Listening Session #22

Ultramagnetic M.C.’s / Paul C – Give The Drummer Some

»I still got a SP-1200 in my house today. We can go to my house right now, it’s an SP-1200, ’cause that’s what he [Paul C] taught me on. You know, that machine is classic within itself but […] it’s like, lettin’ my man know I’m still focused. I got the SP-12[00] in the crib and to me that’s like a James Brown record. Play the James Brown record […] or cut on the SP-1200, it’s the same feeling.«


»Switch up! Change my pitch up!« Rapper Kool Keith eats a hole in the loop’s midband with his acidic vocals. »Smack my bitch up, Like a pimp…« Nine years later, The Prodigy will layer their most controversial hit from this line, among others, but that’s another story. Turn back the record, again, the drum loop.

The track »Give The Drummer Some« from rap crew Ultramagnetic MC’s 1988 LP debut Critical Beatdown starts with a one-bar drum pattern. Approximately 108 BPM, a bulbous snare on two and four, kick on one, 2-and-e, 3-and, 4-and. Classic so far. The sample source for these drums is also quickly found: The Dee Felice Trio, »There Was A Time«, a James Brown production released on Betlehem Records in 1969 (the sample used, however, is from the version heard on the James Brown LP Gettin’ Down To It (King Records 1969)). The drums are immediately recognizable. After the first bar the drummer closes the hi-hat and plays pretty much the same pattern as heard on the Ultramagnetic MC’s track. And yet, something can’t be right. The Dee Felice drums are not standing free anywhere on the recording but are always accompanied by at least a simple bass lick. On »Give The Drummer Some«, however, this bass has suddenly disappeared.

What happened? After all, this is a production from 1988, long before digital audio editing tools like Celemony’s Melodyne would make it possible to delete individual instrument voices from a stereo sum. A look into the liner notes reveals Paul C as the track’s producer, and other prominent sample surgeons have already racked their brains over the mystery of how he was able to sample a clean drum loop from the Dee Felice Trio record. For example, Soul Brother No. 1, Pete Rock:

»I always listened to ›Give The Drummer Some,‹ trying to figure it out. I thought maybe he (Paul C) knew someone at Polygram that had James Brown’s reels. There’s no way in the world he could sample (Dee Felice) and take the sounds out. Those are the illest drums I ever heard.«

Pete Rock in Tompkins, Dave (2004): »Return To The World As A Thought«.

In the late 80s, sound engineer and producer Paul ›C‹ McKasty worked at 1212 Studios in Queens, New York. He engineered sessions and produced tracks for various members of the buzzing New York rap scene, including Casanova Fly, Double Delight, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud, and released with rapper Mikey D and DJ Johnny Quest as Mikey D and the LA Posse. The demo tape of the crew STP (Simply Too Positive, later Organized Konfusion), which he produced, his production credits on the album of the Ultramagnetic MC’s, but certainly the third studio LP of Eric B. & Rakim Let The Rhythm Hit’Em, whose production he prepared, should have been his final breakthrough. But then Paul McKasty was shot in his sleep in July 1989. (Cf. on Paul C’s artistic career, short but momentous, the detailed works of Dave Tompkins and Gino Sorcinelli, as well as the film documentary by Pritt Kalsi).

Paul C’s name, however, still runs through the hip-hop producer scene like a sort of ghost track. His name marks a void. »Paul C is the most influential producer you’ve never read about.« (Tompkins 2004) An open channel on the mixer with no signal feeding it. Auspicious hiss, promising noise. On the back of Breaking Atoms, the ’91 debut LP by rap crew Main Source, it reads, »Paul C Lives.« Producer legend Large Professor, Main Source’s main character, was Paul C’s most important student on the SP-12. In his protégé’s skillful sample-chopping, the teacher lives on. Ghostly ripples. Metaphysics of Crackle.

»Hauntology is the proper temporal mode for a history made up of gaps, erased names and sudden abductions.«

Fisher, Mark (2013): »The Metaphysics of Crackle. Afrofuturism and Hauntology«. In: Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 5 (2). P. 42-55.

