The Herbaliser is ideally situated to bring the hip-hop funk from olde England to the new colonies. The British duo of Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry has evolved ever so slightly from producing up-tempo Ninja Tune electronic bangers to employing a live band careening from funk tracks to excursions in throwback electro. The two have also made it a point throughout their career to work with emcees from both nations, from American stalwarts such as Jean Grae and MF Doom to U.K. rappers such as Blade and the ubiquitous Roots Manuva. The Herbaliser brings it back to basics, forming a two-man band on the turntables with this special mix, and what may seem like forced eclecticism is really just what they do on the daily.
Can you throw it on the boom box at your next party? Can you rock it on the way to work? Can you ride it as a slinky background soundtrack to your day at work? This ain't a chill-out mix like some of the Fabric Live series, we'll tell you that, but the questions merely begin there. Sometimes questions can only be answered with more questions. Sometimes one's relationship to British hip-hop may be akin to the altered consciousness achieved with a Zen koan, a query that cannot be answered. To guide your thoughts, here are a few mental paths to ponder following:
These questions may swirl around your head by the time you reach the midsection of the Herbaliser's mix, a trio of British rap acts capped off with the admittedly capable Nextmen. The mix's success will depend on the listener's ability to navigate those waters of Britannia, even as the current carries them to the remedial break-beat procured by the Jackson 5's "It's Great to be Here," a beat that you, oh faithful hip-hop traveler, have no doubt heard somewhere before.
The waters elsewhere swirl around in a mix of funk, hip-hop and electro new (Herbaliser's own "Gadget Funk") and old (Dynamix 2's "Just Give the DJ a Break" from the venerable Chrysalis Records). Teeba and Wherry get with the mash-up bandwagon (never minding that hip-hop deejays have been mixing fresh instrumentals with a capella tracks since time immemorial, but that's another article). RJD2's "Ghostwriter," all horn-laden bravado, forms a surprisingly consistent backdrop for a Mass Influence a cappella. Elsewhere, they drop Apathy's treatment of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" to less original effect, since that bass line has been the mash-up soup stock of the past two years. (Can we just get Will Smith to rhyme over it so we can officially declare the trend dead?)
So long as you don't suffer from Anglophobia, though, it's tough to argue with the mix. Some moments transcend, such as when an alternate mix to James Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Saying' Nothing" fades out with a little simple scratch into the Dutch funk groove of Lefties Soul Connection "Welly Wanging." Even within the rote moments, such as the three minutes of the Seven Minutes of Madness mix of "Paid in Full," the music's still good, and the mix of heard-before and unheard future classics make the case for the power of international collaboration.