The Embodiment of Instrumentation (Rope-A-Dope)

We've always been perplexed by how few hip-hop albums take advantage of the art of beatboxing. With the exception of bohemian jazz guru Bobby McFerrin and '80s rap sensations the Fat Boys, very few have attempted to produce beatboxed records. But after listening to the debut from Scratch, a member of Philadelphia's Roots crew, we know why: When it's not done right, it can be damned boring.

It's not that Scratch lacks talent. The self-proclaimed "vocal turntablist" kicks out an impressive variety of beats, and his imitations of the raw, heaving sounds produced by turntable wizards like the X-ecutioners are downright eerie, turning his collaborations with MCs Black Thought, Dice Raw, Malik B, and Schoolz of Thought into chest-thumping jams. It's a shame, however, that he didn't take the time to add more color to his beats. For all the "wick-wicky" noises and faux samples he weaves in, he rarely apes any horns, organs, or guitars -- the funky essentials that inject flavor into hip-hop.

The only exceptions are the marching-band-inspired "That's What We Talkin' About" and the jazzy "Breath of Fresh Air" interlude, on which Scratch teams up with trumpet, saxophone, and guitar players, transcending his vocal limits to produce well-rounded songs. Otherwise, listening to even four or five cuts in a row becomes a challenge, a test of aural endurance not meant for the uninitiated.

More by Steve Boughton


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