(After a week of discussing relatively new albums (yes, somehow J. Cole's Friday Night Lights still counts), why not take a look at something most would consider a high point of the genre? Today's Reader Review is for Main Source's debut album Breaking Atoms, a project I kept meaning to get to before Taylor beat me to it. To be fair, I wasn't trying very hard, but hey, any review is better than no review when it comes to starting a dialogue. Leave some notes for Taylor below.)
Main Source was a trio that was originally made up of Toronto deejays Sir Scratch and K-Cut and Queens-based rapper/producer Large Professor. (At first, anyway: LP soon left the group and was replaced by Mikey D, but that's a story for another time.) They came onto the scene dropping science like a clumsy high school chemistry teacher, backed with a jazzy, soulful sound that defined the trio as a whole.
Their debut album, Breaking Atoms, was released on Wild Pitch Records during the golden age of hip hop (back when shit was actually good and when samples could be used without legal recourse), debuting relatively high on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop album chart. It was well-received back in the day and is considered a classic record now, and not just because of the music contained within. Breaking Atoms is also considered to be Ground Zero for the career of one Nasty Nas, who made his recording debut on the posse cut “Live At The Barbeque”, which remains one of the main reasons hip hop heads continue to check for it. Which doesn't explain why Breaking Atoms was out of print until 2008.
I'm guessing you've read enough of the text above and you want to get on to the album review. Well, so do I.
1. SNAKE EYES
Breaking Atoms starts off sounding like the CD player is malfunctioning, but then the funky guitar and deep bass kicks in and the song just grabs you. No need to worry about a weak chorus on here, as it has been replaced by kick-ass breaks. Large Professor (who, although better known as a producer these days, takes to the vocal here as Sir Scratch and K-Cut operate from mainly behind the boards) steps up to the plate and manages to churn out an enjoyable tale sprinkled with some social commentary. This is a nice song to start the album off with: bonus points for it not being an intro.
2. JUST HANGING OUT
Main Source create a beat that's not only addictive, it managed to break the repeat button on my car radio (because it makes for the best cruising music). Trust me, it's that smooth and mellow, but it's also fast-paced and it will get stuck in your head. Large Professor spits some laid-back rhymes about hanging out and chilling with friends that I guarantee you'll remember. If you're not satisfied, you can complain to me and you'll get your hard-earned money back.
3. LOOKING AT THE FRONT DOOR
A tale about fear, dreams and standing up for yourself (at least, that's what I can tell from the lyrics). The group creates another beat that sounds as ominous as it does catchy. I'll have to warn you, once the drums stop and the beat comes in full force, you will be hooked.
4. LARGE PROFESSOR
Here the man also known as Extra P proves why he was chosen to grace the mic on Breaking Atoms. Also, this. Beat. Is. Fucking. Amazing. LP brings his A-game out for show, which is definitely a plus. I don't know how many times I've played this song, but even if you only listen to it once, it sticks with you long after the music fades out. Props to Sir Scratch and K-Cut for letting the beat play when Large Professor stops rapping: I'm sure many people will appreciate listening to the beat by itself.
5. JUST A FRIENDLY GAME OF BASEBALL
I knew that there would be an eventual bump in the road, and I guess this is it. Large Professor earns a gold star for telling a convincing story of paranoia and death, but I did not care for the beat at all, even though I appreciate what they were trying to do (which was to make a dark and ominous track). I prefer the remix over this version: I'll touch on that more in a bit.
6. SCRATCH & KUT
Large Professor doesn't rap at all on this track. Instead, listeners are presented with about three minutes of a banging interlude/instrumental that manages to combine all of the good elements of a rap beat while keeping your interest. Maybe it should be classified as a “song” after all. I have to say, I loved this shit for what it was.
7. PEACE IS NOT THE WORD TO PLAY
This is another favorite of mine. An especially wonderful single verse from Large Professor is paired up with some jazzy production that continues on long after LP walks out of the booth, giving Sir Scratch and K-Cut time to show off their skills to pay the bills. I appreciated the idea how peace isn't really what it is, and I enjoyed their showboating on this one. Not altogether sure if Max would, though.
