“Bein’ a b-boy’s not easy to do
A lot try to make it but only a few
ever become one or pass the test
Cause when you’re a b-boy you’re (funky fresh)
You’re the new sensation, a new generation
Not givin’ into nothin’ but devastation
You’re the ones all the girls are after
You’re the ones with the ghetto blaster
People say they’re too big and make too much noise
but they gotta understand they talk of b-boys”
(“B Boys Style” – Lil’ Jazzy Jay & Cool Supreme, ’85)
At the moment, I can’t turn on my TV without catching some dance show where young dancers audition to become regulars and then advance as they eliminate competition until a champion is chosen. At the highly popular initial castings you usually get everything from ballerinas to lapdancers to complete stiffs, but to the hip-hop eye it is remarkable how many of these hopefuls dance in a hip-hop style, quite a few trying their luck with straight b-boying. Many a b-boy survives the first round because his athletic moves hint at kinetic potential, but soon realizes that following a choreography demands more than mastering wind mills, turtles, and air freezes.
Scenes like these illustrate the hustle of an ambitious b-boy. One such b-boy is Jay-Roc, who as a member of crews such as Basel City Attack, Kayonyx, Rhythm Control, or Ruff’N’X has quite a history in Swiss b-boying, for example winning five national titles between 1994 and 2004 and performing in distant China. In 2005, he produced _Conflict_, a hip-hop spectacle that dealt with the topic of conflict through dance, music and words. And just recently he choreographed and doubled in the – Buena Vista-backed – hip-hop drama _Breakout_, where adolescent hotheads learn to settle their differences on the dancefloor.
Now Jay-Roc drops his own album in collaboration with producer Jakebeatz, fellow member of hip-hop act Crossroad and partner on previous Jay-Roc tracks. They domestically released the single “Warfare” in ’04, and opened the “International Battle of the Year” soundtrack twice, in ’05 with “One” and in ’06 with “Who.” The duo hails from Basle, the city that gave the b-boying world DJ Def Cut, a fixture in instrumental b-boy funk. Jay-Roc and Jakebeatz subscribe to the four elements philosophy, expressed in their project Crossroad, which they founded in ’03 and where the Crossroad B-Boyz are equal partners with the musical branch of the Crossroad crew. It’s a recognition they certainly deserve, having won (under the name Kayonyx) the national breakdance championship, the Battle of the Year Switzerland in ’04 and subsequently participating in the World Finals at the International Battle of the Year in Braunschweig, Germany, a feat Jay-Roc repeated in ’06 with Ruff’N’X.
The b-boy hustle has obviously hardened Jay-Roc, as he introduces the album with the words “B-boys and b-girls, this one is dedicated to you. We have been disrespected, underpaid, underestimated for too long.” “The Intro” gives the middle finger to anybody who for one reason or another refuses to respect the element. Several tracks on “The B-Boy Hustle Album” echo that sentiment, primarily with their clear focus on energetic beats, but also with titles such as “Put Em in the Front.” As an artist, Jay-Roc’s means of communication is body language. Since he doesn’t rap, it’s his input into the production (he is listed as co-producer for all tracks) as well as the album’s spirit that serve as messengers, not counting sporadic adlibs and hooks a la “Standing in the circle in my b-boy stance / got a hoodie on, ready to dance.”
