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Music Review: Various Artists – Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop

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The Stax label was formed in 1957 and issued some of the finest rhythm and blues in music history. It was always the alternative to Motown’s smooth, soul sound (with apologies to Marvin Gaye). It was gritty, natural, energetic, and in your face. Artists such as Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s would all release unforgettable material that would prove influential in the development of American music.

The Fantasy label would purchase Stax in 1978 and would in turn be acquired by The Concord Music Group. They would re-activate the label in 2007.

The theory behind Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop is that the fourteen tracks included in this release directly influenced a number of modern day hip-hop artists. The liner notes dissect each song and make a direct connection as to their use by an artist. For example Big Daddy Kane used an instrumental loop from “Melting Pot” by Booker T. & The M.G.’s on “Another Victory” and  LL Cool J’s use of the Dramatics “Get Up and Get Down” on his “Isn’t He Something.” Anyway you get the idea.

The Stax label did produce a lot of music that can be considered influential to the hip-hop style although it was a lot broader than the thesis of this release. The main point, for me at least, is that I don’t care. I did not obtain this album because of its influences but rather for the music itself.

Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop contains a number of tracks that rarely see the light of day and when the fourteen songs are taken together they form an excellent look into the Memphis or Southern style of soul music.

The first track sets the tone for the album. “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” by 24-Carat Black is an example of the political and sociological message that many group were creating in 1973. 24-Carat Black is an obscure group that deserved more attention at the time and its nice to have one of there better songs available again.

Isaac Hayes is represented by two tracks. “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” from his classic Hot Buttered Soul album and the rarely heard “Hung Up On My Baby” from the soundtrack to the film Three Tough Guys show why he was such a cultural voice in the late sixties and early seventies.

Some other gems that are well worth hearing are “After The Laughter (Comes Tears)” by Wendy Rene, “As Long As I’ve Got You” by The Charmels, “Why Marry” by The Sweet Inspirations, and of course no album of this type would be complete without the funky styling of Rufus Thomas who is heard here with “Do The Funky Penguin (Part 1).”

I guess if you want to purchase or listen to this album for its historical significance that’s fine but for me it always comes back to the music itself. Stax: The Soul Of Hip-Hop may only provide a glimpse of what is in the label’s vast catalogue but what a wonderful taste it is.

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