Artist: DJ Next
Album: Back To The Grill Again
Rating: 7 / 10
It’s all nice and vibrant in hip hop now, isn’t it? All that energy is going towards making our artform as great as it can be, more people are beginning to appreciate it, and talented purveyors of it are making money. But no. There is a whole generation of kids who are growing up thinking that the word “DJ” means taking a CD out and putting another CD in, while shouting “YEEAH” and “NEW SHIT” over the top of it. Thanks Clue, and big ups to your gruff-voiced counterpart Kay Slay as well. But in the underground, apparently where all movements start, there are people who still remember what being a DJ actually means. People like DJ Next, who make mixtapes on which they actually practice turntablism, mixtapes on which they play artists who aren’t already at a astronomical level of fame, mixtapes on which they contain new, exclusive material, and not just “blends” of ‘The Next Episode’ and ‘Pass The Courvoisier’. Meet one of the many anti-Clues out there.
DJ Next opens “Back To The Grill Again” with samples from, uh, ‘Back To The Grill Again’, before launching into a giant slew of samples from various hip hop luminaries to set it off, all chopped up and arranged beautifully, before it launches into the first track, which is a cheeky remake of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ by Esoteric, Truth Elemental & Karma. The chaotic streets of South Central where you can see guns being cocked by the baddest gangstas, are swapped for the neatly swept streets of Boston where you can see bagels being chewed by the sharpest dressed stockbrokers ; but all the firepower and chaos you require is provided by the three emcees, who do a lot more than do the original joint justice. Great track, and definitely a lot better than the next track Next throws on the barbeque, another remake. Boston’s finest chose a classic ; Rokone and Immortal Technique chose ‘Bad Boy 4 Life’. What is it with people (i.e. Canibus) remaking this track, and having a new hook which has too many words in it so they have to say each line faster than they should? Presumably because the people doing it are hardly any more creative than P Diddy himself – how’s “you can’t even join a boy band cause you’re out of Sync” or “you couldn’t stop me if you hopped into a DeLorean and went back in time and prevented my folks from meeting” or even “I roll Js with Zs but I’m not a Rocafella” for you?
Sadly, Next seems to be mates with a lot of these hypergeneric nobodies, and one even follows immediately after the little Diddy moment, the most notorious of all, Mr. Apathy of the Demigods – “Y’all can’t burn me like Satan at the beach.” The sheer number of emcees here who choose to squeeze themselves into this asinine Big-L-lite template is truly worrying – Kreemdotcom, Etcetera, Cella Dwellas, Promoe, 8th Wundah, and there’s more – breath control on point, flow on point, but please, stick to the street corner cyphers.
But thankfully there are enough distinctive artists on here to keep your interest. Romen Rok shows up Apathy on ‘Nextclusive Barbecue Sauce’, as does Alias (showing himself to be a far more interesting property than his Anticon namesake) . Celph Titled drops perhaps the most complete performance here, dropping a full 2.46 track and reaffirming just how far ahead he is of his good mate Apathy by spitting some of his dopest dulcet superslurs in a while. C-Ray Walz does a nice job showing up the awful Breez Evahflowin €™ on ‘DJ Next Up’, but leaves the mic for Stelf Index to tear apart – there €™s always a place in the record store for someone who sounds like a hybrid of Cee-Lo and late 80s Big Daddy Kane. Also included is the Fakts1 remix of M.O.P €™s ‘Ante Up’, and although it €™s a decent effort and nothing atrocious, it €™s no match for the original and how well the vocals went with that beat. Elsewhere, Blackalicious hook up with Life Savas and Latryx with impressive results, and Slug & Eyedea get down on a dryly engaging back-and-forth freestyle on the bonus track. Note – this is the only track on here labled Freestyle, and it IS a freestyle, and not only that, it €™s more entertaining than half the “Freestyles” on other mixtapes that you usually hear, this captures the essence of wkhat actually makes a real freestyle.
Next doesn €™t do much turntablism here, but lends a minute and a half to the Pessimists, who throw on all manner of cuts and scratches and make for a nice change in pace in the tepid flow of most of these emcees, from the really quite rubbish Birthwrite & Shiz on ‘E-Z to Alaska on Atoms Fam Nextclusive’ who is obviously making no attempt to bury the geek-rap cliches by comparing himself to a “a young Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Joining him over Cryptic One €™s lukewarm instrumental is Cryptic One himself – who has once again spent too much time with the pen penning dope lyrics and no time spent learning how to flow on beat – and Vast Aire, sounding as he always does – that is, a bit like Peter Sellars doing a Swedish accent in ‘Revenge Of The Pink Panther’ – and who spits the same Sole diss that later appeared on Cold Vein.
And if Vast gets you in a Def Jux kinda mood, then get ready to stroke your bum-fluff beard like you’ve never done before for Aesop Rock, who both produces and raps on ‘Milkcrate Full Of Freestyle’. Can you dig that bassline which sounds like a herd of elephants breaking wind? Can you hear what he’s saying in that great slew of mumbling and punch-ins? Do you care?
Next does a good job putting all these kids together, some of his blends are nothing less than impeccable and while it’s no match for the very upper echelon of underground mixtape DJs, it’s still work which is worth recognition.
Unsurprisingly, this underground mixtape is a pretty accurate representation of the underground itself – a thousand identical emcees straight out their last lunchroom rhyming session, all with the same punchlines and rhyme schemes, all with the personality of a nail. In amongst them, there are the, ahem, “experimental” artists, and there are the true talents like the Blackaliciouses and the Celph Titleds. Want the underground? DJ Next’s your man – what he throws on the barbeque’s not all quality produce, but rest assured your meat’s getting cooked up by someone who knows when to fade, knows when to cut, knows when to mix, and best of all knows not to fuckin’ shout all the time.