DJ Spinna 

Here to There (BBE)

Hip-hop's history is a long-raging tug of war between MCs and producers. Through much of the late '90s, lyricists had the upper hand, prompting the British label BBE (short for "Barely Breaking Even") to launch The Beat Generation, a series of albums devoted to rap producers. Following efforts by veterans like Marley Marl and Pete Rock, Brooklyn beatmaker DJ Spinna throws down Here to There.

Throughout his eight-year career, Spinna has proved himself one of hip-hop's most original instrumental voices, crossing Rock's uncluttered rhythmic approach with an almost psychedelic sense for tone color. That strategy turns out this album's strongest tracks, as on "Drive," where Spinna cuts buoyant keyboards and spring-loaded bounce with Shadowman's insistent flow.

But too often, Here to There strays from its target. "Galactic Soul" meanders through time-warped funk without ever escaping orbit, while the disco-house of "Music in Me (Come Alive)" is way too smoothed out. Worst of all is the Afrobeat jam of "Outro," over which an uncredited vocalist delivers overheated rants such as "Listen, listen, the drum was the first instrument to speak to the people!" If the point of this series is to highlight instrumental hip-hop, the last thing we need is an inadvertently comical MC admonishing us to listen to the beats. That song -- and too much of the album -- is a curious misstep for Spinna, who's so often a master of understatement.

More by Philip Sherburne


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