Is this a hip-hop record? What is considered a hip-hop record, at this point in time? These days some rock albums are made from the same amount of bits and pieces as any sample-based production. Listening to Sorry to Bother You, I’m finally realizing this is more of a “band” than I assumed. Live takes of unedited drums, fuzz bass and handclaps set the tone on the leadoff track “The Magic Clap,” and it carries on from there. Boots Riley [Tape Op #35] has never taken the world, or making records, lying down, which we should be grateful for; and with STBY he pushes even harder. As the album progresses, distorted analog synthesizers and fucked up drum sounds pound away urgently as the subjects of Boots’ verbal attacks take their punches. Boots says, “We recorded and mixed it at co-producer/engineer Damion Gallegos’ CHUbstudio. It was mixed in the box on Pro Tools, but we did a number of things to get a crazy sound. We made recording decisions that we couldn’t change during mixdown – like committing to distortion by recording it that way. We used a lot of old amps and we recorded vocals with handheld mics sometimes. When you use Pro Tools and have all kinds of plug-ins at your disposal, often you’ll record with the plug-in and plan to re-amp later; but often the re-amp never happens because you get used to the plug-in sound. So I didn’t let Damion use plug-in distortion or effects, unless we didn’t have that effect in real life.”

An impressive list of guest appearances includes Vernon Reid, Jolie Holland, Joe Henry, Eric McFadden, Das Racist, Killer Mike, Japanther, and many others, but a highlight is (the San Francisco chapter of) Classical Revolution’s awesome strings. Boots adds: “They’re led by a guy named Charith [Premawardhana]. They’re the shit.”

The album was mastered by Howie at his Howie Weinberg Mastering in L.A. [Tape Op #30]. In many ways I feel the eclectic approach has more in common with The Clash and their quest for new sounds than anything I’ve heard in current hip-hop tracks. Or, as Boots says, “Sometimes ‘perfect’ means ‘the way everybody else’s stuff sounds’ and that’s what you don’t want.” I’m digging this album.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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