A renaissance man on the decks and the boards, with the Japanese release “Underground Forever” DJ Spinna returns to his professional roots, ’90s underground East Coast hip-hop. Presenting 24 twelve-inch cuts in a continuous mix, he offers a look back on a time many people still remember fondly. As a member of the Jigmastas and Polyrhythm Addicts, Vince Williams participated actively in the scene, and so the mix contains several of Spinna’s own productions, a handful even released on his label Beyond Real Recordings. Fittingly, there’s the Jigmastas’ “Beyond Real” to highlight his subtle drum programming and melodic, spheric bass. Songs like “Vibrate” by The Basement Khemist and IG Off & Hazadous’ “This Ain’t Livin'” feature Spinna’s hypnotic butta beats.
He revisits some of the genre’s classics, beginning with the Juggaknots’ racially tense dialogue “Clear Blue Skies.” Natural Resource fight the age-old battle between indie vs. industry on “Negro League Baseball,” J-Live claims “Braggin’ Writes” on his breakout routine where he doubles on the mic and the turntables, while DeS kicks cautionary street raps on “Tried by 12” for Spencer Bellamy’s East Flatbush Project.
As was their fate, some of these artits never went on to bigger things. They may have been in groups with similarly sounding names, but Natural Resource’s What? What? morphed into noted female lyricist Jean Grae, while Natural Elements’ Mr. Voodoo’s faded to black despite the employment of “Lyrical Tactics.” For every Mos Def there’s a Mike Zoot, but here you can catch them together on the sarcastic media critique “High Drama.” If you’re a Stan but never heard “the underground shit that” Em “did with Skam,” check Old World Disorder’s “3hree6ix5ive” with its playful Spinna beat and the rappers’ acerbic rhymes, Slim Shady’s “I’m just a mean person” looped for extra emphasis. To be found during the CD’s white underground segment sandwiched between Non Phixion’s “No Tomorrow” and Ugly Duckling’s “Fresh Mode.”
While Ugly Duckling are prone to be the nicest guys on any rap mix, this underground set tends towards darker tones, although a couple of the beats possess mass appeal in spades, such as the Vinyl Reanimators’ summer bounce for L. The Head Toucha’s “Too Complex,” or the brilliant Masta Ace production “Paula’s Jam” (as in Paula Perry).
With “Underground Forever,” Spinna gives some shine to songs that in their original form were exclusive to the 12″ vinyl single, presenting them in a way you would have likely heard them back in the day. What the release ignores is that many of these tracks have appeared in full-length on blogs in recent years. In fact bloggers have unearthed much more special gems, which makes Spinna’s selection rather conservative. He stays in his comfort zone, disregarding one of the DJ’s noblest tasks – to put things into a new context. Nevertheless, with “Underground Forever” the world-renowned DJ’s “givin’ you a sample of the underground sound that” – according to “Vibrate” – “was lost” even back in 1996. And overlooking the current rap landscape, this type of rugged, lyrical, straight-from-the-cipher-to-the-studio hip-hop is nearly extinct.