by a beat–like dude remixed my interview–and so, the talking starts around the two minute point. I’d advise even those readers that don’t know much about Excel to stream or download this podcast/interview thingy because I think you’ll get something out of it…unless a really great producer’s twisty-turny life story told with a whole bunch of candor and honesty doesn’t matter to you.

Written by Brandon

June 12th, 2009 at 6:41 am

M.A.D.D Intalec – "Flowers In the Attic"


-M.A.D.D Intalec – “Flowers In the Attic”

In part, this post is to pimp Club Month over at my Baltimore music site 41Yo.Com where you’ll get early and mid-90s Baltimore Club records every day in May, but also because resting between a beats-only version of Kool Breez’s version of “Get That Ho!” and a Side A-ending shout-out track “Breez’s Verbals” is a pretty ridiculous rap track called “Flowers In the Attic” by a Baltimore group called M.A.D.D Intalec, who where Isikar (David Ross) and Marc Wigg (Marcus Wigfall). Nothing super special, but a particularly nimble and spacey 90s rap track that you’ll end up listening to on-loop for hours.

The porous borders between Club music and hip-hop are clear if you spend anytime with Baltimore music, but I don’t know of another release, outside of the Club/hip-hop hybrids of the past few years, that makes the connection so clear, aggressively clear even. Like, even if the audience for Club and rap crosses over (and it did and does), singles like this one are to be played at the Club and there just isn’t going to be a time or context really ever, where “Flowers in the Attic” could drop and it would make any sense.

And so, the record’s mainly a reminder of DJ Kool Breez’s talent as both a Club pioneer (solo and along with DJ Big Red as 2 Whyte Kidz), and a beatmaker that laced a lot of Baltimore with boom-bap during the 90s–and still does to this day. Check out Kool Breez on MySpace and his YouTube Channel where he highlights breaks and beats and his insane record collection.

Club DJs talk about the importance of this hard-to-explain, know-it-when-you-hear-it “fucked-up” sound that Club music “needs” to move it beyond the really, not that hard to rip-off formula, and so, that same raw, from the record warmth and handmade, intangible feel found on “Flowers In the Attic” is all over “Get That Ho!”, the very alive 808s shaking around in the background, the fucked-up half-squonks of horns, the Big Daddy Kane sample…you get the picture.

The other point of course, is that in 1995 or so–when this record came out–Club music and hip-hop were made with the same equipment in the same ways: chopping samples, sequencing, all that good stuff. Any Club guys still doing it today constantly praise the digital age because it’s alleviated the hours wasted when their ASR-10 overheated and shut-down and they had to re-do a beat, and saved them hundreds of dollars in electric bills spent running the thing for days straight until the track’s completed.

Computers, programs, even Serato’s made it easier on Club DJs and set-up a whole new roadmap for getting to that “fucked-up” sound. They now find ways to force the human element through clean, digital equipment–by making even more insane build-ups, incorporating of what’s basically glitch music in the genre, focusing even harder on structure, melody, and chants, and generally just finding some weird way around Fruity Loops and Pro Tools “sound” to get the drums bigger and badder and ready to ruin your speakers.

Maybe it’s all this Asher Roth nonsense, but white people’s contributions to hip-hop’s on the brain, which is always a weird issue. One doesn’t want to be obnoxiously revisionist or try to drum-up some sense that whitey’s role in this hip-hop shit’s more crucial than others’, but it’s just as crucial in many ways and it’s glossed-over or forgotten in Club music especially.

Partially, it’s glossed-over because well, there’s barely any Baltimore Club history that’s not been eaten-up or forgotten about by out-of-towners and relative n00bs unfortunately given the airtime or magazine space to mouth-off about its “origins” but also because the involvement of a bunch of people from the county (both black and white) and a whole bunch of white hip-hop kids onto Schooly D and Prince Paul as much as Luke and uh, Frankie Knuckles records doesn’t fit in with the “music of the ghetto” gimmick overused when it comes to discussing Club.

If media outlets paid closer attention, they’d note that the issue many had with the recent “hipster” interest in Club is not that its white people spinning and making the music and white people dancing, but that’s it’s exclusively white people. Less the involvement of white people than the absence of black people. DJ Equalizer, Scottie B, Kool Breez and Big Red (2 Whyte Kidz), DJ Excel, and lots of others were either originators or second-wavers that played a big part in the development of the music and all of them are still working today.

Not that any of those guys are receiving less credit than black Club producers, it’s more interesting as a part of the history kinda put to the side because it doesn’t jibe with how the shit’s being sold these days, much the same way the intangible influence of hip-hop on Club–and not just Booty rap but like traditionalist “four elements” type shit–is shoved to the side because it seriously starts to confuse and muddle categorical thinking that keeps regionalism and weirdo-ism at bay.

