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Mantronix - Mantronix: The Album (Deluxe Edition)

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Artist: Mantronix

Album: Mantronix: The Album (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Traffic Entertainment

Review date: Aug. 22, 2008

Kurtis Mantronik is one of the direct descendents of Afrika Bambaataa’s 808 electro-funk collages. The latter’s adoption of synthesizers half a decade prior to Mantronix: The Album added another dimension to hip hop, which Mantronik expanded on by letting the decks (not the MC) master the ceremony, curating robotic soundscapes designed specifically for the club. The duo’s “Bassline” was one of the first hip hop singles to chart abroad, thanks in no small part to the foundation laid by “Planet Rock.”

By the time Mantronik met Haitian-born M.C. Tee at Manhattan's Downtown Records (Frank Ramos’ store, not the current record label of the same name), he was absorbing the Eastern digitalis of Ryuichi Sakamoto. He wasn’t the only head looking in that direction; Whodini’s Thomas Dolby-assisted “Magic’s Wand,” Melle Mel & Duke Bootee’s “Message II (Survival)” and Twilight 22’s “Electric Kingdom” had all incorporated squelchy bounces and mechanic beats. Influenced equally by the dick grabbing of T La Rock and Larry Levan’s crates, Mantronix signed to the venerable Sleeping Bag Records on the strength of their “Fresh is the Word” demo.

Manipulating only two 1200s, an SP-12 and the Rhythm Composer, Mantronik adroitly slowed the tempo of electro’s pioneers, giving the drums a saturated boom. Lead take “Bassline” establishes the focus; light saber thrusts bring Hawkwind’s space rituals to mind before M.C. Tee plays off the buoyant bass. “Get Stupid” continues the skyward gaze, sampling Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” while cowbells keep the rhythm. Considering the apparatus, “Fresh is the Word”’s gestalt runs deeper than it should, with Mantronik wielding the cross-fader like a weapon. The Beasties would later lift the all-inclusive refrain for Check Your Head’s “Jimmy James.” Programming crisp workouts that refined the Kraftwerk/Sly template and deploying analogous vocoder droids to help direct the crowd, these NightGlo tracks incited B-boy unrest at places like The Roxy.

The backdrop being the show, M.C. Tee’s presence is more of an afterthought – think a lower-pitched Shan cadence or a pre-Five Percent Wise Intelligent. Aside from the suggestive “Ladies,” the subjects never veer too far from reminding you that he’s on the mic and how nice his producer is. His most vital contribution is keeping the proceedings grounded in hip hop, making the unreleased a cappellas seem a bit pointless. This deluxe edition also tacks on an assortment of 12” versions, instrumentals and remixes, most notably the spiked club rendering of “Bassline.”

That The Album was released the same year as LL Cool J’s Radio and Run DMC’s King of Rock gives you an idea of what kind of other shit Mantronik was really on. By 1986, he’d graduated to a 909, as illustrated by graffiti legends Gemini and Gnome’s cover of Just-Ice’s Back To The Old School. Incidentally, his production on that record is the real jewel of his discography, but it’s fitting that The Album, which still sounds ahead of its time, is what he’ll be remembered for.

By Jake O'Connell

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