A selection of Break Beats culled from the grooves of Stax Records. Including tracks sampled by the Wu Tang Clan, Chemical Brothers, Brand Nubian, Dilated peoples, De La Soul and many others
by DEAN RUDLAND
OPPOSITE THE REBUILT Stax studios on McLemore Avenue, Memphis is the Wu supermarket. It seemed somehow apt that, in an area which is being revitalised by both the Soulsville Museum and its Music Academy, there is a constant reminder of one of the modern acts that have kept Stax relevant for today. It's clear that while legendary rap collective the Wu Tang Clan invested in a Stax CD Box set or two, they sampled creatively, looping up artists such as the Charmels and Wendy Rene rather than some more obvious bands. On their 2001 single I Can't Go To Sleep they actually drafted in Isaac Hayes to perform on the record. However, despite their dedication, and the sighting of the appropriately named supermarket, the Clan were neither the first or last hip-hoppers to sample Stax. The mixture of dirty tight grooves, well-recorded horn riffs, and on the later Stax output, commanding strings, also commends the label's output to aspiring beat-heads everywhere. Over the years - as this compilation proves - Stax has been one of the most sampled catalogues in the history of hip-hop.
There was even more to Stax than the incredible music. The label was, in its very essence, political. Just by being a business that was desegregated in the American South at the height of the civil rights movement was making a statement. Later - in even more difficult times - it became an aggressively black-owned business that was overtly political. It released records by civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson and sponsored the Watts Festival in Los Angeles in 1972 - which became known on record and on film as Wattstax - a veritable celebration of black American self-sufficiency. It is impossible to think that this aspect of the label does not appeal to some of the more articulate and aware hip-hop artists. Certainly when the Stax Soulsville museum was launched earlier this year, Chuck D of Public Enemy was in attendance, even taking to the stage with the Bar-Kays on a rendition of Soul Finger. He'd wanted to be there rather than responding to a begging letter from the organisers.
There is, of course, one final reason that Stax is so sampled - it was, after Motown, the biggest independent black label of the late 60s and early 70s. The hip-hop acts of twenty years later would have had no shortage of records from the Stax group of labels lying around their homes as they grew up. Parents, uncles and older siblings will all have had Isaac, Johnnie Taylor, Booker T and Bar-Kays records in their homes, it was the natural order of things. We can only be glad that hip-hop culture used what they found well.