The hip-hop scene in 2015 is in a weird place. There are many very successful artists, more so than any time in its history and the genre is now ubiquitous, yet the quality of its musical output has been extremely variable over recent years.
Nonetheless, almost every artistic movement has what is known as a ‘Golden Era’, with late 1980s and 90s hip-hop commonly referred to as its creative apex, but with hip-hop now over 40 years old, the conflict between the old and new has never been greater.
Pete Rock’s name will always be associated with this Golden Era, with his two classic 90s albums with C.L. Smooth and later solo material very much an essential component of any hip hop fan’s record collection. But post millennium Pete Rock has not been very prolific. Pete’s last solo record was in 2008 with NY’s Finest, so where does the veteran producer fit in today’s modern hip-hop era?
PeteStrumentals 2 is a follow up to the acclaimed PeteStrumentals album released on the BBE label in 2001. This set is another collection of instrumentals, consisting of 20 cuts mainly lasting between two or three minutes, with only one track having a running time of over four minutes. All tracks are thankfully sample based, with Pete still finding exceptional sample material from his vast record collection, which are then programmed, edited and arranged within his Akai MPC, the hip-hop sampling machine of choice. The arrangements and structures do seem less songs-like in there own right, in that they appear more suited for MCs to rhyme over, unlike the original PeteStrumentals album where you could easily place the tracks within a DJ set.
Due to the nature of contemporary hip-hop, sonically Pete’s sample choices have developed into greater use of short guitar sample chops with some additional use of horns, but less use of jazzy Fender Rhodes, piano and harp. Thus, generally this album is slightly less soulful and jazzy than his most famous material, with many hip-hop producers now creating less soulful music to fit into the current aesthetic of the genre. But Pete maintains an organic quality with his productions, especially in an age where sampling has become less common due to legal issues and the high cost of using copyrightable material.
Album highlights include ‘I wish’, with its infectious Rose Royce vocal edit, ‘Accelerate’ which is based around a bouncy Clavinet groove and the hypnotic Fatback Band sampling ‘BB Jones’. This is essentially an album that you can leave to play in its entirety, although, there isn’t an obvious stand out track from the set, but all are of high quality.
So returning to the earlier question regarding where does Pete Rock fit in a post Kanye hip-hop universe? Thankfully, Pete Rock has stayed close to his roots here and not deviated into areas we would usually not associate with his music or tried to ‘update’ his sound unlike some seasoned producers – with usually disastrous results.
So there will always be a need for Pete Rock, and although this album will never have the same impact of Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992) or The Main Ingredient (1994), it will continue to showcase his legacy as one of the most important hip-hop producers in its 40-year history. I just want Pete Rock to be more prolific and showcase this.