'Center of Attention’ Instrumental, Pete Rock/InI (reissue: Center of Attention, Lost and Found – Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics, Rapster Records/BBE, 2003)

(Apologies for the fan-video put up by some connoisseur of moon-pix and other corny stuff like this. I really wish artists would pay someone to put up their music hq/hd online).

There seems to be some kind of back story relating to this release and the earlier (2000) Center of Attention album that had this track with vocals, but let’s leave this for a moment to really listen to this beautiful piece of music.

Hip-Hop producers inevitably are drawn to creating certain kinds of beats that then become their trademark, this instrumental along with a handful of others for me, embodies what I like about Pete Rock’s production, in a pure, essential sense.

First there is the drum sound, which starts on-call, just after 20 seconds. On a most basic level, you can appreciate the sound purely in terms of its quality - how good it sounds - but if you follow it from beginning and end you also notice how clever it is in terms of how it operates within the music.  

Just like in jazz, the drum sound has a dual purpose: it provides the bedrock, the foundation, but also offers commentary on the music. It is never neutral, there are always other dimensions to its presence and this fascinates me. Sometimes the drums separate, unfold (say, just before and after 1’50”). Twenty seconds after it first appears, it stops/starts like a question mark.    

But then, there are also all the details, see, for example, as one listener noted, the little ‘guitar slide’ that continues throughout, at the beginning having more prominence than the other elements and later becoming just one more aspect of the music. From 3’20” til the end the instrumental has everything happening at once, juggling the sonic features, but it never becomes busy, it just continues on its way duplicating a very elegant, delicate mania.

This music impresses me so much each time I hear it as you can hear how it set the tone for all the other producers working in this vein, though few if any are bothered with the same subtlety to the same degree. The hip-hop instrumental made up of a gentle piano sample/the essential beat is so-well known, it’s become a cliché today, but the mathematical precision of the way Pete Rock manipulates his samples is of another class. It is so full of feeling.

Here’s the track with vocals, which is pretty sublime as well.