The Tribeca Film festival opens this week with “Time is Illmatic”, a documentary that, according to the film’s website, “delves deep into the making of hip hop artist Nas’ 1994 debut album, “Illmatic”, and the social conditions that influenced its creation.” The 20th anniversary of “Illmatic” also brings an expanded double-disc re-issue featuring demos and rare remixes of the album that has inspired everyone from Jay Z to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Like “Ready to Die”, another iconic album that debuted that year, from larger than life rap star Christopher Wallace, known worldwide as The Notorious B.I.G.. Biggie, or simply, Big, “Illmatic” sits firmly in the constellation of great rap albums that lead all others.
The early nineties were a watershed moment for rap, as the art form and its practitioners took to new levels the firmament laid down by old schoolers like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Melle Mel, 2 Live Crew and Big Daddy Kane in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Another important album, that predates those of Nas and Biggie, is “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”, the 1991 debut studio album from the hip hop group Black Sheep. The group, comprised of Andres “Dres” Titus and William “Mista Lawnge” McLean, was an affiliate of the Native Tongues, which included the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Black Sheep broke up in 1995, reuniting again in 2000. In 2010, Dres released a solo album, “From the Black Pool of Genius” that received high praise from fans and critics alike, and revealed a Dres who was still brash and defiant, but also older and wiser.
That older and wiser Dres was in full form at The Cutting Room on April 2 for “Old New York Live”, a weekly Avant Garde Urban and Alternative Showcase featuring rising talent with legendary MCs. Hip Hop legend Black Sheep was featured along with Lifted Crew (house band for Big Daddy Kane & Slick Rick) and Vanessa Mullings. Mullings is a hip-hop rap recording artist, hailing from Paterson , New Jersey, who is signed to SONY/ATV as a published writer. She has worked with some of the industry’s top music producers, as well as up and coming artists and producers, on her debut album “I am…Vanessa Mullings”. With production from Grammy Award winning Rockwilder, multi-platinum selling producer CedSolo, and New Jersey’s best kept secret and newcomer, Vertical Jones, the album displays the lyrical consistency, hot beats, and conceptual rhymes that many feel has been missing in hip hop. Mullings takes pieces of the past and combines with the present, introducing a new and refreshing sound with her band “The Commission” to the future. From the jazz influence present in “Just Another Day”, produced by Rockwilder, to the crazy laid back sample in “Incredible Hulk” where she pays homage to Snoop Dogg and the brilliantly orchestrated and gritty story telling in “Traffic”, “I am…Vanessa Mullings” will definitely take listeners on a non-stop ride, bringing the music industry and hip hop a breath of fresh air.
The show that night was an eclectic mix of styles and genres, as a few singer-songwriters and rock bands took the stage before Mullings and Black Sheep. Mullings took the stage with old school swagger, and her DJ made sure to bring the sound up as she rapped and rhymed her way through her showcase set. Her rhymes were powerful and confident, and it was a cool juxtaposition for the Cutting Room stage, which has the laid back vibe of a jazz club. She brought along a trio of dancers who entranced the audience with tight and acrobatic moves. They added a lustrous, old school cred to night's showcase. By the time Dres took the stage, the room had settled into a comfortable groove. He was a poetic eminence grise, a master of the form, whose mature outlook on life brings an all embracing philosophy to the genre.
The Cutting Room
44 East 32nd Street
New York, NY 10010
212 691 1900