The Embodiment of Instrumentation
Record label: Ropeadope
Release date: 4 June 2002
The first time I heard Scratch on a Roots cut, that's when I knew that the idea of being a beatbox artist was undergoing some major construction. Black Thought demonstrated some skills on that vocal turntablist tip on the title track of Do You Want More??!? and Rahzel's talent is just frightening (sometimes making up to seven sounds at once), but there was something about Scratch's attention to detail that set him apart right away. Go back to "? vs. Scratch" on Illadelph Halflife and listen to him vocally flip the phrase "where ya at?" - sounding exactly like Q-Tip on "Hot Sex." Since then, his ear for such distinctions has only gotten sharper. The Embodiment of Instrumentation marks Scratch's solo debut, and the organic beats and effects that are showcased will cause many to say "how in the world is he doing that?"
Vocals drive the album, from Scratch's instrumentals to the MCs that spit over them. In that way, it's somewhat of a different feel from most hip-hop releases, but not by much. Everything's still rugged and raw on delivery, especially from The Roots. They sound just as hungry as they always have on the microphone, but as the title of one of their earlier tracks stated, they "ain't sayin' nothin' new." To hear Black Thought, Malik B., and Dice Raw on cuts like "U Know The Rulez," "That's What We Talkin' About," and "Com'n Alive" is to walk down roads already trod. There are a number of MCs from Philly's underground that get time to shine, the finest being Schoolz of Thought. If "We Got What U Want" and "World Iz…" are any indication of what an EP would bring, this crew will be the ones to watch. Other notables include Stamma on "Peoples Gettin' Rich" and Flo Brown's verse on "Sumthin' That U Missin'." E.S.T.'s appearance is also worth mentioning (if memory serves me correctly, he is a veteran Philly rapper and member of old school crew Three Times Dope).
Scratch's album is best when it goes in other directions musically. Take "Square One" featuring Bilal's characteristic falsetto, laying down heavy voice box soul. Or the clever spoken word of Rich Medina on "3 Barstoolz Away" and Scratch's collaborations with a brass section and guitars on "Breath of Fresh Air." Floetry (a songwriting troupe who have already written hits for Michael Jackson and Jill Scott) chimes in lovely on the bonus track "What Happ'n," putting a fresh face and sound on today's R&B. (Anything to keep another run of the mill soul sista from blowin' up by singing over a martyred MC's instrumental - can someone say Ashanti? Enough of this success by association crap - too many people are getting duped.) Packed with charisma, humor, and more hits than miss, The Embodiment of Instrumentation is another example of The Roots fam making hip-hop music their way. By the end of the album, Scratch beams with pride as he gives a wink and a nod towards James Todd Smith (known better as LL Cool J), referencing an outro from one of his earlier albums: "You thought it couldn't be done…a beatbox album…THE JOKE'S ON YOU, JACK!!"
(Note to Okayplayer: Scratch and Rahzel seriously need to make a beats and tools record for DJs and producers. It would sell out in under a week.)