Ski Beatz Ski Beatz24 Hour Karate School
2010 is well on its way to becoming the year of Ski Beatz. Musical responsible for “Pilot Talk” ( Curren$y) and of part of the splendid mixtape “George Kush Da Button” by the even bigger pothead Smoke DZA, the North Carolina producer rounds off this season with a much-awaited and highly anticipated solo debut we’ve been getting news of in snippets for over a year now. While we’re about to enter the final part of this year, we can already confirm that this is the reappearance, or rediscovery, depending on how you look at it, of the last couple of months. Although Ski Beatz is a veteran, experienced and hardened in a thousand battles since the early 90’s, many think his name references an underground revelation, presenting him to the world armed to the teeth with great arguments. A young cat or until recently unknown, even the man himself has re-tweeted dozens of tweets by followers talking about him as a “novelty” or “the best new producer of the moment”.
A knowledge gap that is a bit of a crime, really. Because it’s one thing to not know about the short but passionate legacy of his first band, the undervalued Original Flavor, with whom he published two good albums at the start of the 90’s and who were the first band produced by Damon Dash, even before he got into business with Jay-Z, but not being aware of him producing Jay-Z’s opera prima “Reasonable Doubt” and Camp Lo’s “Uptown Saturday Night”, the two albums that will forever mark his trajectory, is another thing entirely. Ski Beatz’ relevance in the history of rap in the 90’s is big, never mind his mysterious disappearance at the end of the century, when at the same time his beats for Camp Lo didn’t really cut it on the two following albums. He hadn’t stopped nor did he disconnect, he was simply recording, improving and preparing for a return through the front door alongside his eternal protector and collaborator Damon Dash, now head honcho and financial partner under the wings of DD172.
“24 Hour Karate School” maintains the trademark sound of the new Ski Beatz, although he offers a more eclectic and varied palette than the more uniform and unidirectional tone of “Pilot Talk”. The formula is based on the exemplary use of instruments over a base of smouldering samples, very funky loops and a tempo halfway between marihuana confusion and street hustle and bustle. When one of the problems of New York hip-hop that wants to sound like before is that on the way it loses freshness and the connection with the present, and a more panoramic and actual vision –basically, it sounds like the 90’s but without the possibility of interesting the younger generations who are unaware of that legacy–, the thing Ski Beatz does really well is vindicating classic hip-hop using the mechanisms, ideas and aesthetic of today. Or, how to sound brilliant, actual, modern and connected without ever renouncing certain codes, and clear and remarkable trademark feats.
In that sense, this record is the most precise and exemplary proof for that theory. On one hand there’s references aplenty to the trademark weed rap, with funk resonances and lots of psychedelica: check out the sensational trumpets on “Cream Of The Planet”, an instrumental, and “Nothing But Us”, with Curren$y and Smoke DZA, of course. He doesn’t forget about the toughness and the street, either: a special mention for “Go”, featuring Curren$y and Jim Jones, one of my favourites, with a killer loop of a guitar solo and a fat, deep beat; and, above all, for “Scaling The Builing”, with Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa, my favourite track of all, a tune that would be perfect for the hypothetical remake of “Reasonable Doubt”. And it goes without saying that there’s room for soulful rap as well, on the already classic “Taxi”, albeit without the vocal contribution of Mos Def, not included because of legal and contractual problems between discographies. The instrumental version doesn’t do it justice, but it works perfectly.
On the other hand, the riskier and more post-modern, so to speak, “Prowler 2”, featuring Jean Grae and Jay Electronica, and “I Got Mines”, with Tabi Bonney, Nikki Wray, Ras Kass and Stalley, incorporate the guitar as another instrument, albeit with different results. The first shattering, gives meaning to the fusion of rap with rugged funk-rock; the latter, in spite of its intense beat, sounds more like a botch of rapped rock than like a meeting of the two sounds. And then there are the attempts at an approximation to a more southern sound, albeit with certain nuances and, again, with different results. “Super Bad”, featuring Rugz D Bewler, could easily fit on a Lil Wayne or Gucci Mane record, but with sound judgement and impeccable production; “Back Uptown” however presents fewer nuances and details and, above all, doesn’t work at all with Camp Lo, whose rhymes and flows require a different kind of hip-hop.
In a general and comparing analysis, “Pilot Talk” has more cohesion, regularity and conceptual solidity, but the uniformity and redundancy of the sound could work against it. “24 Hour Karate School” is the complete opposite: it presents a more erratic and chaotic script, not all the pieces go well together and some things and people are missed, but its production is more risky and diversified, more panoramic, too, thanks to an inspired and well-chosen team of MCs. It’s not the masterly album many people expected, but it gives us a bunch of beats and rhymes that will be among the best of this season: there is too much class, heritage and brilliance to fuss about three weaker or out-of-place songs.