After a long wait of six year since the release of Dirty Old Hip Hop, Marc Mac under the guise of Visioneers is back with the follow-up Hipology, a double album,due for release on 11th June 2012, on BBE Music. However, during the intervening six years, Marc hasn’t been resting on his laurels. Far from it. Indeed, Marc has been one of the hardest working men in music, working under a variety of aliases and guises. This has seen him working as one half of 4Hero, Nu Era and Natures Plan. Then there’s Marc’s work as a producer, which has seen him previously producing Terry Callier, Jill Scott, Roy Ayers and Phonte. Although his career started back in the late eighties, the project that’s kept Marc Marc busy recently, is the much anticipated Hipology. On Hipology, Marc brings in a number of guests and featured musicians, who’ve collaborated with him in making the album’s fourteen tracks. So, among the guests Marc chose to join him to make Hipology, are John Robinson, Notes To Self, TRAC and Baron. These luminaries join musicians Luke Parkhouse, Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra and The Support Horns. Together, they’ve help Marc make Disc one of Hipology an album that’s not just funky and soulful, but chock full of breaks, beats and samples a plenty .Then on Disc Two, Marc Mac has compiled an old-school mix-tape. So, this Hipology is a veritable feast of music spread over two discs. Before I tell you about some of the many highlights of Hipology, I’ll tell you about Marc Marc and his long and illustrious career.
Marc Marc’s career stared back in the late eighties, when he produced his take on Urban Soul. This saw Marc fuse a combination of musical genres that include Nu-Jazz, Nu Soul, breakbeats and drum and bass. All this went into Marc Mac’s production melting pot, with the result music that was fitting soundtrack to 21st Century Britain. Then came the various guises Marc donned, which included Nu Era, Nature’s Plan and Maximum Style, no name but a few of Marc’s nom de plume’s. The other of Marc’s guises, is as one half of 4Hero.
4Hero’s debut album was 1991’s In Rough Territory, released on Reinforced Records, which was followed-up by 1994s Parallel Universe. Then in the late nineties, 4Hero signed to Giles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label, where they’d released two classic albums. These were 1998s Two Pages and 2001s Creating Patterns. Having released these two albums, the only output from 4Hero until 2007s Play With Changes would be 2003s The Remix Project Volume 1. By then, Marc would’ve taken on other rolls as produced, label owner and donned another guise as Visioneers.
Having released two classic albums in Two Pages and Creating Patterns, this opened doors for 4Hero and Marc. He donned the roll of producer, working with musical luminaries that included Terry Callier, Jill Scott and Roy Ayers, while producing acts like Phonte. The next step for Marc and 4Hero was to set up their own record label, Raw Canvas Records which released 2003s The Remix Project Volume 1. However, the next album Marc would release wouldn’t be as part of 4Hero, but as Visioneers.
Before the release of Dirty Old Hip Hop, The Visioneers released a number of seven inch singles. Quickly, DJs like Kenny Dope, Norman Jay and Giles Peterson started playing them. After this BBE Music signed Visioneers and their debut album Marc Mac Presents Visioneers- Dirty Old Hip Hop was released in 2006. Dirty Old Hip Hop was critically acclaimed upon its release, so a year later, in 2007, came Marc Mac Presents Visioneers-Dirty Old Remixes. This was released the same year as 4Hero’s critically acclaimed Play With Changes, released on Raw Canvas Records. However, after the release of Marc Mac Presents Visioneers-Dirty Old Remixes nothing was heard of Visioneers… until earlier this year, when rumors started spreading about the forthcoming release of their second studio album Hipology.
For the recording of Hipology, Marc brought in a number of guest artists and hugely talented musicians. This numbered John Robinson, Notes To Self, TRAC and Baron. These guests join musicians Luke Parkhouse, Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra and The Support Horns. Eventually, fourteen tracks were laid down, with Marc using a string and horn section during the recording of Hipology. Given Marc’s hip-hop roots, Hipology has more than a few samples tucked away, awaiting discovery by sample spotters worldwide. However, during the recording of Hipology, Marc started reflecting on hip-hop’s influence on his life. This resulted in a fascinating and groundbreaking project from Marc.
