Despite almost nonstop critical praise, those Jackson brothers never cease to amaze. Their constructions carry baggage, tending to emphasize the various stages of deconstruction involved in their creative processes, and can be thrilling explorations of music within music. Like scientists collecting samples in the field, they bring an obsessive focus to their experiments, guaranteeing a thoughtful reading of source material. For his latest project, Oh No mines the discography of Galt MacDermot, a musical mother lode of funky rhythms, soaring melodies, and theatre-sized soul for all the samples on “Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms.”
A rough parallel to this project is Madlib’s [Otis Jackson, Jr.] dissection of Blue Note Records’ back catalogue, captured on his â€˜03 “Shades of Blue” LP. The effort yielded a mostly instrumental, impressionistic, genre-less result from a clearly reverent fan. It impressed and confused a lot of people, but the point wasn’t to make a wink-wink clever collage- “Shades of Blue” stands on its own whether or not you can trace the references. Similarly, Oh No [Mike Jackson] digs up Galt MacDermot (the composer behind HAIR, among much else) records because he’s a fan, but familiarity with MacDermot’s music is not necessary to appreciate this LP. In fact, I’m not acquainted with anything the man made besides “The Age of Aquarius.” Even so, I’m happy that Oh No has given a spotlight to this man, a spotlight that will undoubtedly get people interested in checking out his recordings.
Why am I happy? Because I got the internet, bitches! It seems that this dude, Galt, is the truth. He’s still making music, but in his heyday was a sincerely funky man that pulled huge multi-racial theatre casts together to perform some of the most soulful music ever to hit Broadway. He also scored artsy movies and made albums that now are understood to be pre-James Brown funk prototypes. I haven’t checked out his stuff yet, but I’m pretty sure this man is a living legend, unsung until now. I’ll probably learn more when the upcoming “Ear of the Heart: The Music of Galt MacDermot” documentary hits theatres.
All that aside, I wasn’t lying when I said you don’t need be a fan of MacDermot to feel what Oh No has done here. Every beat on “Exodus” is sample-based and incredibly funky. All the instruments are real, everything has soul and swing, and if you like jazzy, funky beats, this LP is for you. This isn’t minimalist jazziness like “The Low End Theory” or neo-urban retrofit a la Guru’s “Jazzmatazz” series. You know how some producers find a single, old-school funky line and put it over a rock-hard drum pattern? Think Pete Rock on “T.R.O.Y.” or that Asian-sounding thing on Primo’s “Above the Clouds.” Know what I’m talking about? Well that’s the philosophy here, except there’s a more-is-more aesthetic that has Oh No using at least three of those loops at a time, each one funky enough to probably hold down a track by itself. Galt MacDermot seems to posses one of those discographies made to sample, a perfect vault of re-usable sounds.
As Oh No flips after-school special organ loops, deranged synth collapses, beautiful bell patterns, and from-the-heart vocal stabs, it’s easy to forget about the emceeing here. Don’t sleep homey. Oh No, in addition to absolutely killing each song here, enlists an enormous amount of lyrical heat to round “Exodus” out. The single, “Smile a Lil Bit,” features Posdnuos, and the De La/Jackson family reunion sounds nice as nice can be. Maybe it’ll be Oh No instead of Madlib handling the single off De La’s next LP. It’s a good sign when one of the best emcees in the game shows love, but he’s not the only one. Guest shots from LMNO, Vast Aire, Murs and Wordsworth are all on point, but appearances by legends like AG, Wise Intelligent, and the aforementioned Plug show what kind of head Oh No really reaches out to.
It’s my opinion that Oh No’s beats sound best when ripped by a real intelligent emcee with something to say. There is something about Oh No’s style that sounds advanced but not head-trip inaccessible that lets emcees really get into the swing pocket. Posdnuos kills it, LMNO tells a really weird story, AG sounds good enough, but Murs steals the album. Dude just sounds down to Earth and down as fuck, plus Oh No flipping Big L in the chorus is the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. Of course, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Aloe Blacc, Roc “C” and Dudley Perkins show up to show some Stones Throw love, but you already know they’re tight. Especially nice is Roc “C” and Aloe Blacc together. Word to PB Wolf, tell them to get together more often. Blacc is smooth and multitalented, Roc “C” is like a rap Jake Lamotta. Together? Salty and sweet, pretzels and chocolate. For real.
An extra surprise is “Coffee Cold,” wherein I learned that that one loping piano sample from the first Handsome Boy CD was Galt’s work. Nice. All in all, this is a dope, dope album. The Galt MacDermot samples are tight, plus they provide continuity for an album-like listening experience. The emcees are pretty much tight (except, I hate to say, for Vast Aire, who is starting to sound like my impression of a retarded person’s impression of Cappadonna (who, incidentally, is sounding a lot better now)). The crowning achievement is that Oh No has not only made a great album, but also paved the way for rap fans to get into music that they might not check out normally. Try finding an album that succeeds on so many levels in another label camp.