Written by Brandon

May 2nd, 2009 at 1:05 pm

City Paper Noise: The Lyricists Transmittin’ Live EP

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I’ve talked-up the beats of Baltimore’s DJ Excel a bunch of times now (for sampling Stoner Metal,for making the Baltimore Club equivalent of Tortoise’s “DJ’ed”,for making the beat for E-Major’s “Don’t Worry”), and now there’s his collaboration with Port Huron, Michigan’s The Lyricists:

“Although Bmore Original released the Lyricists’ full-length L3 last year, Transmittin’ Live is the Port Huron, Mich., underground act’s first musical collaboration with DJ Excel. Excel’s blueprint is the boom-bap you expect from a crew called the Lyricists, but one of Baltimore’s most ubiquitous beat makers grabs some of club music’s energy and avant production for the EP, too.

The titular track bumps like ’90s New York, as metallic sci-fi sounds pulse and near-subliminal snippets–part Dilla Donuts style, part clipped Baltimore club vocal–of a blues singer tumble in the background. And it’s all brought back to earth by worker-bee rhymes from Illtone and Rym-Benda, and pragmatic scratches from in-house DJ, Haus Diesel.

More than comfortable spitting hard-ass battle raps, the Lyricists’ real success comes in knowing the right time to rein it in and chill-out. On “The Juggle,” Illtone matches Excel’s woozy strings by ungritting his teeth, and dropping the commanding boom. It makes a song about regret (“stress shows in the form of gray stubble”) palpable.

“Bubble Guts” employs their storytelling and simile spouting talents toward nothing more than a hilarious song about, well, taking a shit. The Lyricists trade lines back and forth (“Yo, my palms are sweaty from grippin’ handicap rails/ Droppin’ logs the size of white whales”) and DJ Haus Diesel punctuates the scat-rap with turntablism mimicking the sound of a diarrhea burst.

With Excel subtly stretching the boom-bap rap form to its limits, the Lyricists actively eschew the grotesque cliches of stubborn traditionalist hip-hop. In the past, the group has done some “rap sucks now” kvetching but, here, they trade it in for self-effacing humor and weary tales of maturation (hometown lament “P.H, MI.” and “Grown Up”).”

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 6:38 am

Baltimore Club Week: DJ Excel Listens To Metal

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-DJ Excel “Open the Doors (Alright)”

When I first heard this song on DJ Excel’s MySpace a bunch of months ago, it was that warm, rolling bassline that kicks the song off that grabbed my ears. It’s sort of bluesy and Southern soul-sounding, like it was swiped from a Booker T & the MGs or Willie Mitchell recording. Not the kind of thing usually stuffed inside of a Baltimore Club track at all, but it’s perfectly integrated and throughout the song, Excel chops and turns it every which way, moving it about as far away from it’s original sound as possible. It stops and stutters to meet-up with a Jim Morrison sample, it’s turned backwards into a Disco-y, quasi-dance punk bass riff, and it’s stuck late in the song into super-tiny pieces to be a slab of pulsing bass for atmosphere.

Slowly though, the bassline’s original source hit me. Again, I assumed it was just identifiable as one of the hundreds of STAX records that’ve imprinted themselves in my brain but then I realized it was the fucking outro bassline from proto-doom metal/Stoner Metal Gods Sleep; their song “Dragonaut”, the devastating opening track to their album Holy Mountain! Or was it? I e-mailed Excel who indeed verified the source.

-Sleep “Dragonaut” off Sleep’s Holy Mountain

Maybe you recognize “Dragonaut” from the movie Gummo

From Crunk and all that it took from and inspired (that was more than five years ago now!), to stuff like “Party Like a Rock Star”, and even Baltimore’s own Blaq Starr calling last year’s release King of Roq, there’s been a focus in party music towards the aggressive sounds of metal, but Excel instead, treats Sleep’s music like any other sample for a club song: Something to sample and rearrange and totally fuck around with. It’s used with the same disinterest in convention and open-mindedness as the Jim Morrison vocals or the sped-up Manzarek organ that also pops-up throughout.

As pretty much every terrible article on Baltimore Club will joke about, there’s a lot of yelling on Club tracks. Either the artists themselves or samples, namely Lil Jon right now and before that, DMX and Mystikal. Here, Excel employs the voice of another classic yell-er, Jim Morrison and uses Morrison’s gutteral ad-libs and classic “Break on through” croon the same way others use a Lil Jon “Yeeeaaahhhhh!”.

-DJ Excel “Skratch Break” off The Underground Files: The Prequal

There’s also this interlude from Excel’s excellent hip-hop mixtape–emphasis on the mix part, this is an incredible, forward moving mix of throwback-style hip-hop–which samples the interlude “Embryo” off Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. As a shout-out by the Lords of the Underground plays-out, Excel loops a small part of the “Embryo” turning it into an angular, looping riff, before letting it play-out identifiably over some heavy drums of death.