Having been thinking about how important hip-hop has been to his life whilst recording Hipology, Marc started looking at his life. To Marc, it’s been a bit like a hip-hop version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, shaping his tastes and life itself. This set him thinking, reflecting on the albums, books and even clothes he owns and hip-hop’s roll in his life. Sometimes, this influence has been subtle, not quite obvious, but at other times, hip-hop’s roll is more apparent. This lead to Marc compiling a digital scrapbook at Hipology.org. It’s a fascinating insight into the ever-present reach of hip-hop into Marc Mac’s life. Looking at the digital scrapbook, which features on the cover of Hipology, you can compare how hip-hop has affected your lives. Whether it’s the music, record labels, radio stations or even Adidas Stan Smith trainers, I’m sure that hip-hop will have affected your life. For Marc Mac, hip-hop has been an ever-present in his life, and for that we should be really thankful. It’s played its part in shaping him as producer, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about Hipology.
Opening Hipology is Dial In (Intro), thirty-eight seconds which will bring back memories to many older listeners. It’s the sound of a radio being retuned, as it switches between radio stations, sounds and songs. For anyone who remembers the days before FM radio, this used to be a familiar sound. It’ll bring back frustrating memories of hiss, crackle and pop. However, the other glorious memory it brings back, is the many sounds and styles of music awaiting discovery within the city, where eclectic sounds aplenty are only a turn of the dial away.
Back In Time, which features Baron & Trac rapping, and is a track with a real feel-good, summery Nu-Soul sound. The tempo is quick, with the rhythm section driving the track along, while a Fender Rhodes, shimmering strings and percussion provide musical contrasts. Horns rasp and the bass pounds, while Barron contributes cascading backing vocals. Adding the finishing touch is a vintage sounding impassioned rap. Talking of vintage sounds, the use of the Fender Rhodes was a masterstroke. Nowadays, the Fender Rhodes is underused. Its warm sound, together with the cascading harmonies lightens up Back In Time, making this one of my favorite tracks from Hipology.
Ice Cream On My Kicks is not just one of these tracks that just brightens up your life, but was a fate worse than death to the proud owner of a new pair of Adidas Stan Smiths. Imagine the scene, you’ve gone a trip down the coast, decided on a cheeky Cornetto and disaster strikes, you’re box-fresh Stan Smiths are covered in Raspberry Cornetto. Not a good look. Back to the music though. There’s a real jazzy undertone to the track. Again, some vintage kit has been dusted off and put to good use. This includes the Moogs, plus the Fender Rhodes. They’re augmented by percussion, bongos and drums, while a glistening, crystalline, jazz-tinged guitar dances across the arrangement, while the rest of the band play around it. Hearing the Moogs and Fender Rhodes on one track, is a real treat, on a track where Marc Mac and the Visioneers pay a fitting homage to the effect jazz has had on hip-hop.
Shine features two more guests John Robinson and Jimetta Rose. John Robinson takes charge of the rap, while Jimetta who adds backing vocals is tasked with delivering the vocal hook. As the piano opens the track, percussion and quivering strings combine, before John’s rap enters. It’s delivered against a backdrop of backing vocals, shimmering strings, crisp drumbeats and guitars. When Jimetta’s multi-tracked backing vocals take centre-stage, the track takes on a real Nu-Soul sound. She has an outstanding voice, and her contribution means that one of the best arrangements on Hipology is unfolding. Key to this is the use of shimmering strings, not forgetting Jimetta’s beautiful backing vocals and John’s impasioned rap.
Given the role and importance of Blaxploitation movie soundtracks as a source of samples for hip-hop producers, Shaft In Africa (Addis) is a fitting tribute to this musical genre. Wah-wah guitars, punchy, blazing horns a proliferation of congas and percussion combine with a rhythm section that delivers funk with a capital F. Stabs of horns, flourishes of keyboards and a pounding, funky rhythm section are at the heart of this glorious track. Together, they create a glorious two minute track that pays homage to Black Caesar, Shaft, Superfly, Truck Turner, Shorty the Pimp et al.
