100% Pure Poison: St. Germain, Pete Rock & J Dilla

In the early 1970s, nine American servicemen stationed in Germany formed a soul band.  They called themselves 100% Pure Poison (it was the seventies, after all). After sneaking in to a music industry conference and snagging a deal with British EMI, they released their first and only album, Coming Right At You.  According to All Music Guide, the album features vocal interplay “recalling the Temptations” and “a jazzy instrumental sophistication equal to the Blackbyrds.”  

While I can’t vouch for the whole thing, one track on Coming Right At You has found its way into the catalogue of three of my favourite artists – French acid-jazz producer St. Germain and  hip-hop legends and beat-makers extraordinaire Pete Rock and J Dilla.  All three have sampled the opening few bars of “Windy C,” the album’s sixth track, to great effect.  Lasting only about 10 seconds (from 0:11 to 0:21), the four bar sequence has a mellow, jazzy, slightly-uptempo groove to it that seems perfect for sampling.  Have a listen below (Youtube was the best I could do):

It’s dope, right?  Unfortunately, the opening bars are littered with the kind of clutter that drives beat makers absolutely nuts – ambient traffic sounds at the start of the loop and vocals at the end of it.  One way to get around this without resorting to intense chopping is to filter the sample like crazy.  In other words, instead of identifying, extracting and then reassembling the usable bits of the loop (a time-consuming process), you simply apply a ludicrous number of filters and effects, thereby highlighting the general theme of the sample while obliterating any nuance or variation (i.e. the extraneous noise).

This is apparently how Pete Rock approached the sample, which he used as the backbone for his beat “Get Involved” off the Petestrumentals record.  The first thing you’ll notice is the stark difference in audio quality between the Pete Rock beat and the original, largely a result of the heavy filtration that gives the beat its distinct ‘wah wah‘ sound.  Although present in “Windy C,” Pete Rock’s knob-fiddling has really drawn it out in the beat.

However, that’s not to say he hasn’t done any chopping.  In the opening eight bars or so, you can clearly hear the traffic noise at the beginning of the loop.  Why he left it in is beyond me, but I suppose it adds that element of subtle fluctuation which prevents a beat from sounding too monotonous.  Also, listen for the vocal sample starting at 4:19 – you’ll know why in a minute.  Anyways, check it out:

Pete Rock – Get Involved (Petestrumentals, 2005) 

[audio:http://www.4080records.com/music/pr-gip.mp3]

St. Germain’s take on “Windy C” is similar.  He’s clearly run the sample through some filters, although it’s not as obvious as on “Get Involved.”  Perhaps the biggest difference is that whereas Pete Rock uses the sample as the focus of his beat, adding the occasional scratch here and there, St. Germain relegates it to the background of “Sure Thing”.  Emphasized at the beginning of the track to set the mood, the loop is gradually submerged beneath a wave of other samples – the melancholic blues lament (‘you’re the pretty, pretty, pretty’ (?)) also used by Pete Rock (see above), and the increasingly frenetic guitar solo.  

Although to be fair, this seems to be how most house music is constructed, so I suppose I shouldn’t read too deeply into it.  Get your listen on below:

Finally, the Dilla version, a track called “Lucy” from his posthumously-released Jay Love Japan album.  One of the reasons dude was such a genius is because he did what other people never even considered doing.  In this instance, instead of avoiding the vocals at the end of the loop, Dilla incorporated them into his beat.  He also went the hard route and chopped it up like crazy, replacing segments of the loop with other samples from later on in the original song.  To hear what I mean, listen to the 0:27 mark for the drum roll and the vocal sample at the end of the intro loop, and starting at about 1:17 listen for the short flute stabs and the band members talking.  Shit is absolutely nuts!  

J Dilla – Lucy feat. Bo Bo Lamb (Jay Love Japan, 2007)

[audio:http://www.4080records.com/music/jd-ljlj.mp3]

Album cover image yanked from: http://991.com/newgallery//100-Pure-Poison-Coming-Right-At-Y-328421.jpg

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