Don't be surprised if — when all is said and done, DJ Premier has left, and Mai is closed early on Saturday morning — the dudes behind The Boom Bap (i.e., Nashville's favorite monthly true-school hip-hop party) just up and disappear. My theory is that they're going to walk out into the parking lot when the final cash is counted and the doors are locked and make like Philo from UHF — they're just going to look straight into the hypothetical camera and say, "It appears that our work on this planet is done, so we must now return to our home planet of Zarquon," transform into alien scientists and beam themselves into outer space. Really, what's left to do for The Boom Bap now that they've brought arguably the most important progenitor of The Boom Bap aesthetic to town? Is there anyone with a catalog that embodies the progressive-minded, dusty-crate legacy of hip-hop in the past 25 years as well as DJ Premier? No, there's no one even close.
Where do we even start with a catalog like Primo's — it's one of the most prodigious, enthralling and repeat-listen-worthy in the past quarter-century of popular music. Fuck it, let's start with a deep cut: Group Home's Livin' Proof. Yes, we could have gone with a bigger hit, say "DWYCK" from Gang Starr's classic Hard To Earn or "N.Y. State of Mind" from Nas' genre-defining Illmatic, but Livin' Proof is our go-to jam. Sure, the beat that inspired Nas to say "Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes" deserves at least an encyclopedia's worth of analysis as one of the defining moments in 20th century music, but we're going for a deep cut on the album that underperformed and never made it out of the underground.
Livin' Proof was released during Premier's mid-'90s run of chart-busting productions: Das EFX's "Real Hip Hop" hit the Hot 100 the same year, Primo's remix of Blahzay Blahzay's "Danger" was a staple of the college-radio and actually-recorded-on-tape-mixtape circuits, and Premier was about to help craft Reasonable Doubt, the record that would launch Jay-Z on a path for world domination. Nevertheless, Livin' Proof might just be Premier's masterwork. OK, Livin Proof's "Supa Star" broke the Billboard Hot 100 briefly, but this was the very end of the eras of pre-consolidation radio and MTV as a source of music, when underground records could actually make an impact in the pop world. Still, Livin' Proof is hardly a pop record — it explores a world that exists between funk and musique concrète, a life between criminality and respectability, with a roughshod pathos that is unlike anything you would associate with pop hip-hop.
Then again, Premier hasn't stopped making beats, hasn't faded into the background as tides have shifted and trends have turned in different directions. Premier, who's still finding vitality in dusty crates and is deeply deferential to the art of lyricism and its place in hip-hop production, is still an in-demand producer and creative force within the culture. His latest album, KoleXXXion, a collaboration with longtime creative partner Bumpy Knuckles, is a sonic beatdown of chump MCs and lazy producers, an audio ass-whipping for every two-bit beat jack and FruityLooper on the scene. When Bumpy spits the line "That's that boombap killa supreme," it's a shot across the bow of a hip-hop scene that has traded it in its funk and jazz roots for Euro-trance synths and pop tunes. KoleXXXion lays it down, takes no prisoners and makes a case for keeping your eye on the classics while you're aiming for the future. Or, if you happen to be the organizers behind The Boom Bap, keep an eye on the planet Zarquon.
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