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LUKE

It’s close to a year since I started drumming. I’m happy to say I love it now more than ever. I still have weekly lessons with Sensei Simon, and the songs I have been writing for Lulu and the Tantrums, and now The Ill Feathers – my funk duo with Fossil Rabbit, push me to play increasingly challenging parts.

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For me, guitar is a means to an end – I learnt guitar so I could write songs, not because I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. But drums is the first instrument I’ve ever wanted to be good at. Drums is the instrument that’s made me want to study the greats and see how they approached it, their techniques and idiosyncrasies. I am a drum nerd now! I want to talk about Gadson’s right hand, or Stubblefield’s left, about how Bill Ward’s jazz background informed the heavy grooves he brought to Black Sabbath. Hell, can we just talk about triplets – like, how good are triplets??? And where else can I put them?

Developing the small muscles used in drumming – wrists and ankles – takes time and discipline. I have some stamina and coordination now but it’s like going to the gym – you won’t see results overnight, or in a week or month. You gotta keep showing up, doing your reps, and from time to time you can look back and see the progress you’ve made. There are things I attempted to learn when I first set out and found impossible – now I can do them!

But drums are humbling, and this desire to try something I have no immediate aptitude for, to go into it knowing how long it might take, well, Nick has plenty of things to say about that kinda quest in Single Leg, too.

I have the same goal as when I started – to be Russell Simins, and bring hard-hitting soul and funk beats into a garage rock context. But as I progress, I hope to build enough vocabulary to play along to most things. Drums is not an instrument people learn so they can just play alone – it’s communal, and largely only makes sense when accompanying others. Being a hired gun and playing in someone else’s band is a milestone I want to achieve, but unlike most, it’s not my primary motivation.

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Instead, while Nick’s talked about his increasing willingness to delegate and collaborate – some unnameable drive keeps pushing me in the other direction. Others – Lou, for instance – have suggested it’s the pursuit of complete creative control. But the more I reflect on it, I think it comes from a different place. I think learning drums is part of my yen to understand popular music from the inside out. I am obsessed with the nuts and bolts of creative practice, I enjoy learning how things are made, frequently as much as I enjoy the finished product. I love ‘inside baseball’ – I’ve read nearly every interview on The Paris Review, listened to every Song Exploder – but you never truly know something until you do it. And done remains the engine of more.

I figure it’ll take two more years to feel comfortable. I tend to do these autodidactic sprints in three year bursts – screenwriting, film directing and editing, music production, you could even consider Faux Faux Amis to be one as well, a challenge to myself to be perform lead vocals and guitar in a quote unquote proper rock band. At some point I reach a stage I’m happy with, and then find myself hooking into something else with the same slavish devotion. But I have a feeling I will be working on (and loving) the drums for some time.

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And clock the bass drum! It’s not Purdie’s banners, but it’s a nice flourish. I know from Chris Gleeson – one of my oldest friends and musical collaborators – that being a drummer frequently means not rating a mention in a review or being obscured by everyone else in a gig photo, so I guess in this way at least my trap set will get noticed! The image is by the brilliant pop-culture-obsessed Jess Dudfield – I asked her to do a stylised cartoon version of the cover of Faux Faux Amis’ X. A sloth in a bowtie – slow but fancy – speaks to me a lot!

Photos by Louise McGrath.

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Previous posts have highlighted Luke’s generosity and agreeable-ness when it’s comes to me straight-up highjacking our shared creative projects for whatever high-concept cross-artform nonsense I suddenly decide is going to bring unifying sense to both my art practice and my selfhood. It’s one thing when I’m just turning our band into performance art or making him create the hybrid between live music and music video that no-one asked for. But it turns out that there’s an even more entitled level of pushing the friendship that I can take it to!

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Luke has been, even by his standards, churning out sick tracks this last year and a bit. Aside from all the Lion’s Mansion and Tantrums stuff and the Faux Faux record, we’ve got two new Babyfreeze EPs about to come out and he’s ALREADY got enough tracks for a new full-length BFreeze album! So when I was stressing back in May about whether I had enough time to write songs for Hot and Powerful and what the songs would even be like I played it safe and asked him for some beats.

He sent me a track called Mannequin and right away I knew that I was gonna horde it for a very specific purpose. The beat and the hooks were super-2018, which means that they were also super-duper 90s, and the whole thing had a gauzy, bittersweet vibe that reminded me of Velvet Rope-era Janet Jackson and also of eating takeaway with your lover in a loungeroom on a rainy day. It was the ultimate romantic sex-jam, the perfect Babyfreeze track to follow up Creation, and I had a vocal melody for it immediately.

More importantly I had flashes of the music video, that I knew would have to be conceived and created at the same time as the song. The video was gonna star myself and my partner Zev and involve us macking on and the whole thing would be a present for them for their 30th birthday. I knew all of that as soon as I heard it, but it took me three months to share this unreasonable package of info with Luke. Nailing the perfect romantic sex-jam lyric aside, I knew I needed to have the video concept at least a bit fleshed out before I asked Luke to go along with it. But what would it be, aside from me crushing on my Honey? Us actually eating takeaway? Cruising around in Zev’s car? Costumes and sets? And how could I keep it a surprise for Zev until the moment it’s happening?

