Blameless. I do not blame Mary Joy Recordings for any of the mistakes I made purchasing this album at my record store. From this early point in the review the perception of the reader has already been given subtle alteration. “If buying this album was a mistake, why review it?” Ahh, but it was a beautiful mistake, a lovely mistake, a step in the wrong direction that had all of the best intentions. Sometimes the more wrong you go, the more right you can get. But now you’re completely lost in this shit, because like “Memento” I’ve started at the end and you don’t know the rest of the story, so let’s backtrack a little bit.
Almost a year ago to the day I copped the Music Record Katana for the TV show Samurai Champloo at a movie store. The show took feudal Japan and gave it a hip-hop twist, and the soundtrack was more of the same. One of the dopest tracks on that release was the “Battlecry” rap performed by Shing02 and produced by Nujabes. Shing02 is something of an obscurity in his adopted homeland of Oakland, California and perhaps to a lesser degree his native birthplace of Tokyo, Japan. His name is not on cereal boxes, he isn’t doing TV commercials with Bob Sapp, but the brother does have a rap and it’s a pretty damn good one. He lives and loves the elements of the arts, producing and rapping, making it happen with his own unique perspective as someone who has been bonded to the Bay Area since 1989 yet is as much haiku as hyphy. Seeing the album “400 Instrumentals” at the store I assumed Shing02 was on some next shit, some more “Battlecry” type raps. I also realized that there weren’t literally “400 Instrumentals” on the CD so that had to be some sort of metaphor for his diverse styles – like 360 degrees, only a little more “square.”
Herein the mistake is revealed – there’s no obscure hidden Japanese context to “400 Instrumentals.” In fact it’s not a metaphor of any kind. This is an album of instrumentals for an album CALLED “400.”WHOOPS. SHIT. DAMNIT I FUCKED UP. There’s not a single rap song by Shing02 on here, and I mean that in both the literal sense of him rhyming and behind the boards on production, or any other hip-hop art you care to think of. Unless he designed the cross-section of a brain and brainstem on the cover, there’s no part of Shing02 on here anywhere. The Shing02 “400” album was produced by the team of Vector Omega + Cosiner. Try looking up “Vector Omega” or “Cosiner” on your favorite information age repository, say Wikipedia, and you’ll find they are even more shrouded in obscurity than Shing02. The latter you can find a few magazine interviews with here and there that fill you in on his background, but the sole trace of Cosiner I found was an album entitled “Bittersuites” released on a label called Beautiful Angry Music. Don’t bother looking for a website for the label, it’s a dead-end, and the album itself seems to be long out of print. Vector Omega isn’t even a dead-end though, he’s the lack of a beginning whatsoever, with no data available.
We assume in the 21st century that information of anything is always at our fingertips, which is why it’s so surprising when there’s a complete and total lack of it to be found. It’s funny though that “so surprising” is also the perfect description of “400 Instrumentals,” an album spun off from an album that I didn’t even know existed. Rather than regretting the lack of Shing02’s touch on this CD, I’m enjoying how inspired the instrumentals of Vector Omega + Cosiner are on this disc. “Ultra-H” is a brilliant mixture of heavy boom bap with swinging horny horn jazz, like Pete Rock got in a time machine and took what he knows in 2007 all the way back to 1993 to make beats. “Edo Funk” lives up to the name – it’s some slinky shit George Clinton could easily get down with yet has uniquely Japanese notes and sounds within the mix. As a matter of fact this song sounds like it would fit perfectly into “Samurai Champloo” as do a number of the tracks found here – the pounding march of “Yukoku,” the in your face surf music inspired “Suck on My Dub,” the airy spaced out “Humanity Xlude” and the mellow hip-hop rock groove from “Genome of Life” among others.
Whether you can tie the songs on “400 Instrumentals” to anything Japanese though, or even to Shing02 himself, is in the end completely inconsequential. Removed from whatever original context these songs had on “400,” they still stand alone as completely brilliant, an experience familiar to anyone who has listened to the instrumental versions of “ATLiens” or “Dr. Octagon.” You don’t need to know Japanese to get down with “400” any more than you need to be born in New York to know what hip-hop is. You can hear it, you can know it, you can feel it from the nod of your head down to the tap of your soles, as it digs all the way deep into your soul. From the freestyle bass and melody on “Temple of Dreams” to the dirty dusty R&B soul of “3 Minute Drill,” from the opening “Incision” all the way to the closing “Suture,” these cuts are gonna make you move. Buying “400 Instrumentals” is a happy mistake you should make sometime in the near future.