The Ninja Tune massive has given Mr. Scruff his own sub-series of its Solid Steel series, and the mix has given the world insight into what drives the deejay’s obsession. In contrast to Amon Tobin’s recent contribution to Solid Steel, a mix that was intensely dark and heavy, Mr. Scruff’s contribution is a lighter, more relaxed affair. Keep It Solid Steel (Part One) slips back into the series’s well-established groove with its party hip-hop jams, jazz, funk, soul, and even a little modern R&B. As the mix, which mirrors in some ways Scruff’s “Keep It Unreal” deejay nights, traverses genre and decade, one thing becomes clear: This guy’s got a huge record collection.
Scruff, born in Manchester as Andy Carthy, takes listeners through distinct subsections of styles and grooves, beginning with up-tempo Mungos Hifi and Big Youth classics. He drops politely into a mellower, laidback hip-hop section featuring Just Ice, the Arsonists, Ultramagnetic MCs and the radio-friendly smoothness of Erykah Badu’s “Back in the Day.” Badu’s presence within this set is welcome; her voice provides welcome respite from the head-banging joints.
Scruff breaks into some jazz-tinged beats care of Sara Winton and Dred Scott, but, thankfully, it’s not long before we get back to the old-school loops to settle the nerves. The U.K. hip-hop sounds of 2day & 2morrow’s “Disney on Acid” fill the space with a slamming beat before Scruff drops into the orchestral funk of Cappo’s “Learn to Be Strong.” Once Keep It Solid Steel gets into the depths of its seventy-nine minutes, it’s clear that the mix could supply a fine and funky backbone to any party.
The final section is wired with subtle beats and mood swings featuring Borders Crossing, Prefuse73 and Tipper, who are particularly upfront and distinctly modern in these aural surroundings. The finale is the wonderful, other-worldly, laidback jazz groove of Pharoah Sanders’s “You Have Got to Have Freedom.”
One of the best things about Solid Steel is the movie/commercial vocal snippets that are normally cutup in the mixes; here, though, they are in short supply. I suspect Mr. Scruff prefers the music to stand on its own, so he doesn’t want to clutter the mix with superfluous extras. When the whole series is out, we’ll be able to see the big picture and realize fully that Mr. Scruff is a man of fine choice cuts. Bring on volume two, I say.