Digging for records is always an adventure. For vinyl enthusiasts or sample-based music producers, it can be thrilling to finally find that coveted and obscure rarity or to discover an old record with a little-known drum break that becomes the foundation of a new club hit. So it goes with Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow.
Not long ago, Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) and Shadow (Josh Davis) were approached to put together a DJ mix drawing from the hallowed 40 000 LP archive of Afrika Bambaataa, which is now part of the hip-hop collection at Cornell University. As Bambaataa is known as “The Godfather” and “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture,” as well as the father of electro funk, the idea of mixing something definitive in his honour might have seemed like a fool’s errand. However, never ones to shy away from a challenge, MacFadden and Davis upped the ante and the all-vinyl Renegades of Rhythm tribute tour was born.
With their respective record collections each numbering into the tens of thousands, and being long-time fans if not disciples of Bambaataa, MacFadden says it stood to reason that he and Davis would run across plenty of familiar material. Still, for MacFadden, it was the most familiar stuff he found that held the greatest meaning.
“The most surprising thing was seeing my own records in there, stuff from Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. It blew me away,” he says. “Overall, the collection offered me a chance to look at where I came from. For me, Bambaataa’s collection is ground zero for hip-hop culture. That was the main thing: to give me a better understanding of my roots as well as the culture’s roots.”
When it comes to MacFadden’s hip-hop roots, he says it was first seeing the music video for Bambaataa’s “Renegades of Funk” that set him on the path.
“That was in ’84. Street images, graffiti, breakdancing, the music … it was all in there, the whole hip-hop culture package,” he says. “I wanted to know more about it.”
Getting to know Bambaataa’s influential collection made clear the challenges of trying to distill it. Selecting records for the tour took weeks of whittling with different approaches each time out. Once MacFadden and Davis pared the records down to 500 titles, they started to build the set.
“Then the records we thought for sure we were going to play in the set didn’t make the cut. There just isn’t enough time, even between two people and six turntables,” MacFadden says. “So, we had to keep it lean and mean with the classics, obscurities and genres. He has such versatile and varied tastes. He drew from rock, punk, new wave, African, Soca, calypso, Latin and so forth. We knew we had to represent those somehow.”
Given the magnitude of the undertaking, not to mention Bambaataa’s stature in hip-hop history, MacFadden admitted to being somewhat nervous during the first Renegades of Rhythm New York show with the man himself in attendance. But that quickly passed.
“My nerves went away right after meeting him. He’s been so supportive of us and the whole concept. It’s been amazing.”
Sat, Nov 22 (9 pm)
Renegades of Rhythm
With DJ Creeasian