The Top 5 Mo’Wax L.P’s
Back in 1992 an ambitious young man named James Lavelle made a decision that would go on to change his life. He made a decision that would change how we consume music, the lifestyle that goes with music and most importantly he would create a record label that would change how we viewed hip-hop.
Now I’m stuck, where do I start? Is it with Lavelle’s release of DJ Shadows seminal album Endtroducing….. or is it best to start later than that with Lavelle and DJ Shadow collaborating to create UNKLE and release Psyence Fiction? How about his friendship with Nigo, the founder of BAPE or his friendship with Stone Roses and Mancunian legend, Ian Brown? Or maybe I’ll start with his ability to raise awareness and profile of NYC graffiti artist Futura 2000.
You get the picture, he’s basically done loads of cool shit. He loves Star Wars, Stussy, BAPE, Supreme and Jean-Michel Basquiat. What’s not to like about the man? As a celebration of himself and one of Britain’s finest record labels we bring you the top 5 Mo’Wax records.
5. Nigo – Ape Sounds
The founder of BAPE is a good friend with Lavelle and the Mo’Wax gang, so much so that he released his album, Ape Sounds under the Mo’Wax label in ’99 you know, just because he can. The album boasts Nigo’s well connected friendships as worked with members of Japanese Hip Hop group Major Force, Beastie Boys Cohort Money Mark (more on him soon!), Ben Lee and Japanese experimental master Cornelius.
There truly are some standout tracks across the album, Ben Lee’s Freediving is superb, whilst Cornelius’ Monster is a beauty. It’s no surprise to the ears to hear Lavelle’s involvement on March of the General as he portrays his iconic cut’n’paste style sampling throughout.
It’s a fantastic introduction to Mo’Wax and yet another reason, most likely forgotten, why Nigo is easily one of the most multitalented individuals to grace our creative society over the past few decades. It’s testament to Nigo that on his debut album he was able to work with the individuals that he did and it’s a fantastic capture for Mo’Wax as a label.
And of course, there are plenty of Planet of the Apes references throughout, but we wouldn’t expect any less now would we?
Standout track: March of the General
4. Money Mark – Marks Keyboard Repair
Money Mark is a name that may go unnoticed to the majority of people, but do not be fooled, he is quite simply one of Mo’Wax’s most talented artists. He has collaborated on every Beastie Boys album since the ’92 release of Check Your Head so he must have some talent hidden up his sleeve. The album is made up of short keyboard driven, pop-funk tracks and it is probably the one that stands furthest away from the ‘usual’ Mo’Wax sound. Nevertheless it is a wonderful piece of music featuring mash ups of spoken word, some 90’s trip hop drums in the background and a track that also featured on Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells. As far as keyboard albums go, this is the bomb, seriously it is the bomb! And credit must be due for Mo’Wax and Lavelle for making that happen.
Got My Hand In Your Head was later re-recorded and released on his second album as a full length single. It also went on to be one of Money Mark’s most recognisable tracks. The beauty of this album as a whole though has to be the recording, it literally sounds like it was recorded in a public toilet. That adds nothing but authenticity to the record though and proves that Mo’Wax were serious players even with a record that sounded worse than a demo tape.
Standout track: Got My Hand In Your Head
3. DJ Krush – MiLight
DJ Krush is one of Japans finest Hip Hop DJ’s, it’s that simple. Lavelle knew this, especially given his extraordinary knowledge and interest in Japanese Hip Hop so it made sense for Krush to join forces. After a few releases and EP’s with DJ Shadow it was on MiLight when Krush and the Mo’Wax gang really hit their top level. Paving the way for his fellow Japanese friend Nigo, Krush led a highly collaborative album, himself dropping the beats and his collaborators spitting the rhymes. Lyrical cameos include talents such as Tragedy, Rino and Mos Def.
The album focuses on one aspect, the future, the question, ‘What is your outlook on the future?’ is presented to several friends including Futura 2000, Krush himself, Mos Def, Stash and Lee Q, plus a few more.
