Crate-diggers have long been masters of the reclusive and tenebrous arts, retrieving rare breaks and alchemizing them into mystic funk for your mind. They guard their arcane ways with a mixture of secrecy and aggression. DJ Premier managed to show more vitriol than a thousand Guru’s when he called out break compilation cats for revealing his sources on The Moment of Truth. The whole notion of blowing up someone’s spot, of revealing the magician’s tricks, may be as old as sampling itself, but it breaks down when the producer puts his source right on the cover.
Galt MacDermot, best known to the masses as the man who gave the world Hair, is part of a cabal of funk jazz break authors such as Bob James and David Axelrod, long revered by crate-diggers. Instead of suing over samples, he allows Oh No to build an album exclusively from his back catalog. Oh No’s more famous brother, Madlib, has had full reign over the Blue Note vaults, delivering remix projects including Shades of Blue. When you’re this talented at bending samples to your will, why bother hiding your sources?
The music is as funky as you might expect. The singular source ensures a certain musical centrality, but the strings range from orchestral to Southern twang, the horn stabs vary from subtle to overpowering, and the brassy ’60s female vocalists evoke tales of free love and astrology but provide suitably ethereal hooks. Oh No’s versatility goes unquestioned, even on an album comprised entirely of one man’s musical canon.
Oh No complements the music with a wide spectrum of emcees, and the variety is appreciated. You’ll spot the usual left coast contributors such as Murs, Med, and Wildchild from Lootpack, but veterans from the East such as Buckshot, Posdnuos, and AG round out the flavor nicely. Most times, though, the scattershot rappers fail to own their tracks; they’re just happy to be here, talking about whatever topic strikes their mind. LMNO wastes a deliciously languorous track with "Hank," a tale of a bank heist told in plodding fashion that stands out as the most inexplicable criminal plot-driven rap since Common‘s courtroom "Testify" track. The duo of Cali Agents (Rasco and Planet Asia) come with their usual bombast over a banging track of equal energy, and Posdnuos rides "Smile a Lil’ Bit" with a comfort that speaks to his veteran-ship on the mike. Sadly, these few moments of mastery make the shortcomings that much more glaring, like hearing Vast Aire follow his weak appearance on Dabrye‘s last one with another lazy offbeat cameo.
Shining a light on random rappers fails to reveal a sharp definition. Producer projects like Peanut Butter Wolf’s My Vinyl Weighs a Ton displayed a cohesiveness that suggested the guest emcees and deejays, as well as the beats, followed the producer’s will. Oh No may be a master composer, but he leaves the conducting baton behind. Virtuosity alone doesn’t make for a classic, and while Exodus has no lack of sublime moments, its existence doesn’t shine on its own accord.