8. VAMOS A RAPIAR
An old-time saloon-inspired instrumental (co-produced by none other than Pete Rock) provides the perfect backdrop for this Queens-born native to spit stories and boast. The breaks in between the verses were especially entertaining, too, and it was nice to see Main Source letting the instrumental run free for a moment. But only for a moment.
9. HE GOT SO MUCH SOUL (HE DON'T NEED NO MUSIC)
A high-energy bouncy jazz-like track. Large Professor gets his Big Daddy Kane on while a chorus informs listeners that “He Got So Much Soul (He Don't Need No Music)”, all while jazz breaks play throughout the chorus. This was entertaining, but I don't think this is the kind of song that lends itself to repeat listening easily.
10. LIVE AT THE BARBEQUE (FEAT. NAS, JOE FATAL, & AKINYELE)
At long last, the moment you two have been waiting for: the first recorded appearance of Nas. Oh yeah, Joe Fatal and Akinyele appear on this posse cut, too. There's a reason this track appears on the “Classics 104.1” station in Grand Theft Auto IV: it's just that good. After the beat starts and Nas starts rapping, you'll be hooked for the duration of the song. Nas's pre-Illmatic skills behind the mic were evident immediately: he makes you believe that he truly could kidnap the president's daughter without so much as a plan. Joe Fatal's verse is equally good, but I wonder why we haven't seen him in the rap game for, like, ever. (I wonder if he's delivering Max's pizza or washing his car at the moment.) Akinyele's rhymes are loose and easy-going, but I didn't particularly care for them, and Large Professor let his raps run wild as though it were a tiger. With three out of four rappers connecting and an instrumental that rocks, this song remains a winner in my book.
11. WATCH ROGER DO HIS THING
The second bump in the road on Breaking Atoms. I did not care for this beat at all, but I did appreciate Main Source's attempt at being funky. Extra P spits some lyrics about racial profiling, but I found it hard to recall anything specific being said. (Not that the rhymes are bad: they were quite interesting, actually. They just weren't memorable.) This isn't bad enough to warrant hitting the 'skip' button, but I wouldn't be surprised if you tuned out while this was playing.
12. JUST A FRIENDLY GAME OF BASEBALL (BONUS VERSION)
This late addition to Breaking Atoms is a remix that I prefer to the original that played earlier. Main Source craft a beat that just so happens to be more funky and energetic, and LP comes off as more energetic and deadly (if that's even possible: we are talking about Large Professor here). This bangs in the car much more so than the original song, which is a definite plus. (Personally, I was always intrigued by the credits for this remix on the back cover and the liner notes of the album, on which Main Source dedicate this song to “[their] friends in A Tribe Called Quest”.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: Those people calling Main Source's Breaking Atoms a classic? They're absolutely right. You should listen to them. The trio have managed to produce an especially jazzy and funky soundscape, which is perfect for Large Professor to rip shit over. There are hardly any guest spots (except for Nas, Joe Fatal and Akinyele, obviously, but they all pop up near the end), which is definitely a plus, considering how hip hop albums look odd today if they don't feature multiple cameos. Most of the twelve tracks on Breaking Atoms will have you wearing out your repeat button, which helps prove that Main Source forever changed the dynamics of hip hop with their debut project.
BUY OR BURN?: Buy this shit now. This is an essential part of any hip hop collection. The best part is that Breaking Atoms is now back in print, so you can buy the album for a reasonable price instead of paying fifty bucks for a used copy on eBay (like I had to). Don't feel sorry for me, though: it was completely worth it.
BEST TRACKS: “Snake Eyes”; “Just Hanging Out”; “Looking at the Front Door”; “Large Professor”; “Scratch & Kut”; “Peace is Not the Word to Play”; “Live at the Barbeque”; “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball (Bonus Version)”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)