J Rocc has been DJing hip-hop since before a lot of rappers were even born. He started in the mid-80s, founded the Beat Junkies in the early 90s, and has been producing and DJing for Madlib for the past decade. I’ve seen him live a few times, and he always manages to mix old-school boom bap with more contemporary sounds. He comes off like a pro, not a dinosaur, keeping the spirit of turntabilism alive while incorporating new elements.
So it’s not a surprise that his first solo album for Stones Throw incorporates classic beats with more avant-garde and abstract ideas. The album starts off with a reworking of De La Soul’s “Cool Breeze On the Rocks,” indicating J Rocc’s appreciation for and relationship with hip-hop’s past. It immediately goes into the mellow, melancholy “Don’t Sell Your Dream (Tonight),” which leans more towards 90s trip hop than 80s hip-hop. “Stay Fresh” offers a breakbeat that picks up the tempo while still recalling DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…”
“Stop Trying” layers electronica over a latin beat. “Party,” my favorite song on the album, mixes Bollywood sample with late-70s BK funk, letting it cook for a solid six minutes. “Play This (Also)” mixes a hammering breakbeat over jazz and psychedelic samples. “Malcolm Was Here (Parts 1 + 2)” offers some screeching jazz. “Take Me Away” cuts in bars from several rappers, including Percee P.
The most obvious point of reference for this album would be J Rocc’s frequent collaborator Madlib. However, J Rocc’s album has a much different feel than any of Madlib’s Beatkonducta work. For one thing, J Rocc’s drum sounds are much heavier than what Madlib frequently works with. There is a nice bottom to all of the tracks, even the more atmospheric ones. J Rocc is a hip-hop DJ who makes a living getting people out of their chairs onto the dance floor, and this album reflects that.
J Rocc’s songs are also longer than the usual hip-hop instrumental album. While a lot of instrumental hip-hop albums only devote one or two minutes to an idea and then move on, J Rocc explores his sounds for three, four, six minutes. This gives the album the feel of a dance record, designed to facilitate a groove and a mood, and makes the whole thing seem more intentional and coherent than a lot of Madlib’s beats.
“Some Cold Rock Stuf” can be an uneven listen. The mix of downtempo and uptempo tracks isn’t managed perfectly, which affects the flow of the disc. However, J Rocc does an excellent job of incorporating classic hip-hop elements into a variety of different ideas, from jazz to trip-hop to Bollywood to abstract electronica. This is one of the better instrumental hip-hop records I’ve heard in a while, and one that I’ll keep on heavy rotation for some time.