Babies Making Babies 2: Misery Strikes Back should be boxed with tissues. Whether indulging in a hearty post-breakup mope or chopping onions for your Sunday morning omelet, Misery Strikes Back offers a soundtrack to your teardrops with some classic grooves. As a counterpoint to 2002’s Babies Makin’ Babies, a collection of 1970s soul tunes that probably has your parents’ “our song” on it, this mixtape is more like what your dad would have listened to the first time he got dumped. A far cry from a party mix, and hardly a crate-digger’s manifesto, Misery Strikes Back is compilation in the strictest sense, designed to bring a style of music that has fallen out of favor back into the spotlight, devoid of tinkering.
Born Ahmir Khalib Thompson, Questlove is best known as a founding member and drummer for Philadelphia’s seminal hip-hop group the Roots – but he does a lot more than bob his highly recognizable afro while keeping rhythm for his band. If Black Thought is the voice for the group, Questlove is the man behind the music. He arranges and produces, even adding his commentary on the development of tracks to album liner notes. He has also worked on numerous projects outside of the Roots, producing for artists such as Common, Dilated Peoples and Erykah Badu and re-treading classic funk and soul songs for remix albums. His solo releases so far have been limited to the Babies Making Babies compilations.
Misery Strikes Back is not what you’d expect from a contemporary hip-hop artist. The tracks aren’t cut up, reworked, or blended. There’s no turntablism, beatboxing, or bling. Questlove keeps it all about the music and turning on a new audience to a sound that contributed the bass and funk to make hip-hop what it is. Unfortunately for those who already have an interest in soul, Misery Strikes Back doesn’t have a lot to offer; there’s a good chance you will know about the artists and probably own most of the music already. It would have been nice had he strayed from the beaten path.
The Ohio Players set the mood for the album with “Our Love Has Died,” a track that opens with melodic sobbing reminiscent of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Betty Davis’s “Anti Love Song” is a highlight of the collection. An original funk diva who is somehow yet to be co-opted by car commercials and movie soundtracks, Davis has a voice that alternates between caressing whispers and raspy shouts, and she has a band that knows how to bring the funk. She sings, “You know I could make you crawl/ And just as hard as I’d fall for you, boy/ you know you’d fall for me harder/ that’s why I don’t want to love you.” She’s a woman in control, and that’s just how we want it. Al Green, the Delfonics, and Natalie Cole are also represented in their classic emotive force.
Some songs have not aged as well as others – Jermaine Jackson’s “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love for Me” sounds more like a show tune than a classic track – and the intended sincerity of soul may sound forced to those who prefer sarcasm and irony. However, Questlove has stayed true to his name and true to the music in putting together this collection of quality tracks for your next rainy day. Plus, now you have something to talk about with your parents.
Video tour of Questlove’s Record Room (via his blog)
BBE Music Web site