The year is 1993. You're a member of an up-and-coming hip-hop outfit that is about to release its first twelve-inch. You're in charge of the beats and like your buddies you're simply happy to have made it this far. A full-length is up next, with which you manage to establish yourself as a producer. As the years pass, your crew remains intact and before you know it, your discography consists of albums, singles and various guest production gigs. It all sounds inevitable, but it's not. Careers in popular music tend to be short. Think of all the lads who one day hold an electric guitar in their hands and the next day decide this rock star thing isn't for them. Any not classically trained musician who lasts for more than a couple of years, who has a steady circle of like-minded companions or befriends new bandmates when the old ones leave, can consider himself lucky.
Producer Glam is one such lucky guy. As a member of Munich's Main Concept crew, he's been involved in the German hip-hop scene since the early '90s. Formerly known as Glammerlicious, Glam has produced all four Main Concept albums, among them the world's first completely freestyled album, 2000's "Plan 58." Evidently, luck is but one factor in any artist's longevity, and so Glam's sound has changed considerably over the years, even as it stuck to the script of sometimes pensive, sometimes boastful, East Coast-influenced headnod fare. Just as DJ's and MC's occasionally like to work outside of the comfort zone that is their crew, so do producers. The producer album is their trade test, the ultimate validation of the producing profession, and in 2007 Glam is ready to take the test.
Seven years in the making, "Laceration," while largely in English, isn't about big names. Longtime collaborators Get Open, a New Yorker crew that has been in existence since 1994, makes several appearances, as do the Black Quarterbacks, a more recently formed trio that linked up in Germany. Besides the surprise return of one of the last crews to carry the Native Tongues torch, name recognition only works twice in the album's favor, with Philly's Grand Agent and Juice Crew alumni Craig G.
While it lacks the star power of the recent Babygrande release by Glam's countrymen Snowgoons ("German Lugers"), "Laceration" is an up-to-date snapshot of post-Y2K hip-hop production. As other beatmakers still content themselves with pitching vocal samples and scouring their equipment's sound libraries in hopes of coming up with some catchy tune, Glam's do-it-yourself approach really means that he does things himself. As G.O.M.B. (Glam One Man Band), the producer by his own account plays 95% percent of the processed sounds himself. Only traces of traditional, foreign-sourced samples make up "Laceration," but that doesn't mean that Glam has given up on the tried and tested hip-hop aesthetic, as he often puts his own creations through the machines to make it seem as if they've been lifted straight off a vinyl platter. He proceeds similarly with sampled drums, as he will take a '70s record, extract drum elements and blow them up to contemporary proportions. When asked, he'll tell you that to him the drums remain a key element in hip-hop production, that the sound of the drums still makes up a great deal of a track.
On "Laceration," this results in a sparse but rich, abstract but warm sound reminiscent of stateside producers such as J. Rawls, Fat Jon, Kan Kick, or later Pete Rock. At the same time the music covers a surprisingly wide range of moods. Glam's production runs the gamut from electrified, dancehall-influenced ("Light it Up"), epic and soulful ("Look Alive"), to dry and barren ("The Truth and the Lie"). A particular treat is that some tracks feature a short intro that stirs up the beat's ingredients before they settle down and fall into place, allowing the beat to slowly come into its own.
Similarly to J. Dilla, the rich, crisp drums and the choppy bass are Glam's carriers of the funk, while melodic bits provide the emotional element. It's a balancing act between grounded and dreamy that for the most part is maintained. Only when the content clearly calls for it, Glam tips the scale in favor of one side. "Craftmanship" is a dense, futuristically sparkling battle track intent on bringing the pain, while the two non-rap offerings, "Bittersweet" and "Alles" (featuring Joy Poirel and Esther Adams, respectively), woo you with finely tuned, moody night club jazz. Both forays into singing territory indicate that "Laceration" would work just as well with a reversed ratio of rap and soul.
As far as the raps go, the lesser known MC's are almost in finer fettle than the familiar names. Craig G is really a different rapper than he once was, favoring an aggravated tone over his once smooth stylings. Underground heads will nod their heads in unison when he spits, "A fine way to travel is by subway, fuck wheeling a Lex over gravel / materialism never enhanced your wisdom," but it's doubtful whether he really has the potential to be "hip-hop's CPR" with lines like "Shady like a bitch with menopause when I draw my mic / I'm takin' hip-hop to new heights." As a good old fashioned declaration of war, however, "Craftsmanship" fully serves its purpose, culminating in the slamming hook "With craftsmanship, we don't ask for shit / Get your seat belt, buckle, nigga, fasten it / This was in the cards, not an accident / Comin' through the door straight crashin' it."
