If you know “Ms. Fat Booty,” you know Ayatollah. If you don’t know “Ms. Fat Booty,” then take a moment out of this review to hit up YouTube and listen to this Mos Def classic. Once you hear it, it ain’t hard to tell why Ayatollah has so many clientele. The list of rappers he’s produced for includes commercially popular emcees like Ghostface and Styles P, but he’s equally respected among stereotypically “backpack” rap nerds for songs with everyone from The Last Emperor to Sean Price, and he’s scored songs for legends like Rakim and Talib Kweli to boot. When it comes to hip-hop beats, Ayatollah has been there and done that, and largely received acclaim for his production everywhere that he goes.
What he hasn’t done, at least in the last five years, is release an instrumental album on vinyl. That’s a big selling point for “Fingertips,” an album made by a producer FOR the hip-hop deejays, so that you can mix his beats with other people’s rhymes. Yes “Fingertips” is sans lyricists, which in the press release that accompanies the album is perfectly okay with ‘Tollah. “I get peace of mind from doing instrumental albums. There’s no words to lead you in any one direction, plus I don’t have to wait on rappers to finish the creations. I like the freedom of it.” For those of you reading this who don’t own a turntable and have never seen a piece of vinyl in your life except in a music video, DON’T PANIC. ‘Tollah is not opposed to the digital age – in fact he made a point of releasing this album on wax and as a download simultaneously. Whether you’re old school or now school you can still enjoy his work, and some of you new age deejays may be scratching his beats on an iPad.
Listening to the instrumentals on “Fingertips” can lead your mind toward certain emcees if you let it, particularly if you put yourself in a New York state of mind. The gritty and sparse opening track “The Entrance” seems ideal for Cormega, although based on the sung hook he would probably rename the song “Sick and Tired.” The aquatically soulful “Atlantis” would make a good track for Ghostface Killah, especially since he has proven in the past to not be shy about rapping directly over someone’s sung vocals. “Nod Your Head” sounds perfect for the gritty and deep voiced flows of Mobb Deep’s own Prodigy, Mr. H.N.I.C. It’s not hard to imagine Saigon or Inspectah Deck blessing “A Penny For Your Thoughts,” perhaps together as a duet. Generally speaking there’s not a track on the hour long “Fingertips” that you can’t imagine some stalwart of East coast N.Y.C. rap rhyming on. “Listen to This,” Kweli. “Nothing But the Best,” Sean Price, and so on.
Now let’s be straight up factual about this – instrumental hip-hop albums are not generally chart-topping best sellers. As much as I might enjoy an album full of funky fresh shit, rap fans want to hear flows over it, and I don’t blame them. It’s the marriage of the beats to the rhymes that makes hip-hop what it is, and Ayatollah became a hip-hop favorite because he made already good rappers sound even better on his tracks. As such the sentiments that Ayatollah expressed about producing “Fingertips” might seem a little harsh, some would even say arrogant, given he’s ALMOST implying he’s better off without those pesky annoying rappers. Not true. Ayatollah has been dropping instrumental albums for a while now, so even if this is his first one on vinyl in a minute, it’s not like he hasn’t been devoting equal time to both pleasing himself and pleasing the rappers he makes beats for. It’s only fair that if he splits his time between doing shit for dolo and making today’s rap stars sound good, he should get to enjoy some musical self-masturbation with his “Fingertips” now and then.