The album features Krush’s usual dark beats that are incredibly easy to sit back and slip into his deep, dark moody zones that he creates better than anyone, whilst adding his lyrical cameo appearances in there too. Previously Krush’s albums had been instrumental masterpieces, but with the same dark beats and his infusion of lyrical talent we are presented with a truly iconic Hip Hop record.
Standout track: Shin-Sekai
2. UNKLE – Psyence Fiction
You can’t really have a Mo’Wax top 5 records without James Lavelle’s UNKLE being in the mix. It’s the debut LP from Lavelle and DJ Shadow that makes the cut here, yet again another release that features some huge collaborations, in true UNKLE style. Collaborators such as Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Ian Brown, Richard Ashcroft, Thom Yorke and Badly Drawn Boy meant that this album could then appeal to the indie market whilst still being true to the Mo’Wax style. Lavelle’s cut’n’paste style previously mentioned is evident throughout the record whilst as a first time listener you are introduced to DJ Shadows incredible skill at turntablism, a genre that he truly has brought back to life.
Lavelle’s friendships didn’t stop just at musicians however, he was also a huge fan of Futura 2000, a New York based artist who met Lavelle thanks to Stash (the same Stash that featured on DJ Krush – MiLight!) and from there the friendship grew and finally Futura presented the artwork for Psyence Fiction- a move that brought the work of Futura 2000 to many new eyes.
You’re probably starting to get the picture now, these guys are one huge family who each have separate skills that come together to create something mysteriously magical. The family doesn’t just consist of friends making music, but of relationships built across the globe, to name a few, you’ve got a guy from London with a keen Hip Hop interest, you’ve got graffiti artists in New York and the Streetwear icon from Tokyo. This is the best family in the entire world.
As an album though, it’s magnificent. It’s completely worthy of it’s place in this top 5 list and it is so reflective of the late 90’s, the blend of electronica sampling mixed with the indie rock importance works in a way that it never really should. This is Lavelle close to his very best, and what’s more, he’s filled the album with references to retro sci-fi being the Star Wars fan that he is. It’s clear he still believes in The Force and so should we.
Standout track: Lonely Soul
1. – DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…..
The top spot, it’s the seminal album from DJ Shadow, and it’s one that he’s yet to top but that’s no discredit to Shadow, it’s just that Endtroducing…. Is that good. You only have to look at how many albums have come out since and been labelled ‘Shadowesque’. The record is spiritual, there’s an element of appeal and understanding to people all over the globe, whatever their situation. The layering of heavy beats under drifty ghost like voices and the occasional heavenly chord or two really emphasises how much of a masterpiece this album is.
The record uses such an array of sampling that frankly nothing remotely similar to it had ever been heard before, some of the artists that ended up on the record include Björk, Metallica and Marlene Shaw and although Hip Hop has been sampling old material for quite some time, Beastie Boys’ record Paul’s Boutique mastered this art, never had an artist created such a diverse use of material in such a way that the listener can barely notice the switch. It’s for that reason that Endtroducing…. changed Hip Hop for the better.
Shadow’s self-awareness is a trait that we can only wish to see more often, in the documentary Scratch we see a record store where he found most of the music he used for this album, upstairs in the store is the regular shelves brimmed with vinyl and music just waiting to be listened to, downstairs however is barely lit and features thousands of records stacked or dumped across the room, covered in dust and dead rodents. Shadow explains “you’re looking through all these records and it’s sort of like a big pile of broken dreams…Whether you want to admit it or not, 10 years down the line you’ll be in here. So keep that in mind when you start thinking like, ‘I’m invincible and I’m the world’s best,’ or whatever. Because that’s what all these cats thought.”
For any of the old-timers who still argue that ‘sampling is cheating’ or ‘using other peoples music is against the rules’ then this album should be the response. To use samples of previous recordings and bring them back to life for a second stint at fame, that’s what Shadow is about, that’s what Mo’Wax is about and now with Mo’Wax no longer operating will we see our future generations take to some dirty old basement to give Mo’Wax their second stint at fame?
Standout Track: Midnight in a Perfect World