It’s probably too easy to equate Detroit’s current producers with J Dilla—the man whose distinguished sound inspired a new generation of boom-bap composers. Surely, the Motor City isn’t confined to one aesthetic, but its underground Hip Hop takes subtle cues from the iconic producer’s nuanced techniques of music creation. It’s in the way Karriem Riggins programs his drums, and how Black Milk employs dense, cinematic fog to his beats.
Producer/emcee Kendall Tucker, known artistically as 14KT, blends electro-funk and R&B into his own self-described mixture of “Michigan-raw-Boombap-Electro-Future-Wave-Soul,” as he recently told URB. And while Tucker is lesser known than the aforementioned beatmakers, he’s quite formidable in his own right. As one-seventh of Michigan’s Athletic Mic League, Tucker long established himself in the Detroit region before releasing his debut album, The Golden Hour, in 2008. A year later, Tucker paid direct homage to Dilla with Nowalataz, an instrumental album of short vignettes he started in 2006 after Dilla’s untimely passing. Along the way, he’s participated in beat battles in Austin, Texas and Chicago, and recorded with Houston pioneer Bun B.
On his mostly instrumental new album, Nickel & Dimed, Tucker breezes through Southern crunk and West Coast funk, pulling random vocal clips, disparate samples and cosmic synths to establish his own galloping soundtrack. Songs like “Right So,” “Go There” and “Crystal Figurines” borrow directly from Dilla’s affinity for hard-hitting drums. The first two examples evoke Welcome 2 Detroit’s best work; the latter calls The Shining and Ruff Draft to mind.
Tucker also has a flair for the obscure. On “Go There,” he chops children’s song “Old McDonald Had A Farm” beyond recognition, the reconfigured sample a nice, comedic compliment to the track’s stomping percussion and rolling piano keys. “Packin’ Heat” repurposes Erykah Badu’s “Soldier” with tribal drums and deep synthesizers, turning it into a broad electro-funk groove. But like any instrumental project, it’s challenging to keep listeners interested the entire time. For the most part, Tucker uses quick transitions and vintage audio to maintain an energetic pace. We hear the gun-toting preacher who had to pull his firearm on a group of hooligans, the gang shooting in Detroit over who made the best Kool-Aid, and a young Larenz Tate in The Inkwell asking about female genitalia. These elements add gravity and humor to Tucker’s lively compilation.
However, Nickel & Dimed drags a bit toward the back end. Instead of concluding the album after “Slo Swerve,” Tucker adds six more songs to the mix, repurposing tracks from the album’s first half with guest verses from Black Milk (“Crown”), MED (“W.C.E.F.”), Blu (“PAID”) and others. The features are respectable, but they seem out of place. Nickel & Dimed had already made its point by the time the remixes roll around. Still, the misstep doesn’t take much away from the overall album. Tucker further establishes himself as one of Hip Hop’s best producers, although you may not know it yet. Dilla would approve.