On the vocal side, he enlists the help of Boston transplant Kaotic Concrete, whose crew UnderClassMen after years of putting in work just released its first full-length in Switzerland, “UnderClassic.” Kaotic Concrete guests on four tracks, his sharp, biting delivery adding verbalized competitiveness to “The B-Boy Hustle Album.” His physical flow and boasts of “heart attack rap” go well with the punchiness of “Streetknowledge” (which comes with a dope PMD “I fight fire with fire, that’s why most retire” quote). On “Real B-Boy Stance,” he lends his voice to every breaker eager to show off his or her skills:
“I don’t need attention with a gun in a club
Brooklyn-rock in your face till you’re under a rug
And it won’t stop till 5 in the morning
Y’all play the wall, and it’s so boring
Let’s get ready to rumble…
The harder they come, the harder they tumble”
Similarly, Concrete’s “authentic like ligaments rippin'” imagery completes Jakebeatz and Jay-Roc’s kinetic, hard-stepping production for “One (Rmx).” Another collaboration, “Where I’m From,” is interchangeable with a dozen other rap songs of the same title. For a local scene that reps its hometown with ‘Basel Fucking City’ shirts, you’d think this would be the opportunity to get a little bit more specific. Still, with vocal samples on the topic and the rapper’s unapologetic verbiage, the song broadens the album’s spectrum:
“I do it for the kids
So hopefully when they hear this, they won’t have to do as I did
Some lives get cut short for speakin’ foul as a sport
With hood legends airbrushed on the court
This is for the ones who barely made it, loved and hated
And it’s for the ones who didn’t make it
It’s like that, put the wall to your back
Where I’m from it’s drugs, crime and rats”
If you haven’t noticed, the b-boy scene has its own musical taste, and while funk and breakbeats still play a role, it has long moved on from “Apache” and “It’s Just Begun” and pursues its own direction that doesn’t always run parallel to rap music. This is to say that this is not your average contemporary hip-hop album. Still, some ingredients will be highly familiar, including serviceable samples from the vaults. “Put Em in the Front” with its funky basslines and horn stabs is as organic as any throwback track. “B-Boy Crunkfunk” combines old school electro cascades with modern crunk synths. “What U Rocin’ For?” ditches the frantic drums for a soulful strut accompanied by Mos Def and Mad Skillz soundbites off The High & Mighty’s “B-Boy Document ’99.” The previously released “Do Your Thang” owes its natural grace to Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band, a challenging bassline calling dancers out to get busy. When it comes to illustrating the competitive nature of the artform, this power move of an album succeeds superbly, from the b-boy-tough “Crossroad B-Boyz” and “The Original Ruff’N’X” (where Jakebeatz brings out the big guns in the form of loudly rocking string/rock guitar hybrids, which are counterbalanced by faint piano drops), to the “battle anybody” attitude of “Who.” If a mixture of an organic old school atmosphere and modern sound effects sounds appealing to you and you’re not above busting the occasional move yourself, you should give this a try, because it’s definitely funky fresh.
Generally, the music on “The B-Boy Hustle” is choppier than contemporary hip-hop, containing no small amount of interrupted rhythms and manipulated samples. It is also more dense, albeit sometimes to its detriment. “ROCC” has a great driving rhythm, but also added keyboard layers that don’t really blend into the overall structure. “Warfare (Rmx)” isn’t as slamming as the original, which admittedly relied more heavily on Edwin Starr’s “War.” “The Funkison” pays nicely tribute to funk with a fitting Lords of the Underground quote and bits of Instant Funk, but keyboards again add a dimension that feels unnecessary. “Mayhem” sounds also overcrowded, the well chosen Rakim sample “Soon as the beat is felt, I’m ready to go” notwithstanding. Then again, what’s an outsider to criticize a b-boy soundtrack? This music is meant to be danced to in a very particular way, and if you’re like me and afraid to get hurt when trying even the most modest moves, you simply won’t be able to appreciate all the kicks and twists it holds. Jake & Jay’s “old school beats with new school tools” may come across stiff sometimes, but let’s remember that they’re an invitation extended to some of the most agile dancers. And sometimes, as demonstrated by Jay-Roc on “B-Boy Crunkfunk,” even they have to be presented with a challenge.
Many of our favorite rappers started out as dancers. Jay-Roc is trying to make a living as a dancer, better yet as a b-boy. As stupid as it sounds, not every member of the movement appreciates the notion of a professional b-boy. They rather see a skilled dancer turn his back on hip-hop and tour with international pop acts or something. Jay-Roc has instead remained true to his roots, by his own account ‘organizing workshops, teaching classes, producing theatre shows, producing videoclips.’ “The B-Boy Hustle Album” is one more measure undertaken by this b-boy to live off his craft. It is at the same time a statement addressing hip-hop as a whole, to acknowledge b-boying in these modern times. In the emancipation of the b-boy and -girl, the release of this album is a step whose significance can not be overestimated.
As Jay writes on his MySpace page: What is special about Jay-Roc? Jay-Roc is a talented dancer who wanted to get rid of the background dancing status in the business. By producing music he made himself independent as an artist. His mission is to free b-boying from its dependence from music acts and DJ’s and improve the business status of the forgotten child element of hip-hop. The B-Boy Hustle stands for the struggle b-boys and dancers in general go through. The philosophy of Jay-Roc is comparable to the philosophy of old school hip-hop: working hard for fame, positive message, competition and battle, creativity… That’s what “The B-Boy Hustle Album” is all about.