-Black Sabbath “Embryo” off Master of Reality

Check out DJ Excel’s My Space for some exclusive tracks–especially his version of “Love Lockdown” and an insane 11 minute mix called ” Bmore A.D.D” (is that a Notwist sample I hear in there, Excel?)–his blog, 41yo, and as always, his label is BMore Original Records.

Written by Brandon

October 14th, 2008 at 3:02 am

How Big Is Your World? New Rap Songs.


-Nappy Roots ‘Good Day’
Click here to download ‘Good Day’
Driving around North Carolina two weekends ago, this song was on the radio constantly but it hasn’t made its way to Baltimore/DC stations or maybe they just aren’t interested in it, which makes sense because back when they were popular, Nappy Roots seemed pretty second-rate. A few years later, given the insane amount of Southern rap that gets on the radio, these dudes seem a little more interesting. ‘Good Day’ makes absolutely no 2008 rap concessions…it sounds the same as the songs that got Nappy Roots big in the early 2000s or maybe like something of Scarface’s ‘The Fix’ when he’s rapping manic utopianism instead of depressive fuck-it-all threats.

-88-Keys featuring Kid Cudi ‘Wasting My Minutes’
Click here to download ‘Wasting My Minutes’
The thing about this track is that it doesn’t hide its obvious production tricks at all. The sample slowly mutates into chipmunk voice along with some really simple Daryl Nathan-esque keyboard squelches, a subtle drum and then, this really heavy drum drops along with some perfect la-la-las and the song finally begins. The concept’s funny and like knowingly offensive and boiling it all down to the dumb girl’s wasting his cell-phone minutes is extra hilarious. It’s not a surprise that Kanye’s releasing dude’s album; this is the kind of shit Kanye’d still be doing if he wasn’t a megastar.

-E Major ‘Don’t Worry’
Click here to download ‘Don’t Worry’
The thing about this dude E Major is that his music won’t click right away. Of course, it sounds like really solid, 90s-influenced “hip-hop” and that’ll do, but his beat selection and the shit he raps about sort of slowly gels together over a bunch of listens- except for ‘Don’t Worry’, which should grab anybody with ears. A beat by DJ Excel that rides some whirling soul-strings and really weird-sounding drums–it sounds like a drum and a clap hitting at the exact same time– as E essentially raps about his minor victories as a rapper and then changes it up in the final verse that shouts-out a dead friend, drops the bragging for self-reflection, and humble thank-yous, then fades-out…

-Cody Chesnutt ‘Afrobama’
Click here to download ‘Afrobama’
Really topical songs of political hope are always better than hyper-topical songs decrying the government or the president or whoever else. Curtis’ “Nixon sayin’ don’t worry” works and Willie D’s final verse on ‘Point of No Return’ from ‘The Resurrection’ grabs political outrage in a way that’s clear enough whether you know who J Edgar Hoover is or not, but too many songs of the sort just feel knowing and obnoxious. Whether Obama’s the second coming to you, the better of two evils, or the dude you’re plain not voting for, ‘Afrobama’s just unabashedly celebratory and you should relate to that sense of actually caring enough about something to make a song about it. Also, just a really smart song in terms of referencing or trying to ape the political urgency of someone like Fela; also, the song feels like a sly reference to Vampire Weekend’s Afro-pop aping. Will there ever be a follow-up to probably the fourth best album of the 2000s ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’?!

-Mt. Eerie ‘Appetite’
Click here to download ‘Appetite’
The Microphones–now Mt. Eerie– have always been masters of the quiet/loud indie-rock dynamic. They–or really he, it’s just Phil Elverum– took the dynamic to the next level, eschewing the predictable quiet guitar to loud jangle explosion for Phil Spector-sized drums and belted-out vocals and ‘Appetite’s essentially more of the same, but stretched even further. As indie pop essentially becomes the new pop, it’s interesting that Mr. Best Album of 2001 According to Pitchforkmedia keeps moving further away from iPod commericial indie and instead, mines the quiet/loud dynamics of metal, especially black metal here. The drums and guitar pummel even more and pound even faster and there’s some like Sabbath-ish guitar harmonics going on and that Burzum buzz, but there’s still Elverum’s pleasant voice and sincere lyrics, so it’s never genre-hopping as much as it is internalizing the parts of the genre that he can squeeze into his own music.

As usual, here’s a zipfile of all five songs…

Written by Brandon

June 24th, 2008 at 7:47 am

E Major ‘Majority Rules’: Bonus Features

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As an addition to my review of ‘Majority Rules’, I thought I’d throw-out some additional information on E Major and highlight some favorite tracks from his album, which is available for free but if you have some money to spend, it’s more than worth the 15 dollars.

