Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 018: Asia Born/DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers - "Send Them" b/w "Entropy"

Asia Born/DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers - "Send Them" b/w "Entropy" (Solesides, 1993)

Latyrx’s The Second Album is due out on Tuesday. Their first album, appropriately titled Latyrx (The Album), came out a long sixteen years ago, and that length of time apart has caused expectations to rise to unmatchable levels. The Second Album will almost certainly disappoint simply because the memory of the first is so overpowering that it makes considering the second on its own merits an almost impossible task. I’m going to make things even harder for myself by taking the time to focus on Latyrx’s early years over the next few days.

First up is “Send Them” the debut single by one half of Latyrx, Asia Born, and the first release on the amazing Solesides label. Solesides, which later morphed into the Quannum Projects, was a rap collective and label that was founded in 1992 around UC Davis and the Bay Area. In many ways the weirder cousin of fellow Bay Area crew Hieroglyphics, Solesides initially comprised of Blackalicious members Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel, DJ Shadow, and Latyrx members Lateef the Truthspeaker and Lyrics Born.[1] These five used Solesides as the mouthpiece for much of their experimentation and general weirdness, finding their own unique voices in the process.

“Send Them” is a raggedy tune built on a sample of Billy Miles’ “Memphis Train” from his 1970 album Them Changes. The beat is decidedly low-rent, and much of it is a fun mix of cowbell, a wordless vocal sample, and a four-note bassline, with occasional changes and brief additions of horns and guitar stabs. Contrary to popular belief, DJ Shadow did not make the beat to “Send Them”; rather, it was produced by Asia Born himself, and his amateurism shows. Fortunately, that same amateurishness is one of the song’s most appealing qualities. Both the beat and the vocals (especially the vocals) sound like the work of someone who never learned the rules of hip-hop so he had to just make up his own as he went. On the lyrical tip, Asia Born is defiantly underground in both focus and ambition, and his rubbery flow and scratchy voice make for an enduring combination. “Send Them” is far from his best work (that would come on Latyrx (The Album) and on his first solo album Later That Day from 2003), but it’s an exciting debut and engaging curiosity from a regional movement that was just getting started.

The a-side closes out with “Count and Estimate (Dub),” an instrumental remix of the Gift of Gab-featuring DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers cut on the b-side. The song isn’t much of a dub (the beat is pretty much identical to the vocal version), but the occasional echoed snatches of Gift of Gab lines are a nice touch. But it is ultimately just an appetizer for the b-side “Entropy.” Billed as a ‘Hip Hop Reconstruction from the Ground Up,’ “Entropy” is a nearly eighteen minute six-part suite credited to DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers.[2] It has several really engaging moments, including Gift of Gab’s first verses on wax and some drum work that shows how fully formed that aspect of his Endtroducing… sound was three years before that album came out. Yet compared to the What Does Your Soul Look Like? EP, which came out a year after “Entropy,” it’s clear that Shadow was still grasping at the sound he would find on that EP and then perfect two years later on his first album. Still, “Entropy” is the best work of his young career up to this point, and it is definitely a must-have for his fans.

Latyrx (The Album) and Endtroducing… are classics whose shadows both artists have been trying to escape since they came out.[3] “Send Them”/”Entropy” shows decisively that the process of developing those trademark styles was much easier for them than escaping from them has been.

Coming Up on Spray Cans:
Shadowz in Da Dark
Mystik Journeymen
L Da Headtoucha
Big Twan
Rok One
Cashless Society
Black Attack
Pop Da Brown Hornet
99th Demention

[1] Asia Born changed his name to Lyrics Born in 1995 because he no longer wanted his race to be a focal point in people’s perceptions of his art.
[2] As far as I can tell, the Groove Robbers don’t actually exist.
[3] DJ Shadow especially.

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