Mark Fisher’s concept of a sampladelic hauntology has to be fast-forwarded by 15 years and flipped around once again, when the future of breakbeat science may already have died in 1989. But we’ll get to that later. First the apparently simple question, once again: What happened? How did those Dee Felice drums get on the Ultramagnetic record? Large Professor explains: »Paul C panned the record, then he just flipped out on the programming. It was crazy.« (Quoted in Tompkins 2004) The student’s face still grins in admiration when he remembers how his mentor simply sampled the right channel of the record in his SP-1200. Here, the drums played largely untouched by the bass that had moved to the left side. With almost thirty years of sound-cultural distance, it may sound almost a little trivial to separately sample the two stereo channels of a recording in order to better isolate certain sounds – in this case: the drums. But the fact that Paul C was the first to use this technique to finally get at previously inaccessible breakbeat drums – because they were messed up by bass or horns – is still an integral part of canonical beatmaking mythology today. Ultramagnetic M.C.’s Ced Gee:

»That was one of the things Paul showed me: sometimes the drums would be clean on one channel, so you have to pan the sound. You have to pan the drums on the Dee Felice Trio record to get the sample we used in Give The Drummer Some. Once we started panning records, it was crazy.«

Ced Gee in Batey, Angus (2004): »Ultramagnetic MC’s – Critical Beatdown: An Oral History«

Shortly after Marley Marl had stumbled upon the possibility of sampling the individual drum sounds of a record, recombining and programming them into his own patterns, Paul C is the first virtuoso of this new musical practice. He deconstructs the record as a formerly uniform object, getting deeper into the break, refining the apparatus by using not only the truncate function of his sampler, but also panning and equalizing, trying to isolate smallest units – in time as well as in frequency range – to turn them into his musical material.

»Paul C. was an extreme sound scientist, and this [the panning of the Dee Felice record; MP] may be the most prime example of his futuristic approach.«

Large Professor in Edwards, Paul (2015): The Concise Guide To Hip-Hop Music. A Fresh Look at The Art of Hip-Hop, From Old-School Beats to Freestyle Rap. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

The panning of the break may seem simple, but it is precisely this simplicity that reveals how decisively Paul C’s new conceptualization of the phonographic material, the record, continues to shape breakbeat science to this day. Marley Marl and even before him the block party DJ’s had already recognized that the cultural archives pressed into vinyl, which they carried around in their record crates, could be prolific starting points of their own cultural practice. They were original aesthetic material in the form of breakbeats and samples. Paul C now adds new dimensions to this material by showing that the single record is always already a multiplicity, that there is always already more than just the one break slumbering on it. Every stereo LP already consists of two parallel sonic realities, layered on top of each other in just as many frequency bands as the equalizer can separate. This heterogeneity, held together in the materiality of the vinyl, can be dissected ever more finely – starting with a simple twist of the pan or frequency knob. Paul C’s collaborator CJ Moore recalls:

»Paul would do things EQ-wise that most people wouldn’t do. He would widen the kick. He was the first one to teach me how to use the compressor properly. […] We took the 808 Kick Drum and ran it through the DBX 160 [Compressor], … You couldn’t stand in front of that speaker. Monsterous! Monsterous! The guys in Miami [doing] the bass records and everything – couldn’t handle the shit we was doin’. And we was makin’ regular kick drums, ›Funky Drummer‹-kick drums, sound like it was an 808 and we would attach tones to it. We had so many tricks. It was incredible. Paul was a phenomal dude, man!«

CJ Moore in terrytees // youtube (2013): »Memories of the Late Great Paul C McKasty«

Elsewhere he describes this fundamental intervention in the phonographic material as a techno-aesthetic shift of the sound along a sound-historical time axis. The sample material from the dusty crackling 60s and 70s is transferred into the psychoacoustically updated present of the 90s by means of an equalizer:

»We would add an 808 kick to the loop, and then repeat that real low with a 909 underneath the loops to re-enforce the kick drums, to give it the bottom, to give it the bass and the body. You’re hearing the loops, ›That’s Impeach The President, that’s Funky Drummer.‹ But we added these integral parts so it took it away from the era it came from in the 60’s and 70’s and brought it to the 90’s where it was heavy. […] Some of those things that we don’t get credit for, for understanding the technology and manipulating it the way that we did.«

