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Cut Chemist’s (Deep) Crate

The DJ serves up cleaned-up classic instrumentals

The Downstream section on Disquiet.com is a regular series of recommended recordings. The material is usually focused on recent music, and it’s generally the case that the music is in some way freely accessible — i.e., even if it’s for sale, you can listen to it somehow, even if only through an ad-supported streaming service. Today’s entry is an exception to both those norms.

Cut Chemist (aka Lucas MacFadden, ex-Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli) has a subscription service through Bandcamp packed with fantastic old-school hip-hop instrumentals (by artists other than himself) that he’s accumulated over the years. They’re inaccessible from his own cutchemist.bandcamp.com page unless you pay a monthly (Patreon-style) fee. Then they pop up under the A Stable Sound Club tab. The audio benefits from his own digital preservation efforts. As he explains in an accompanying blog post, “I’ve been doing some serious reconstruction for these. From sourcing, to clean up, remastering and editing.”

The latest batch, Cut’s Crate #16 Rare 80’s Hip Hop Instrumentals, released on June 20, includes choice material from Beastie Boys (“Time to Get Ill”), Cold Crush Brothers (“Feel the Horns”), and Big Daddy Kane (“Ain’t No Half Steppin”), all shorn of their vocals, leaving just the backing tracks.

For an earlier collection, Cut’s Crate #15 1990’s Rap Rare Show Vinyl, released the month prior, he rightly singles out one track in particular from the set, Digable Planets’ “Where I’m From Stripped Down Show Instrumental,” for its exquisite simplicity: “I particularly like the Digable Planets stripped down version of Where I’m From to accommodate their touring live band.” The way the sampled horn just echoes amid the spare drum loop is trance-like. Here’s a YouTube copy of the original “Where I’m From” instrumental (the “Novox” — which is to say, no voice — mix), which has some additional elements, including vocal snippets and crowd noise at the opening and closing:

Also — and this may simply be a matter of the way the YouTube version was processed — the horns move much more widely in the stereo spectrum in Cut Chemist’s “Stripped Down” copy.

Note: These aren’t amalgams that Cut Chemist created from the originals. They’re proper instrumentals he has collected: “These have been given to me,” he explains in a blog post, also for subscribers only, “by the artist, producer or label so no bootlegs were used.”

One of the unfortunate aspects of modern streaming services is that a lot of the instrumentals that accompanied singles in their original form are absent from the collective jukebox in the cloud. Fortunately, YouTube headz keep a lot of it in circulation, but hip-hop and r&b instrumentals aren’t as readily accessible as they used to be, back when vinyl 12″s were the primary means of distribution — nor are they as accessible as they should be, at least not in the contemporary scenario, where streaming is the norm. Many instrumentals aren’t available commercially at all, except used on vinyl via eBay and Discogs. Hip-hop instrumentals are a huge part of — and parallel to — the history of electronic music, and Cut Chemist is doing his part to keep the tracks out there.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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