Anyone tired of hip-hop’s “gangstafication” has had it rough at the record store this year. It seemed the age of slick jazz samples, mellow vibes and higher-mindedness had all but drowned in (or become inebriated on) the 40-ounce bottle of thug-rap.
Enter Fat Jon (aka John Marshall). Marshall helped found the rap-collective Wannabattle Crew. This spawned Mood, the Lone Catalysts, DJ/producer J. Rawls and Five Deez, which features Marshall and fellow DJ/emcee Pase at its center.
The latest from Five Deez, “Koolmotor,” spins turntablism around electronic music and live jazz. Traces of The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde are felt in samples of acoustic guitar, orchestras and lots of Verve wax. Five Deez’s sampling judgment is sound, too: F.J. and Pase use some riffs in their original state, while dissecting and reinterpreting others. The bass-heavy tracks are broken up by several acid-jazz jams with keyboards, and congas and a cameo by Japanese rapper Shing02.
Critics could complain that Five Deez’s style is a throwback with no “new edge.” Granted, it may not be the direction hip-hop is going today, but it’s definitely the way it could have (or should have) gone. While it may be too early for a revival of a style barely a decade old, Fat Jon shows there is still plenty to work with.
For those beat heads who want to hear Fat Jon really speak with his hands, his two new solo turntable albums are more fluid and spacious. “Wave Motion,” from Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician, has bouncy bass lines and saxophone hooks that set the backdrop for a disco or dinner party. “Humanoid Erotica” (Fat Jon as Maurice Galactica) is more personal. Dark, moody, almost schizophrenic, it jumps from introspective piano loops into a roof-raising thump set to car horns.