Grand Agent remains a rather cryptic figure as he drags his thick accent across the bumpy beat programming and jazzy inclusions of "Look Alive." Though he gets credit for a thought-provoking chorus and for the quasi-conscious content of the song. "Rockin with the Best" reveals that the 'best' are none other than Da Bush Babees, who apparently now go by the name of Dub Rock Allstars. Those who remember the trio probably wouldn't mind a proper return, especially once they hear Mr. Man tease, "Check out my new talk / still on a path that a few walk / straight out of New York."
The cleverly named Black Quarterbacks have since changed their line-up, but Providence, Kamillion and Gianni Dolo, all residents of Munich at the time of recording, show that there are enough solid English-speaking rappers in many cities where English is a foreign language. Glam produced the trio's 2004 single, which makes "Tango (Dancehall Version)" and "Who Wannit?" the only previously released tracks on "Laceration." "Tango" is set up nicely with a groovy organ and horn stabs asking you for a dance, while the MC's caution that you probably don't want to tango with them:
"Quarterbacks run with the track and play with it
And you probably ain't seen some cats this quick since Ray Leonard
Some back-in-the-day niggas, small age difference
Players of the game, fucked some of the same bitches
We hall-of-fame niggas, the name's infamous
We ain't even came out yet, they still mention us
So pay attention cause y'all don't wanna tango
We like the black snipers, hittin' from all angles
We all came through
The best crew out in Germany that's representin' the Star-Spangled
So save yourself 'fore your heart gets mangled
or you get strangled for your Clarks and Kangols"
"Who Wannit?" chooses a decidedly different angle, as the trio raps over a low-key, jazzy backdrop illuminated by flutes and vibraphones. Not one to get all flashy behind the boards, Glam works with the same underground understatement once exhibited by today's mainstream beatsmiths Hi-Tek and Ayatollah. "Yes Yes Ya'll" with its spacey, spiraling loops and rappers combining complex lyricism with old school enthusiasm takes us back to the days of "Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1," and with a producer like Glam behind them, the Cavalry Crew (who grew up at the US army base of Wiesbaden) could definitely catch some ears overseas.
The same goes for Get Open. As a group they bless the introspective "Find Me," which is part of the album's emotional finale and on par with the best of traditional/true school indie hip-hop. Over the bouncy "Light it Up" Von Meister embarks on the pursuit of "new flights, new sights, new heights / more reason to write and rock mics / Though I struggle on some try to put a muzzle on / Still I'm ready, devil steady keep the trouble on / but 58 got Beats for me to bubble on." Bu brings "the battle to the trenches / old school park benches," rocking a supertight, almost West Coast-ish beat on "The Trenches." Zook examines a dysfunctional relationship on "The Truth and the Lie" with poetic acumen and an unforgiving eye:
"Like a peach when it's pitted I felt ripped from my other half
Didn't laugh till weeks deep into the aftermath
Feeling cheated, thought I needed a woman to be completed
I was pleaded like the waistlines of slacks and I was heated
Like the famous line: The only solution is time
Time took too long, so I found solace in wine
She missed me, came back with a kiss and Scotch whisky
For all the time cut lines makin' my baby look sixty
A diet of destructive tendencies in downtown bars
had kept her personality rugged like burn scars
We said we'd try, but I knew the truth of her lie
We could only be together after we had said goodbye"
After Main Concept's bilingual EP "MUC>>NYC>>STHLM>>BRM" ('03) Glam takes an even bolder step towards international recognition. With English being the hip-hop world's vehicular language, "Laceration" has the potential to garner the kind of attention usually out of reach for non-American producers. Glam's beats are tight in a very literal sense, sated compositions that are so precisely tuned that they leave both the listener and the vocalist room to breathe. And while not club tracks per se, they're clearly ready for the dancefloor. Incorporating influences from soul and electronica, the self-supporting origin of "Laceration" is a sign of hip-hop finally coming to grips with the challenge to use fewer identifiable samples without relying on built-in sounds provided by the equipment. Glam invests a great deal into sound design, which results in much better music than this publication is often presented with on an indie level. He may not take the same artistic risks as the cream of the crop of his profession, but he's someone who knows how to move the crowd. And that's what separates a professional from a bedroom producer.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: May 29, 2007