“It sounds like a radio station in GTA” – Catherine James on Return To Lion’s Mansion.
I completed my second mixtape Return To Lion’s Mansion two days before Christmas. As I’ve written about, my plan was to go old-school and build it around samples ripped from records I brought back from crate-digging across Japan.
I’d been casually listening to my haul since returning, but I spent a super-fun day sitting by my record player sampling any open notes and fills, along with anything that sounded like a potential loop. The records comprised Brazilian music of the 60s and 70s (four albums), soul (five albums), hip hop (2 EPs), spoken word, Japanese film music, 70s soft rock, 80s dancehall (one album a piece), and one stunningly misguided blackface Japanese doo-wop group, The Chanels.
I had learnt a lot doing the previous mixtape and found this one much easier to put together. I pushed myself to make the beats longer and to add more variety. In the last mixtape, I often only looped a section and added some drums (which was hard enough to get right when I started!). This time, I tried my hand at more modern sample integration – in most cases the sample is heavily filtered and/or chopped, plus I’ve added a lot more instrumentation – chords, basslines, sound effects – as well as using contemporary drum sounds and rhythms. To my ears, the beats hold up a lot more on their own than the first tape, with less reliance on mash-up novelty and a greater variety of arrangements.
In some instances, the sample only formed a very small part of the overall track – for instance, the final (hidden) track only has a few Biz Markie utterances floating over the top – with me playing guitar and Rhodes as the backbone of the track. Magnolia Shade just has some micro-chopped wordless vocals turned into a quasi-bassline.
Several of the last mixtape’s mashups were happy accidents – I made more of an effort this time to think of which vocalist might best complement each track. For instance, when I discovered the song that forms the basis for Capoeira on a 1967 Brazilian LP, it just screamed Wu-Tang to me. I added verses from separate Inspectah Deck and U-God songs, plus some ad-libs from Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Honestly, it sounds more Wu than their last couple of albums!
There’s also several interstitial pieces – some were deliberated created as such, others were beats I dug but not enough to turn into a fully-fledged song. My fave is the thirty seconds or so of JLo and Ja Rule singing over Yellowman’s interpretation of the ubiquitous Sleng Teng rhythm.
The last mixtape had an emphasis on garage rock – this one is indebted to Central and South America. Not only are samples sourced from four different Brazilian LPs, but scattered throughout are verses by rappers B-Real, Daddy Yankee and Pitbull. I also discovered this amazing record in Kyoto – How To Speak Hip – which I didn’t buy upon first seeing it, but after listening to some tracks on Youtube that night, I had to return the next day. It’s a satire on beatniks masquerading as a self-help audiobook, delivered seriously and all the more hilarious for it – I used samples of it across the mixtape as a sonic glue.
The cover is so good I’m going to show it again:
I’d been listening to several Awesome Tapes From Africa and wanted to imitate some of their art brut graphic design. The image is utterly perfect (and the first thing that appears when googling ‘house shaped like lion’). Amazingly, it’s a real place – a hotel in Senegal.
Return From Lion’s Mansion has scratched my itch for mixtapes at present – making more feels like folly when I now have a surplus of beats that need a home. I’ve earmarked some for upcoming Babyfreeze projects but I would love to get some out to other rappers and hear what they come up with.