They say that curiosity kills the cat, but it can also put a hurting on the size of the money fold in your pocket. Like George Costanza said on “Seinfeld” in one of the few episodes I can actually recall off hand, we’re talking SIGNIFICANT SHRINKAGE. You walk into a record store with a big pocket full of bread, happy just to browse and look around, and by the time you’re done you’re wondering where that knot in your pocket went and your growling stomach is saying “THANKS A LOT BUDDY!” We’ve all been there and done that, but the amount you kick your own ass later when eating Top Ramen only depends on how satisfying the music you’re feeding your ears with at the same time is. If it was money well spent, the hunger pangs seem only temporary. If what you bought was a crock of bad rap and you can’t return it with the shrinkwrap off, you might start to seriously consider eating your own music.
“Instrumental Icons Volume 1” was one of those impulse purchases I couldn’t resist. The front cover certainly seemed promising – offering to provide me with the lyricless versions of “hip-hop’s hottest hits” from “How We Do” to “Disco Inferno” to “Drop it Like It’s Hot” and more. Although the compilation seemed a little New York and 50 Cent/G-Unit heavy, I figured it would be good for a listen as whether you “Hate it or Love It” they tend to come with some of rap’s most banging beats. Once I got home and ripped the shrinkwrap off, I started to get that sinking feeling of caveat emptor in my stomach – better known to some as “let the buyer beware.” It crossed my mind that if this was such a G-Unit heavy compilation of instrumentals, Shady or Interscope Records would have put it out themselves. After all Mannie Fresh wasn’t shy about putting out an album of his own greatest beats on Cash Money Records. Closer insprection of the album cover only made my stomach growl more, as I re-read the words and discovered it said “instrumental VERSIONS of hip-hop’s hottest hits.” Versions? What the fuck does that mean? Versions? It’s either the fucking song that’s listed or it’s not, right?
WRONG. Listening to “Instrumental Icons Volume 1” is like going to a bar on karaoke night, and hearing people rap to Nelly and Digital Underground over some very poorly redone music with all the wrong words on the screen. Actually that’s insulting to karaoke, because quite frankly some of the “versions” I’ve heard in those establishments are far superior to what you’ll find on this album. Imagine taking all of your favorite songs from the last year and stripping out all the original instruments, keyboards, 808 bass drops and fat sampled loops. Now imagine someone putting all of it back together layer by layer using a Fisher Price “My First Synthesizer” and creating the booming bass drops by holding a microphone up to an empty oil drum and pounding on it with a mallet. Guess what? THAT WOULD STILL SOUND BETTER THAN THIS. Things go wrong from the very first bar of “How We Do,” as what was once a crispy introductory beat to the song is mushed and smooshed into something horribly wrong, only to further insult your intelligence when a very tinny and quite possibly off key “version” of the melody comes in right after it. I’ve heard folk music with more bump than this.
Whoever is recreating these notes knows as little about making beats as I do, and quite possibly less. Song after song is an insult to a hip-hop fan’s intelligence, as in many cases there are actual 12″ singles available with the real instrumentals and comparing the two is like night and day. If hearing piss-poor versions of formerly booming tracks like Lil Jon’s “What U Gon’ Do,” G-Unit’s “Stunt 101” and Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go” doesn’t insult the rap fan in you, nothing will. They do come marginally close on a few songs, and by marginally close I mean with about as much boom and pound as a 0.0000000000001 would register on the Richter scale. Nevertheless the “versions” of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” Mobb Deep’s “Got it Twisted” and Ja Rule’s “New York” are close enough to be tolerable, but just barely. If you were going to do a live peformance of a famous rapper’s song at a high school talent show, you might get away with some of the beats on “Instrumental Icons Volume 1,” but if you attempted to mix with them in any respectable club or on any hip-hop radio show you’d get thrown the fuck out of the building – and damn right you should be if you do. Once you dust yourself off and put some antiseptic on the cuts and scrapes, go back to the record store you bought the album from and try to get enough re-selling it for a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s – it will be a more transitory experience but ultimately much more satisfying.