Pete Rock: Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics

Pete Rock: Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics

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Pete Rock

Album: Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics
Label: BBE

Pete Rock emerged from the late-'80s/early-'90s jazz-rap renaissance as one of the genre's most influential and respected producers, a sonic genius with a timeless style that could be goosebump-inducingly emotional (like Rock and C.L. Smooth's "T.R.O.Y.") or giddy and exuberant (like Rahzel's "All I Know"). Rock's influence can be felt today in the work of acolytes like Madlib, Jay Dee, and Little Brother's 9th Wonder, all of whom have paid reverent homage to Smooth's better half. Then again, Pete Rock has always meant more to producers, rappers, and beat fiends than to record labels or the average rap consumer, so it's understandable (though frustrating) that one of his preeminent production masterpieces, InI's Center Of Attention, has gone unreleased for more than half a decade. Finally released by BBE as part of the double-disc Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics, the album is coffeehouse hip-hop at its finest. Center Of Attention pairs Rock with Rob-O, Marco Polo, and Rock's brother Grap Luva, who's that rarest of hip-hop anomalies: an underrated celebrity sibling. Center Of Attention provides a perfect illustration of Rock's unparalleled ability to blend ornate, sophisticated fussiness with head-nodding, visceral boom-bap. Melancholy strings and Rock's trademark horns meet rubbery, DJ Premier-style scratching and blustery rap soundbites throughout the disc's 16 filler-free tracks. The hip-hop find of the year, Center Of Attention could have been one of the best albums of the mid-'90s. The second disc of Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics contains The Original Baby Pa, a much more dispensable Rock-produced album by Deda, a gruff, artless rapper whose voice is an acquired taste that most needn't bother acquiring. Of course, any act with an entire album produced by Rock starts out on third base, but it's difficult to see what he saw in Deda. In its mixture of sophisticated production and knuckleheaded rhymes, Baby Pa suggests a less accomplished sibling to sonic classics like Black Moon's Enta Da Stage and the debuts of The Beatnuts and Main Source. It's the kind of album people listen to in spite of the rapping, even though, like Center Of Attention, it affords the pleasure of listening to a production master operating at his creative apex.