Dirty South Dance
Back in the early days of Hip Hop - before emcees, before breakdancers, before graffiti taggers, before hostile corporate takeovers raped and pillaged the genre like it was the days of colonial imperialism all over again- there was the deejay, and the deejay was king. Rising from the ashes of the disco era, turntable wizards like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash ruled the five boroughs (and beyond) long before Sylvia Robinson got the idea to create the Sugarhill Gang and cash in on the growing cultural phenomenon, and for well over a decade the wheels of steel were to Hip Hop what the electric guitar was to rock 'n' roll. Eventually emcees began to take over the spotlight, though exceptions such as the Beastie Boys' DJ Hurricane, Public Enemy's Terminator X and Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay continued to innovate. But as Hip Hop became big business and image became everything, deejays tended to fade into the background like drummers, more of an ominous presence than a serious force to be reckoned with.
For true school Hip Hop fans, it was thrilling to watch the rise of the turntablist underground in the late 1990s. Groups like Invisibl Skratch Piklz and the X-ecutioners, and solo artists such as DJ Shadow and DJ Spooky challenged and expanded the boundaries of Hip Hop, creating dazzling turntablist manifestos that proved Hip Hop didn't need rappers spitting fire to be compelling. By the time the X-ecutioners had a crossover hit collaborating with rap-rockers Linkin Park in 2002, it looked like turntablist culture was ready for its moment in the spotlight. But in the years since, the movement has gone increasingly deep underground.
Emerging on the tail-end of the movement, The Allies released only one EP (the excellent D-Day) before going the way of the dodo, but Montreal-born DJ A-Trak's legacy far outshines that of his former group. He was the youngest deejay ever to win a world championship battle (at 15); the first to win all three major championships- Disco Mix Club (DMC), International Turntablist Federation (ITF), and Vestax World Extravaganza; and the first to win five world championship competitions... all before he'd turned 18. As if that weren't enough, he was tapped by Kanye West to become his touring DJ, contributing tracks to instant classics like Common's Be and West's Late Registration.
All of this goes a long way towards explaining why Dirty South Dance is such a disappointment. Commissioned and released by clothing manufacturer Obey, the album plays like an extended dance club remix, with only brief, occasional flashes of the turntable brilliance for which A-Trak is known. Tracks like "Frenchies Act A Fool," "Walk It Out Trizz" and "Hustlin' Hustler" are so mind-numbingly repetitive on a musical level and so totally vacuous on a lyrical level, I personally found them utterly unlistenable. Perhaps when put into context, dropped into a blazing hot dance mix on a steamy, sweaty dancefloor as you're grinding up on your girl, these songs individually would serve their purpose. But collectively, they were a major letdown for anyone who watched A-Trak's Sunglasses Is A Must DVD and was hoping for more of that brand of turntable wizardry.