Photo by Oliver Morris
It would be difficult to talk about Sam Baker’s Album without talking about someone who is mentioned in the review of basically everyone from Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder camp: J Dilla. It’s possibly an overused comparison, but the fact is that this album bleeds Donuts, Ruff Draft, and Champion Sound. It’s undeniable. Is it a bad thing to still be talking about the influence of Dilla in 2011, five years after his death? I would argue that the reason these comparisons persist, and indeed why producers like Samiyam make music similar to his, was because he tapped into a timeless form of hip-hop, one not beholden to the technological and cultural influences of the time in which they were made. Rough-hewn and deceptively simple, these compositions take cues from the soul and funk that hip-hop production is founded on, but the patterns and sampling techniques feel more in line with jazz, with dashes of electro and music from around the world. Viewing Sam Baker’s Album through this lens, it’s not so much derivative of Dilla’s work as it is a slightly different aperture setting on the same camera.
One difference is a further use of synths. Where most of Dilla’s music was samples, Samiyam is a fantastic user of vintage synth sounds, which build many of his melodies and bass lines, such as on opener “Escape,” which blurs the lines between samples and instruments with different sources drifting in and out of the rhythm. Where funk bass slips into “Bedtime,” classic boom-bap is the name of the game on “Bricks” and “Wonton Special,” albeit underneath a layer of grit and swirling strings. “Where Am I” has a similar bass line to “Bedtime,” but this time it’s surrounded by heavily effected and reversed drum sounds, making for an altogether different feel. One criticism that can be made is the relative brevity and looped feel of many of the 17 tracks. While there are several songs with fantastic progression, there are also many that are less than two minutes, like “Already” and “No Dinner” that seemingly go nowhere and feel very unfinished.
The Hammond electric piano sounds on “Cushion” and “My Buddy” are a particularly effective way of bridging the years between styles of influences and sources. Developed at the genesis of synthesizers, electric pianos are a fusion of traditional natural instruments and modern synthesized sounds. Samiyam’s use of these types of instruments is interestingly warped, tweaking the sounds to be just left of center and unique. Of course, the truth is that these sounds are probably sampled or emulated, but the age-neutral effect it has on his hip-hop inspired beats is to give them a special tone not found in many of the popular productions these days. Even though some of the songs feel brief and lacking in progression, the talent behind the boards is apparent, as Sam Baker’s Album is compelling progression in beat-making and one which will sound current for a long time.