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Jel - Soft Money

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Artist: Jel

Album: Soft Money

Label: Anticon

Review date: Mar. 5, 2006

In 1987, following the success of the now vintage Emulator sampler, and subsequently that of the upgraded SP-12, the company E-mu Systems released the SP-1200. The latter took the concept of 12-bit linear resolution and provided a combination device for sequencing drums and looping samples. It was not long before it became the preferred apparatus for some of hip hop’s most storied producers. One of the first to master the SP–1200, Marley Marl of Juice Crew production fame, (check “The Symphony” for a clinic on how it should be done) also manipulated the machine while lying down the monolithic Eric B. and Rakim tracks “Eric B. Is President” and “My Melody.” A sample of the sampler’s supreme clientele reads like a beat production Hall of Fame: Mantronix, RZA, Large Professor, The Bomb Squad.

A late addition to that lauded list might be a Catholic-raised kid from Chicago who now resides in the Oakland Bay Area. Two years after self-releasing Greenball, an album featuring instrumental versions of various production work, one of Anticon’s founding fathers Jeffrey “Jel” Logan (Deep Puddle Dynamics, Them/Themselves, Subtle) dropped 10 Seconds. Dedicated to the SP-1200 and named after its limited sample time, the record plays like an introduction to crate digging, employing only choice clips of artifacts from hip hop’s three decades. Deriving track titles from the SP's singular functions (Loop/Truncate, Decay/Tune Select) Jel supplies the sampler’s canon with a few classic additions of his own (Multi-Pitch, Multi Level). Meat & Oil followed, introducing a concentrated focus on the perils of the current American state. The Soft Money looks even longer at a seemingly lost cause.

“No Solution” acts like a thesis of sorts: We really are that fucked. But Jel’s subtle touch belies the title. The gem here, soft, snapping drums move beneath a spectral synth and ruminating bassline. On anti-ad opener “To Buy A Car” Jel ably grips the mic, forgoing the nasal delivery of other crew members for an everyday-man intonation. Ms. John Soda’s Steffi Böhm graces “All Around” and it sounds, well, like a Ms. John Soda song. On the most explicitly political track, Poor Righteous Teacher’s Wise Intelligent requests that someone tell the CIA “he’s a business man” before manifesting about “weapons of mass distraction” and warning “He’ll lose his job if your DJ ever play this / And get dropped off his label if your MC dare to say this.” “All Day Breakfast” moves away from straight hip-hop, Jel shaping a more epic soundscape reminiscent of Boom Bip’s recent evolution. “Nice Last” envisions an Express Rising – uncomfortable with failure.

Ending with the cheeky vocal collage “Chipmunk Technique,” Jel pokes fun at the recent Kanye-inspired vocal processing before giving way to Group Home’s Melachi the Nutcracker. Extracting a line from the mid-’90s NYC anthem “Supa Star,” Jel sums up The Soft Money: “No lie / But before I say bye / You can’t take money with you / When you die.”

By Jake O'Connell

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