I’ve had a crush on DJ Crucial’s girly for as long as I can remember. So, to me, Crucial has always been competition — although I quickly came to infer that he might have the upper hand. There’s the fact that the St. Louis deejay can cut and scratch like a beast; I have a tough enough time beat-matching down-tempo. And certainly his lady, DJ Agile One, would laugh at my bedroom Baltimore/baile funk sets that I drop when I’m getting hyphy on Maker’s. Then there was the time when Crucial spun several hours of hair metal at a party for my friend when he moved into a swank apartment (four bed, two bath, all to himself, the fucker!). DJ Crucial was a god among men. I finally conceded.
And he appears in just as fine of form on his latest mix, Test Presses and Dubplates, an hour-long jam showcasing the past, present and future of his label, F5 Records. Highlighted by some key figures (MF Doom, Slug and MF Grimm) as well as a handful of sickeningly underrated Midwest heads, including Hi-Fidel, Nato Caliph, J-Toth and Katt Davis (R.I.P.), the mix is tied together by the old-school beat constructions and conscious vocal deliveries, all characteristic of St. Louis’s underground scene.
Crucial isn’t pushing hip-hop forward, crumbling barriers with the weight of his crates, dropping jaws to floor — and neither are any of the artists featured on the mix. Rather, their objective seems to be showing their love for hip-hop with every drip drop of their music. If at times it sounds like they’re trying too hard, it’s probably because they are. Nato Caliph’s “All I Know” is possibly the best example. Caliph’s message gets lost in whatever perceived “deepness” he’s trying to convey. But Jah Safe addresses this problem on the mix’s political rant “Patriot Games” by saying, “if it ain’t conscious, then it’s unconscious.”
Elsewhere, beats such as “Isobel and Future” and “Gingerbread Man” are sick beat-cradles, but we’ve been hearing sample-based work like this for years now. None of the work on Test Presses and Dubplates is bad (some tracks, including “Midwest” by Slug, RubberRoom and Hi-Fidel, are downright nutty), it’s just not going to mean much to anyone who isn’t (a) from St. Louis or (b) in love with Crucial’s lady.
Nato Caliph’s “All I Know”