In rap these days, loving it all is the new hating it all. I constantly hear arguments being made for the validity of music from the likes of Trinidad James, 2 Chainz, and Nicki Minaj. The gimmick is smart, the hustle is on point, or (everyone’s favorite) “it has its place.” While all of that is probably true, some heads still pine for hip-hop’s Golden Era, when the only thing to have a place was quality. DJ and Producer Aaron “A-L” Ladley answers that yearning with his new project Future Classic Music. Released in early 2013, this instrumental-meets-mixtape album bridges that illusive gap between the original and the timeless. It isn’t simply a beat tape, as A-L offers up 19 songs consisting of 11 instrumentals, seven tracks with featured emcees, and two remixes. The result is an updated take on hip-hop’s classics that plays out like an engaging conversation, complete with lulls and exclamation points, new ideas and repeated assertions.
The album’s title track serves up the modernized old school on a silver platter. A serene chime-like echo is cut with that obnoxious and beloved air horn, while the three featured emcees spout nostalgia. EDO. G claims his wordplay will live on, Niek Rocka talks about crate digging and falling in love with hip-hop before Solid Theory wraps up, lamenting the difference between the “Can I Kick It” of yesterday and the brand name-infused raps of today. As the second song on the album, it accurately sets expectations for the rest of the project: solid production layered with recognizable classic samples, and punctuated by clever and detailed lyricism.
Future Classic Music reminds us how inventively cyclical all this shit can be. Looped breaks from the early ‘70s make up more than half of what we’re still hearing today. On A-L’s instrumental “Time is Real” alone your ear will pick up the hi-hat from Dennis Edwards’ “Don’t Look Any Further” made famous by Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid In Full,” the strings from Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up On My Baby” popularized by Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” and MC Shan’s unmistakable voice from the iconic “The Bridge.” A-L’s not so subtle point seems to be that the integrity of the genre’s lineage can still be upheld…by A-L.
A few tracks (“Hi Science,” “Escape,” etc.) are heard first with a rapper, then repeated later as an instrumental. “The Blast Off” and “Time Is Real” actually repeat three times; once with an emcee, again as an instrumental, and finally as a remix. It’s seriously redundant, but as Future Classic Music will likely be enjoyed mostly by beat junkies, the listener can appreciate the variations in each version. Overall, A-L has crafted a modern play on classic hip-hop. Throughout the album you get a grip of well mastered funk, soul, and boom bap, with the smallest hint of some futuristic sounds. The title Future Classic Music sounds less like a description of this project, and more like a nod to the hope that what’s currently appreciated as classic, will be as essential in the future as it is now.