While Oil and Water don’t mix, the musical contrasts within this track mix beautifully. From the lush strings, stabs of rasping horns, jazz tinged piano and Notes To Self’s frustrated, angry rap. That’s not forgetting the cuts and scratches aplenty from DJ Dopey, plus drums and a rocky guitar solo from Luke Parkhouse. Wave upon wave of elegant, and sometimes dramatic music unfold, rising and falling, revealing their charms. Truly this is a fusion of musical genres and sounds, taking in everything from rock, jazz, lush Philly strings and plenty of hip-hop with a vintage sound.
When Jungle Green Outlines begins, you just know that a pounding, funk drenched track is about to unfold. You’re certainly not disappointed. The rhythm section are fast, funky and provide a pounding beat. Stabs of blazing horns enter, so does the unmistakable sound of wah-wah guitars. They give the track a vintage funky sound. This brings to mind seventies funk albums, which for hip-hop producers, proved rich pickings for sample hunters. Adding another layer of music are synths, Fender Rhodes and piano, while bongos and percussion contrast the lushness of the strings. While this track is funk personified, listen carefully, and you’ll hear layer upon layer of music revealing reveal itself.
LuAnne From Harlem has a much more laid-back jazz-tinged sound. Rasping horns and percussion combine, before the rhythm section enter. They play second fiddle to the horns, which are ever-present and at the centre of track’s sound and success. Later, the Fender Rhodes can be heard in the background, its unmistakably warm sound seeping through the arrangement, making its presence felt. Mostly, it’s just the horns, drums and percussion that can be heard. They create a track that although very different from the other tracks on Hipology, is one of the album’s highlights.
My final choice is Apache (Battle Dub), where the Visioneers pay homage to a track that’s been sampled my many hip-hop producers. Originally recorded by The Shadows, then covered on Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band’s album Bongo Rock: The Story of The Incredible Bingo Band. It too, was a rich source of samples for sample-hungry hip-hop producers. From the familiar opening bars, the Visioneers pay homage to The Shadows and then Michael Viner. This they do with aplomb. Bongos then percussion play an extended break, before blazing horns and then the rhythm section all take turns in showcasing their talents. Stabs of Hammond organ, then a Hank Marvin-esque guitar solo all drift in and out of the track. For over four minutes, the Visioneers pay tribute to a track that’s played an important part in the history and development of hip-hop.
Hipology is just one of these albums that once you receive it, it never leaves your CD player. Quickly, its subtleties and charms get under your skin, weaving their way into your soul, reminding you just why you love music, especially music as good as this. From the opening bars of Dial In (Intro), until the closing notes of Whatever Happened To Peace, Hipology is a musical adventure through a fusion of genres. This ranges from hip-hop, through funk, soul and R&B, taking in breakbeats, Blaxploitation and jazz. So good is this musical adventure, that once it’s over, you want to relive it and all its glories. With each listen, more of Hipology’s subtleties, charms and secrets reveal itself. This complex multilayered symphony has many subtleties, charms and secrets awaiting discovery. You have all this in front of you, with this glorious fusion of musical genres brought together by Marc Mac. Not only did he arrange and produce Hipology, but played everything from bass, piano, organ, synths, Fender Rhodes, Moogs, bass and Solina. Although Marc’s like a one-man band, he has a little help from his cast of special guests, plus a group of hugely talented musicians. Among this cast of rappers, backing vocalists and musicians, credit must go to Luke Parkhouse. Like Marc Mac, he’s deserving of being called a true multi-instrumentalist, playing everything from drums, guitars, congas and bongos. Along with rappers John Robinson, Barron and TRAC Hipology, plus Jimetta Rose’s beautiful backing vocals make Visioneers second album Hipology, a worthy successor to Dirty Old Hip Hop. Then after you’ve discovered the delights of Hipology, you’ve got the mix-tape to enjoy. You sit down, settle back and enjoy losing yourself in the delights of the mix-top Visioneers’ style. So, given the quality of music on the two discs that make up Hipology, which will be released by BBE Music on 11th June, then you’ll realize that it’s been well worth waiting six years for. Once you’ve heard Hipology, then I’m sure that you too, will agree it’s been well worth the long wait. Standout Tracks: Back In Time, Shaft In Africa (Addis), Jungle Green Outlines and LuAnne From Harlem.