On November 26, 2006, two African-Americans and a Hispanic-American, all unarmed, would be fired upon a total of fifty times by several undercover police officers in New York City. Two would be critically injured; one of them would die. The young man who lost his life, Sean Bell, would become another nationally recognized example of alleged excessive force by the police.
The 2008 trial, which ended with the acquittal of all police officers involved, would serve as an additional example to those who feel that police are not subject to the same rules of justice as your average civilian. This is ESPECIALLY if the civilian in question is a member of a prominent underclass.
As in past cases featuring Rodney King and Amadou Diallo, people will protest a ruling that they feel is unjust in whichever means they feel will get the message across. Nevertheless, no matter how people choose to voice their opposition, there WILL be music somewhere in the equation.
“NY Is Burning” serves double duty for the NY-based hip-hop producers by being a bit of a warm-up for the July 29th release date for their official album “Who’s World Is This”, as well as a personal protest piece concerning the Sean Bell shooting incident.
It is mostly composed of remixes of several successful dancehall and hip-hop releases, as well as original music by the producers and the artist. All of the artists featured on this collection are known for their political and socially conscious content. They range from Mos Def, Dead Prez, Buju Banton, and the Outlawz â€“ and the mix works well from beginning to end.
The mixtape begins with audio clips of several angry people in the aftermath of the Sean Bell verdict and moves into the first song “StreetLife” featuring Buju Banton and the R&B singer Trey Songz. K-Salaam and Beatnick sample a few seconds of the distinct guitar licks from “Roxanne” by the English band, The Police. Trey Songz reinterprets the melody from the verses, “Gangsta, you don’t have to bust your gun tonight.” Buju Banton does his usual â€“ toasting FIYAH over the track.
Another highpoint is the remix of Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop”, which manages to IMPROVE over the original by incorporating live guitars into the track. Their version lends the song the urgency that I have always felt was missing for a song that sought to make a major statement as to how BIG hip-hop truly is from a lifetime standpoint.
“Marijuana” by Richie Spice is redone with a track that brings to mind the BEST type of R&B production from the early-to-mid â€˜90s. The sample chosen by K-Salaam and Beatnick is just plain magnificent and makes me think that more dancehall artists really should use more R&B and hip-hop based production alongside the traditional musical styling.
If “Marijuana” caused me to consider that position, K-Salaam and Beatnick’s remix of “Welcome to Jamrock” by Damian Marley made it even realer for me. I honestly think that this song would chart AGAIN if this version were released to commercial radio. It is that good.
However, the apex of this mixtape to me came from the most unexpected place. I have never been a huge fan of The Outlawz because I have always felt that they were the beneficiaries of the prestige laid upon their celebrated founder, and was never worthy of the residual spotlight they received because of that affiliation.
I change my mind.
If they can crank out more work like “We Want In”, and if it takes them working with producers like K-Salaam and Beatnick to make it happen, they need to KEEP working with these guys by any means necessary.
“We Want In” is the voice of a group who feels as if they have put in a lot of work for a very long time and they are ready to be a taste more aggressive in getting where they feel like they deserve to be. They say, “Tell TIP we want that Grand Hustle money, WE WANT IN, Tell Luda we want that Disturb The Peace money, WE WANT IN!” They send this message out to ANY music organization that has experienced insane amounts of respect in the music business.
They have never sounded as good or as hungry as they do here.
Altogether, “NY Is Burning” only references the Sean Bell incident directly a few times, but the spirit of the mixtape screams REBELLION.
K-Salaam and Beatnick deserve a nice score for producing and sequencing a mixtape that sounds and feels like a mixtape, yet, you can enjoy it as much as any album.
BIG UPS and Sean Bell, RIP.
Nervous Picks: “StreetLife”, “Bigger Than Hip-Hop (Beatnick & K-Salaam Remix)”, “Marijuana (Politics Street Remix)”, “We Want In”, “Welcome to Jamrock (Beatnick & K-Salaam Remix)”