Who’s your favorite emcee? It’s a question every Hip Hop fan has been asked, with answers like Nas, Biggie, Tupac and more often flooding in. These rappers all employ a different style, yet they each have one thing in common: great beats to back their groundbreaking wordplay.
From Large Professor and DJ Premier to Johnny J and Dr. Dre, Hip Hop is built not only on the talents of those that hold the mic, but their invaluable beat making partners as well. Few among them are more revered than legendary producer Pete Rock. One of Hip Hop’s most storied beat makers, Soul Brother #1 is best known for incorporating jazz and funk into his music, creating infections neck-snapping rhythms like the saxophone-infused 1992 classic “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” which features the rhymes of longtime collaborator C.L. Smooth.
Now, 14-years after the release of his first instrumental offering, Pete Rock has returned with a sequel. Somewhere between a melodic J Dilla day dream and a chaotic Dizzy Gillespie concert, PeteStrumentals 2 offers listeners a chance to embark on a lazy river through music’s history thanks to its heavy use of samples and genres whose heydays have long passed. Its lack of lyrics makes it a tough sell for some but make no mistake this album is as Hip Hop as it gets.
“I’ve got to go now; they’re calling me on stage,” says an unnamed man at the beginning of album’s first track, “Heaven & Earth.” While witty, well-placed samples are nothing new, a technique predominantly used by producers during the ‘90s, they’ve since become a rarity as the music of the past becomes harder to clear with those that created it; fitting that a genre that relies so heavily on the work of its predecessors would run into such a roadblock.
For a producer like Pete Rock, sacrificing delicate piano loops and whirring strings such as those found in the remainder of the track was simply not an option, instrumentation too key to his style and not easily sacrificed for the 808 bass and electronic chords often used today. Much like the sample found at the song’s close – a trademark of Pete Rock’s sound – the song itself serves as a reminder that while Hip Hop has evolved around him, Pete Rock has done all he can to protect the genre’s roots.
Whether it’s the funky guitar riff of “PR 4 Prez” or the blaring horns of “On & On,” PeteStrumentals 2 succeeds in bringing back a storied chapter of Hip Hop by simply sticking to the script the famed producer created two decades ago. Unlike the works of many contemporary acts, Pete Rock has little to prove; with his name destined for Hip Hop’s rafters (if not already placed there), his latest body of work seems to be inhabited by little more than what appears to be an urge to have as much fun as possible, resulting in the album’s laid-back nature. But as relaxed as Pete Rock’s production may be, one thing is for certain: the 45-year-old is still as skilled as ever.
Pete Rock’s dedication to his craft shines through on PeteStrumentals 2, and even for those less familiar with his past work there is a beauty to be found on the album’s 20 winding beats. Tracks like “Cosmic Slop” and “My My Baby” allow you to lose yourself in the simplicity of their seemingly endless set of snare hits, while the complexity found in their chord changes and sample integration manages to make each beat a modern marvel. It’s an album for both easy listening and close inspection, one that is as versatile as the producer himself.
With a dynamic range that stretches from speedier tracks like “I Wish” to the slow and steady “90’s Class Act (Ek),” PeteStrumentals 2 refuses to settle on a single model, rather incorporating snippets of what Pete Rock has shown has fans over the years. “Air Smoove” is vibrant without going over the top much like INI’s “Fakin’ Jax”; the piano throughout may not be credited to Ahmad Jamal, but may remind listeners of the catchy chords found on Nas’ “The World Is Yours.”
Much like mixtapes allow rappers a blank canvas to show their skills, so too does the beat tape provide producers with a chance to craft their own story. PeteStrumentals 2 may not have a theme, but even without the use of words the message is clear: Pete Rock doesn’t believe Hip Hop is dead and is doing everything in his power to remind others that the use of samples and jazzy instrumentation isn’t either.