When Sean Combs claimed to invent the remix in 2002, he provoked a pronounced groan. Understandably so, considering Diddy’s compilation unnecessarily revisited slag from his bloated label. Worse was that even a new-jack music fan knew of the remix pre-twenty-first century. However, the rub was that the statement was not meant to be definitive or literal as much as provocative and figurative. Combs had enough age and experience to know that the re-versioning of tracks had existed for decades, so the title was more of a challenge. Like a b-boy standing defiantly in front of his competition, he set out to stake his claim on a shared form — We Invented the Remix would be Diddy’s contribution.
The year after Diddy’s marketing scheme, a workhorse emcee from the “outer borough” of Pittsburgh quietly released an album in a similar vein. J. Sands, one half of the duo Lone Catalysts, produced The Breaks, an album of original rhymes set to familiar (arguably “classic”) samples used in hip-hop. While Sands’s record was not a remix project proper, his spirit was in the same place: He wanted to remake the familiar and claim it for his own. By writing rhymes to “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Apache,” Sands promised to take his place in the big boys’ club. Or so it seemed.
Sands, like Diddy, used a convention of reinterpretation that has existed since the drop in hip-hop. Rhyming over breaks started when emcees hyped deejays on the block. Those same breaks became popular as constant interludes or deejay tools in hip-hop concerts. These days, the classics can provide a much-needed karaoke break. In this sense, The Breaks‘ inherent idea was not unique, save for the fact that it was doomed to limited distribution or popularity related to sample-clearance issues. But, like Diddy’s Remix, Sands’ Breaks had a rub: It really wasn’t about rhymin’ over breaks. While the aforementioned songs appear prominently, the majority of the album is scarcely different from his Lone Catalysts output: sample-heavy, lyrically rambling, and backpacker friendly. Sands just found a palatable way to spread his message.
Apparently the tactic worked enough for Sands to release a second volume, The Breaks 2: The Interlude Violator. As the title suggests, he still flaunts the illicitness of “jackin’ for beats” and covers familiar bases: rhyming over Skull Snaps’ “Tresspassin’ ” and quoting Schoolly D. But the album is once again a logical extension of Sands’s past work. His production choice still recalls the best of sample-based beat-making, particularly the late-’90s sound: a little Slum Village on “Straight to da Point” and a little Ummah on “These Words.” The album sounds like the not-so-distant past in the same way all of his prior work remains ensconced in the previous decade’s traditions and aesthetics. Though The Breaks 2 may not be a complete nostalgia-fest and a quasi-missed opportunity to literally go for broke over the breaks, it is a welcome addition to Sands’s catalogue.