RATING: 5 CHET BAKERS
Back in the summer of 2002 I happened across an article online that was talking about this thing called Hidden Beach Unwrapped. At the time, while I was a fan of Jill Scott, I didn't realize that Hidden Beach was her label. So "Hidden Beach Unwrapped" didn't ring any bells. I read that it was a jazzed up version of a lot of popular hip hop tracks. I was intrigued, however I was hesitant. We've all seen instances of hip hop culture converted to make it more palatable for middle America, and that's not something I was interested in.
In the article, they talked about how originally the "Unwrapped" project was simply an in-house thing. Something they all did for fun, and played at their summer gatherings. Then, someone else heard it and encouraged the folks at Hidden Beach to pursue this as a commercial release. Which they apparantly decided was a good idea.
So after reading the article I was intrigued enough to go out and grab it from a local music store. Once I started listening to it, my fears were put to rest. This isn't simply "Muzak" versions of hip hop, which is one of the things I had wondered about. This isn't "hip hop for old white people", this is a brilliant amalgamation of hip hop and jazz.
As soon as the first sounds came out of my speaker, the crackling of a needle on vinyl, and then the words "Let the show...begin!" leading into "Crush on You" I was sold.
The lyrics by Lil Kim and Lil Cease are gone, and replaced with "Jazz Verses" if you will, by Patrice Rushen on Pianos/Vibes and Paul Jackson Jr. on Guitars, and properly set the tone for the rest of the album.
Over the next hour you're introduced to a host of talented jazz musicians that completely reinvent the hip hop tracks that you've come to know and love, and do so respectfully and appropriately.
It never feels "watered down" or anything like that. This is an album done by people who truly love hip hop just as much as the fans of the original tracks, and are enjoying putting their jazzprints all over them.
Classic hip hop songs such as I Get Around, One More Chance, Bonita Applebum and The Light along with more recent hip hop tracks such as Stan, Forgot about Dre, So Fresh and So Clean, and What's It Gonna Be are creatively rendered by musicians that include some you may have heard of, such as Mike Phillips (Sax), Karen Briggs (Violin) and Rushen, along with those you perhaps haven't heard of, like Darryl Ross (Keyboards), and Johnny Britt (Trumpet).
The vocals that are on the songs, are strictly kept for the choruses and hooks, and the vocals by Tamika Peoples (Who Do You Love?, One More Chance, Danger), Indeya (You Got Me, One More Chance) and the other Hidden Beach House vocalists are more than capable of stepping in for the more recognizable voices that we've mentally associated with each of the songs.
There's so many standout tracks on this album that it's difficult to pick just a few for the review. "Loungin (Who Do You Love?) has a nice carribbean feel to it on the 1st verse, thanks to the guitars of Paul Jackson Jr.
Karen Briggs teams up with Mike Phillips on Dr. Dre & Eminem's "Forgot About Dre" and their energy is electric and definitely create a track that is sure to impress even the most doubtful out there.
On "You Got Me", Briggs and Phillips team up yet again (with Darryl Ross on Pianos) and damn near steal the entire album with their electrifying and utterly incredible performance. It's a performance in which you get the feeling that the musicians left everything in the studio with this one. There's nothing that could possibly be done to make this track more incredible than it is. Briggs is on a tear on the violin, and the always reliable Phillips' gives one of his best performances of his career.
You can check out the official Hidden Beach video for the song below:
All in all, this is the ultimate Summer BBQ listening music, no matter what your demographic or audience may be. Just put this on and set it to repeat and you've got your music responsibilities taken care of.
Below is the official Hidden Beach sampler for this album, where you can listen to snippets from the project, and if you like it click the button to go to Hidden Beach's website and purchase it either on CD or MP3 format.