Stax: The Soul of Hip Hop – Album Review

Stax the Soul of Hip Hop

The Stax label, based in Memphis and peaking in popularity during the late 60s and early 70s, had a major influence on hip hop made in New York in the early to mid 80s. The new compilation “Stax: The Soul of Hip Hop gives us solid evidence of how it happened.

The opening track immediately caught my attention, as 24-Carat’s “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” is what Eric B. and Rakim sampled for their song “In the Ghetto.” I’m not sure I would have made the connection between Stax and hip hop, but when you hear the specific songs that have been used for beats, the influence is obvious. A few other tracks included here were the basis for rap singles by various Wu Tang members, together and separately, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg and Notorious B.I.G.

As a digital replica, the sample and the distinctive chorus on “Ghetto” is exactly the same (except Rakim added the line “nobody’s smiling”). Such a simple statement that says so much. There are more than a few recognizable riffs on this album. If you can get it cheap or just roll through the snippet you remember, I would recommend it highly.

Jonathan Kaslow wrote the liner notes that give a theoretical view of sampling and names the actual instruments used “back in the day.” He accurately portrays the time when the music was as new as the machines that were being used to make it were new as musical instruments (the turntable, sequencer, sampler, etc.). Hip hop and rap were using technology in a way few other genres would attempt, and it was used powerfully and creatively.

Who among us would listen to old records, even once the idea was broken by Eric B. and Rakim’s groundbreaking use of James Brown samples (resulting in a very unique style) would listen to these records and be able to create “beats” appropriate for hip hop? As Stax was popular during the records the 60s and 70s, it makes sense that they became the basis of such important 80s music. Rakim even said so in one the song “Put Your Hands Together,” “the records we use are from mom and pop’s collection.”

Stax: The Soul of Hip-Hop takes the music from some great hip hop and de-processes it. This is like a dissection in reverse, and I find it very interesting. Hopefully this is the first of a series.

The Sweet Inspirations “Why Marry?” appears on the album:

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