Damn, why does hip-hop have to have all the fun? While heads can have long-winded arguments about mainstream versus underground, keeping it skreet versus keeping it real, they often take for granted how easily this debate can be posited. After all, both Jay-Z and Mos Def are popular enough to enlist the least involved in this back-and-forth. However, when the R&B and dance crowd tried boosting the people’s choice — “neo-soul” — a minute ago, the movement flopped. Not to say there aren’t options in hip-hop’s sister world, but finding alternatives to Mary J. and Madonna often requires more than a stop at the local music shop.
So, thank goodness for Raw Fusion and its long-awaited forays into the CD marketplace. Since 2001 the Swedish label has built an impressive reputation among deejays for classy productions and downright funky dance-floor bangers. Producers such as 12th Floor, Povo and the fantastic Beatfanatic have added classic interpretations of house, Brazilian, R&B, hip-hop and jazz to Scandinavia’s sophisticated musical lexicon. Vinyl-only releases have previously limited the label’s appeal to clubs and mixtapes. Now, with the twin release of Inside Scandinavia, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, the cream of the label’s crop can be enjoyed al via. Call it grown ‘n’ sexy for the Golden and Silver Age purists, these collections move the crowd with the help of sounds from a time-honed crate.
Although the material stretches far and wide, each collection is united by a common foundation in organic instrumentation. From the cabaret jazz of Povo’s “Million Ways” to the stuttering vibe-hop of Teddy Rok’s “Nelson,” each track is rooted in the familiar: from ’60s-era woodwind backings to ’70s-era moog synthesizers, every cut deliberately modernizes your parents’ crates. Hardly a nostalgia or throwback fest, a number of cuts break loose with a refreshing verve. Beatfanatic demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of dance mechanics with the superb “Jogando Capoeira,” a frenetic breaking workout Sergio Mendes wishes he had written. 12th Floor hijacks a Nuyorican hustler, brainwashes the brother and reprograms him as a twenty-first century salsero on “Salsa 313.” As an added bonus, more than half of the cuts on each comp are previously unreleased and well worth the price of admission alone: Beatfanatic pestles a Big Daddy Kane sample, jazz-fusion sentiments and hard kicks to cleverly shout out the label on “Raw!” and Oscar Sharp’s “Runaway” blends Ne-Yo smooveness with Dilla delayed drums. In this manner, each collection appeals to the dancers with an inner digger and the diggers with their ideas on dance music.
Raw Fusion Records Web site (with streaming jukebox)