This isn’t exactly a Baltimore blog–there’s already the hyper-comprehensive Government Names anyways– and I don’t think I have a ton of Baltimore readers but E Major is performing with Blu & Exile at SONAR in early July and actually, this weekend, he’s part of a really interesting performance/workshop for kids on the “Art of hip-hop” hosted by Sean Toure:

June, 21 2008 at The Park Heights Community Health Alliance
4151 Park Heights Avenue., Baltimore, Maryland

E Major ‘Majority Rules’ (Under Sound Music)
-‘The Next Episode’ (produced by DJ Face, scratches by DJ Excel)
The first proper track on ‘Majority Rules’ with a really great Primo-type beat and E dropping a really affecting story of his life moving between Baltimore and California and his involvement in hip-hop from fan to rapper. Plenty of stuff for pretty much any rap fan around my age to appreciate and relate to.

-‘Livin the Life’ featuring We & Us and Tia (produced by E Major)
I love how this record starts with this record scratch–a perfect production choice– and then the horns come in and it slowly becomes an actual beat. One of the best aspects of ‘Majority Rules’ is the use of female voices for hooks and sometimes just la-la style singing behind the beats which reminds me of Little Brother and some of the best underground rappers that know how to mix hip-hop with catchy hooks and more mainstream production. Also, the guests on this track, We & Us do exactly what guests do on all my favorite rap albums: come in, kill it, and jump-out. Us in particular, has a great verse: “to death I lost two brothers/I ain’t been straight since/But I learned to gracious to this gift I can’t dismiss it/Now every day I wait, it’s a celebration bitches”. Never heard of We & Us before this track but I’m going to look out for them.

-’Nuthin Nice’ featuring Hezekiah (produced by Dre Belovit the Truth)

-‘How You Wanna Carry It?’ (produced by zu_keeny)
This song takes its hook from an early 90s Baltimore classic ‘What’s Up What’s Up’ (sometimes ‘Whatzup Whatzup’) by Miss Tony (sometimes Ms. Tony, and later as Big Tony). Miss Tony is a really fascinating Baltimore personality, who was famous as a female impersonator and radio DJ. He died in 2003, a few months after a compilation of his songs came out. My old computer’s fried and it’s where I had most of my music, so you’ll have to settle for this YouTube video that plays ‘What’s Up What’s Up’. The best part of E’s interpolation I think, is how he got that very specific pronunciation of “carry” on the track.

-‘Make It’ (produced by Heroes 4 Hire)
‘Majority Rules’ goes beyond just being hot because E Major’s constructed a really cohesive album. The last bunch of tracks are on an R & B style without ever sounding lame or crossover-y and this is my favorite of them. The first verse is basically about being a fuck-around in high-school–like almost every smart, interesting person, right?– while the second comes in with a story of how hard his Mom worked to make a better life for him, how he’s going to do the same and it’s punctuated by a change-up in the soul-strings. Affecting, smart stuff.

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Baltimore, DJ Excel, E Major

City Paper Review: E Major ‘Majority Rules’

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Here’s my review of Baltimore rapper E Major’s album ‘Majority Rules’. Later today, look for a follow-up post with some mp3s and additional info on E. For now, here’s the review and here’s E’s MySpace:

“Despite its many puns on “major,” independence pervades Majority Rules. E Major’s album–available on CD and free download on his MySpace–succeeds because it’s an uncompromised 17-track drive through the rapper’s life. This is more than enough, now that even your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper drops a major-label mess of crossover attempts and corporate accord.

Early tracks invoke everyman realities, such as tension between paying rent and pursuing a dream: “I hope you’re listenin’, y’all, because if not/ it’s back to 40 hours a week punching the clock” (from “Magnificent Pt. 0″). “Next Episode” charts an adolescence bouncing between Baltimore and California, and tosses in some wistful rap-nerd references–”me and my homies recited lines from Black Moon”–atop taut boom-bap by DJ Face with scratches from BMore Original’s DJ Excel. E further explores the porous borders of Baltimore club and traditional hip-hop on “How You Wanna Carry It,” a song that grabs its hook from Miss Tony’s classic “What’s Up What’s Up”.

As the album moves along, E Major perseveres, so when the Excel-produced “Don’t Worry”–the “I’m finally making it” song–explodes, it’s earned. The rewards are there, but they’re simple stuff like Nike Dunks only available in Japan, and the joy is still tempered by a final verse for a friend who passed before E’s rap shit kinda popped off. It has what every track on Majority Rules has: a proper mix of swagger and sincerity–as E says on “A Fresh Start,” “present my sentiment without being too sentimental”–atop remarkably consistent soul beats.”

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 8:21 am