Without a doubt, 1999’s Brainfreeze was the mixtape-turned-official album that incited a nation of crate diggers born after vinyl’s perceived death. Cut Chemist, of Jurassic 5 fame and DJ Shadow got together to showcase some hand-skills over 45 RPM seven-inch ’60s and ’70s jewels that still go for a fortune on eBay just because. However, the mix was titled for its rare 711 promotional record inspiration. Rather than stick to the script, Cut and Shadow went on a tangent on promotional records for the follow-up Product Placement. Seven years later, under the radar of both artists’ major label deals, the duo linked back up for The Hard Sell, an even further digression from the original, albeit impressive.
Whereas deejays like Cash Money and Q-Bert love to set off tapes on a high note, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist have always entered the party at a snail’s pace. The Hard Sell is no exception, beginning with an abstract intro that sounds more futuristic than expected from these nostalgic audiophiles. At about 10 minutes in though, after eclectic covers of “Rock Around The Clock” and Dragnet narration, all is right with the word. Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow begin decomposing Prince Paul‘s brilliantly dense inspirations from 3 Feet High & Rising, then letting it ride with some choice grooves prolonged for your partying pleasure. Unlike simple sample-spotters like DJ Neil Armstrong or DJ Shame, these gentlemen reconstruct and reconstruct compositions such as Pharcyde‘s “Passin’ Me By” or Gang Starr‘s “DWYCK” before your very ears. Although the verses become optional, few deejays can bring their wisdom from the production craft back to the turntables as beautifully.
One cannot help but wonder what role improvisation plays in these now three-part mixes. At times, the jokes – or the music seem to be inside. Although the affair is also packaged on DVD, one easily imagines the smiles and smirks in this game of one-uppance from two of California’s best deejays, producers and music historians.
The Hard Sell does not live up to its name. Found exclusively in mom-and-pops and online at boutiques, these creatively packaged baby is a warm front in the face of a Hip Hop that loves to ice grill. Granted, this is a mix, with its Steinski & Double Dee derived leaps through the record collect, will get you laughed at when played out. Still, anybody whose ever rocked a party envies the kind of liberty that these two have. They can experiment, unveil and improvise through 90 minutes of music, and the crowd appears to react strongly. This is contemporary experience that the Bambaataas and Kool Hercs paved for us; this is Hip Hop in its purest essence. While the playback value – or public display factor is less than its Brainfreeze grandfather, The Hard Sell is a well-mastered reminder that even in these troubling times of music for some, Pitch Black said it and meant it, “it’s all real.”