CJ Moore

Spätestens hier wird noch einmal in aller Schärfe das seit jeher problematische Verhältnis deutlich, das HipHop-Sampling zu allen linear funktionierenden Modellen historischer Zeit unterhält. Der Sampler ist immer schon ein »Anachronizer, der die Zeit derealisiert« (Eshun, Kodwo (1999): Heller als die Sonne. Abenteuer in der Sonic Fiction. Berlin: ID. S. 65). Wobei sich genauer formulieren ließe: Der Sampler ist ein Anachronizer, der zeitliches Multitracking, Heterochronizität, realisiert. »Incredible, come in three dimensions / Parallel with the funky extensions!«, rappt Kool Keith während der Track auf sein Ende hinausläuft. »I’m Kool Keith running rap’s conventions on time – like, give the drummer some!« Der letzte Quasi-Refrain setzt ein, James Brown wird gescratcht, und erst jetzt beim wiederholten Hören wird mir klar, dass hier nicht ein – Frank Vincent vom Dee Felice Trio – sondern mindestens zwei Drummer spielen: Clyde Stubblefield, der original ›Funky Drummer‹, spielt seinen berühmtesten, namensgebenden Break immer wieder in den Refrain, in die Off-Beats des polternden Dee-Felice-Loops hinein. Allerdings sind es immer nur Fragmenten, der Funky Drummer groovt, aber er spielt seinen Break nie zu Ende. Kool Keiths Raps klingen wie eine Erläuterung: Mehrspurig parallel laufende funky extensions erweitern das Phantasma einer schlichten phonographischen Abbildung dreidimensionaler Echtzeit. »Now, give the drummer some.« An den Tastern seiner SP-12 flechtet Paul C die Ungleichzeitigkeit dieser doppelten Portion Funkyness filigran ineinander, lässt ihre Mikrorhythmik übereinander stolpern, schmeißt Fetzen an Rhythmus-Gitarre dazwischen, die in ein Delay hinab purzeln. Während bei Marley Marl der klassische »Impeach«-Break noch als eine Art Soundspeicher für sein Drum-Machine-Programming fungiert, zergliedert Paul C Dee Felice und den Funky Drummer in ihrer Mikrozeitlichkeit, um diese sampladelisch neu zusammenzusetzen.

It is at this point, finally, that the problematic relationship that hip-hop sampling has always maintained with all linear models of historical time becomes clear once again in all its sharpness. The sampler has always been an »anachronizer that derealizes time« (Eshun, Kodwo (1998): More Brilliant Than The Sun. Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books. P. 057). However, it could be formulated more precisely: the sampler is an anachronizer that realizes temporal multitracking, heterochronicity. »Incredible, come in three dimensions / Parallel with the funky extensions!« raps Kool Keith as the track comes to its conclusion. »I’m Kool Keith running rap’s conventions on time – like, give the drummer some!« The final quasi-refrain kicks in, James Brown is scratched, and only now on repeat listening do I realize that there is not one – Frank Vincent of the Dee Felice Trio – but at least two drummers playing here: Clyde Stubblefield, the original ›Funky Drummer‹, plays his most famous, namesake break over and over again into the chorus, right into the off-beats of the rumbling Dee Felice loop. However, it’s always just fragments. The Funky Drummer is grooving, but he never finishes his break. Kool Keith’s raps sound like an explanation: multi-tracked parallel funky extensions expand the phantasm of a simple phonographic mapping of three-dimensional real time. »Now, give the drummer some.« At the buttons of his SP-12, Paul C delicately meshes the discontinuity of this double dose of funkyness, letting their micro-rhythms tumble over each other, throwing scraps of rhythm guitar in between, tumbling down into a delay. While the classic »Impeach« break still works as a kind of sound memory for Marley Marl’s drum-machine programming, Paul C dissects Dee Felice and the Funky Drummer in all their microtemporality in order to reassemble them in a sampladelic way.

»That’s what Paul C brought to hip-hop: the chop.«

Large Professor in Tompkins 2004

To chop – cutting samples does not simply mean ‘cutting time’. But more precisely: it would mean to aesthetically consider and work through the condition of a digital undermining of temporal continuity, the stringing together of the »real time« of human perception as a sequence of discrete sample values. Early on, Paul C outlined such an aesthetic program, which – due to his tragic death – he was unable to further elaborate – and which continues to haunt sampling discourse to this day. Lost future of breakbeat science?

This Listening Session is a translation from the book ›Futurhythmaschinen‹. Drum-Machines und die Zukünfte auditiver Kulturen by Malte Pelleter. The book (in german language) can be accessed here.

Citation: Pelleter, Malte (2020): ›Futurhythmaschinen‹. Drum-Machines und die Zukünfte auditiver Kulturen. Hildesheim: Olms und Universitätsverlag. 488-494.