Words by Jesse Serwer—
Much has been made of the blurring of the lines between hip-hop and electronic dance music that’s occurred in recent years. What often gets missed is that the two worlds started out blurred together, only to be separated inorganically by record labels and other entities. Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” is just one example of a track that was as pivotal for hip-hop as it was for the dance music genres that took form in the early-to-mid ’80s, such as freestyle.
Jamaican-born Kurtis Mantronik was one of the pioneers and creative geniuses of drum machine-based hip-hop, using his Roland 808 to produce groundbreaking hardcore rap records for T La Rock and Just-Ice at the same time he was making his mark on electro, freestyle and, later, house. (His own group with rapper MC Tee, Mantronix, existed on a plane somewhere in between.) In 1986, the same year he produced Just-Ice’s Back to the Old School LP, an album sometimes cited as the start of gangster rap, he produced one of freestyle’s most seminal tracks, in Joyce Sims’ “(You Are) My All and All.”
As OG hip-hop producer/A&R man Dante Ross pointed out on Twitter this week, “(You Are) My All and All” was in all likelihood the first song to feature hi-hat triplets sequenced on a drum machine. 808 hi-hat triplets, you may be aware, are one of the distinguishing features of trap music. Does that make the “King of the Beats” the true pioneer of trap, the sonic child of the early 2000s South? Well, we wouldn’t go that far, as there are other key elements to the sound (such as trap’s signature snare rolls) formalized by producers like DJ Toomp and Drumma Boy, which can not be found in “All and All.” But it definitely deserves mention that it was a Jamaican from NYC by way of Toronto who innovated the sound. (It also deserves a mention that T La Rock’s “Bass Machine” was pivotal to the development of another Southern-based club sound, Miami Bass.)
In many ways, Mantronik is the sonic godfather of much is what has gone on in hip-hop in the last few years, such as the use of 808 drum sounds to create moody music meant to transcend the genre. In any case, an re-introduction to Mantronik’s music is definitely necessary, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to post some of his most notable tracks.