K-Def, a New Jersey native, spent a substantial amount of time in New York during the “Golden Era”, immersing himself with the culture, the clubs, and then hitting the records stores in both cities for sample fodder. The result was many of the beats featured on this cassette; his résumé to Marley Marl fused on a spool of magnetic tape, a résumé that subsequently landed him a gig at Marley’s House of Hits. The rest is history as you know it.

K-Def Tape One Marley MarlTwenty-plus years on and the beats on Tape One play like rough sketches and broad strokes of a mind unfurling to the allure of music. “I really wasn’t paying attention like I am now.  My mind wasn’t even set as like being a producer…” says K-Def, looking back. But sampling was a relatively new art and K was just getting warmed up, and that’s where one of the major appeals of this tape emerges. It’s a snapshot of the now-legendary artist at a crucial time from which you can extrapolate traits that would later become characteristic and acclaimed when he did consider himself a producer; it’s all here in embryonic form. Check ‘Scary’ which has an atypically gloomy vibe for the era, but a vibe that you can hear K-Def return to for haunting effects in some of his newer works, or the intuitive ear for cutting and scratching vocals that became one of the most enjoyable aspects of his productions across the 90’s.

Additionally, Tape One serves to show how ahead of the curve K-Def was when it came to sampling breaks. You’ll hear some very familiar sounds on here, and it’s no coincidence. “Beaten to the punch” as K recalls it,  Marley sitting on his beats just a little too long whilst fellow upstarts like Pete Rock and DJ Premier got busy dropping theirs.

Regardless, this release leaves no doubt in listeners minds, if any existed, that K-Def can loop a phonky beat with the best of them. Close your eyes and pick any track and you’ll hit a winner, especially if it’s ‘Da Invincible’. The audio quality however is not so consistent. This may detract from the experience for some, whilst enhancing it for others. The horns on ‘Moving With The Gang’ for instance just about stretch through the mesh of distortion and crackling fuzz, but it provides a natural lo-fi authenticity that many try to emulate today. It sounds like an aged cassette you picked straight outta’ the shoebox and click-clacked into the player. Having said that, there’s still a good amount of fidelity in some sounds; the drum rapping on ‘Peace’ for instance reaches the eardrum as more metallic rifle rattle than straight snare-play.

Tape One is a slice of Hip-Hop production history that will likely have had a place reserved on the shelf of many collectors-in-the-know. It’s conceivable that at one time you’d have to drop a whole stack of loot to obtain something like this on online marketplaces or elsewhere, but thankfully that is not the case here. Press play, allow your mind to travel back, put on your fantasy A&R cap, and think about which rappers of the time you’d have rhyme over some of these beats, which sound good enough twenty years later to earn a space filed under ‘timeless’.

Tape One is out now on cassette | vinyl | digital (below)

Quotes taken from interview transcripts by Dan Love, From Da Bricks “Interview Spot – K-Def” [April 2008]

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