When the X-Ecutioners first formed in 1988 as a deejay crew committed to shaking up the turntable scene, it may have been difficult to imagine the directions in which they would one day take the genre. Since then the X-Ecutioners have not only become one of the premier deejay crews, widely respected for their innovative beat juggling techniques, but also one of the most recognizable names in hip-hop.
As a crew they’re known for using innovative concepts that cross hip-hop with other musical forms, including jazz, salsa and rock. But they’ve also managed to create a ripple with their solo projects. With his fourth solo album, Under the Influence, East Coast Turntable Champion Rob Swift blends vintage funk and soul with his own cuts to create one of his best to date, though a little unfocused.
Under the Influence is something of a personal odyssey for Rob Swift. Beginning with obscure southern soul, which Swift says he first used to learn how to cut and scratch, the album commences as a mix tape showcasing primarily Swift’s digging proficiency as opposed to his work as a turntablist. The first eight tracks, although cleverly arranged, are left largely untouched.
As the album continues, Swift focuses his attention on the ’80s hip-hop era with bows towards the likes of Marley Marl (“Man Marley Marl”) and Davey DMX (“One for the Treble”). These middle tracks are sure to please the old school hip-hop heads, not only because of the content, but because, for the most part, Swift sticks with the old-school deejay techniques. He manages to take these tracks and make them his own without having to rely on more modern and flashy turntable techniques.
Finally, the album ends with a pair of Latin-tinged numbers, which Swift cites as “A couple of tunes that I hope help reflect the scope of music which has surrounded me my whole life.” Swift, whose father was a salsa and meringue deejay, does his most impressive work on Bobi Cépedes’ “Lenu.” Although this track seems the most misplaced of all those on the album, it is by far the most impressive. Swift seems entirely at ease moving through the Afro-Cuban rhythms, adding cuts that are impeccably timed and that make the turntable sound not like something contrived or imposing itself on the music, but rather another instrument resting naturally within the orchestra.
Although a strong album, Under the Influence seems to struggle a bit with an identity. Billed as something of a concept album, the main criticism of the LP is that it suffers from something of an identity crisis, being bound together with only the loose autobiographical connection. What may seem like natural connections among the tracks to Swift come across to the listener as somewhat confusing and perhaps misplaced.