LUKE: The song that became Become started with a chord progression, like most of my stuff. I’m really into ‘neo-soul’ chords at the moment – major 7ths, 9ths, suspended 11ths, whatevers, as long as they’re luuuuush. Those chords are obviously still there on a guitar, but often such hand-stretchers I’ve never utilised them – playing piano or writing midi makes them accessible, and between that and sampling, my songwriting is now in a different place. And that place is often chill – Nick and I joked the next Babyfreeze record might be all ballads, plus Fossil Rabbit and I have started an instrumental ambient funk duo, The Ill Feathers!

Become also incorporates all the little modern pop production tricks and trap flourishes I’ve picked up of late. Taking a cue from master producers like Stargate and others, this is one of the first songs I’ve tried a holistic ‘track and hook’ method – in short, I looped the track and sung some gibberish over the top (imagining I was Dua Lipa helped). I then figured out the notes of what I was singing, and after some re-arranging, that melody became the glockenspiel line you hear woven throughout. It’s a really fast way of coming up with a part – typically a lead vocal line – using it as gilding like we do is a straight-up flex.

When I shared the track with Nick, he was immediately smitten with it, likening it to Jam & Lewis era Janet Jackson. He came back to lay down the vocals sometime later (and crushed it naturally). I love how he floats between mirroring the glockenspiel melody and dovetailing his own around it, beautifully bringing the song together. I added a few production and arrangement tricks to his vocals – doubling them in some parts, adding harmonies in others, some subtle delay and distortion variations – all culled from the Youtube videos on producing I am addicted to, though I’ve eased off slightly on watching them as that time is now taken up with drumming videos!

The final touch was the solo – I had it arranged for Hendrix-esque guitar, but when devdsp came around to experiment with his Eurorack, I thought it might be fun to try it as a beefy modular synth line. It gives it a frosty edge, which I adore. With every bedroom producer using the same plug-ins and synth patches, anything you can use from outside of your DAW stands out. devdsp is getting some incredible sounds out of his rack now and we’re hoping to do lots more with him in the future.

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And then there’s the video, which as above, is entirely Nick’s idea. I just showed up at the appointed time and place, knowing it was to be a single take. I kind of amazed myself with the camerawork – given the option, I delegate that kind of high-pressure shot to a Shane Parsons or such. I lucked out into finding (as we were rolling!) several cool framings that I bounced between. Walking backwards to zoom out at the end was spontaneous but I can’t imagine a better closing. Between that and the edit, it was like that old adage about cooking – use the best quality ingredients and do as little as possible to them. The lighting, the talent, the location were all perfect.

To me, this is the closest we’ve come to chart pop and when we’re ready, I hope to give it a big push. It will also be included on our upcoming full-length DISCO ROOM, an album with all my most recent funkiest and fizziest tunes.

And lastly yes, that’s my sweet baby girl Violet doing my producer tag!

Northside Swag Unit performed a three song mini-set in the middle of Coolio and Housemouse’s single launch last month. Here’s a photo I took for the single artwork.coolio and housemouseThe line-up – slimmed to a core collective of myself, Nick, Coolio and Housemouse – have been getting together the last few months for lyric-writing sessions. In that time, we’ve put words to a six track EP, with three tracks produced by Coolio and three by yours truly. It’s amazing hearing what the guys have come up with over my beats, and the trepidation I had for the lyric-writing sessions was completely unwarranted – they’ve been a blast! The songs are coalescing and everyone is upping their game trying to get the biggest laughs from each other. We’re anticipating a first quarter 2019 drop.

Also during the single launch, voice of the year nominee Evan Buckley and I performed a double bum-rush, jumping up to do Housemouse and Coolio’s respective verses on Where Ma Dawgz At?  I had no idea Evan was getting up as well, which made it even better.

 

Lulu and the Tantrums have played two shows!

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When I started learning drums, I expected it’d take a year before I would play with a band. That timeline was halved when Catherine offered Lulu and The Tantrums a late-night slot at Smiths in September. It was the best thing that could have happened for both the group and for my drumming. It forced me to quickly level up, and for us to turn the band from a much-discussed concept into an actual garage-rattling outfit.

Lulu and The Tantrums started over ten years ago, with me cajoling Lou into making a few songs together. The aim was something raw and reductive – I quickly came up with a nice ‘box’ for us to work within: one minute max, a riff and two couplets per song, and each song had to have the same drumbeat and single note guitar solo. From there, we wrote/recorded Fucknuckle almost simultaneously. Lou returned later to find me still futzing around with levels or something – when I suggested we write another one, she countered with, ‘how about you make my dinner, bitch?’.

Our second song was Make My Dinner Bitch.

We recorded ten songs (including a cover of Ramones Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue), and burned to CD a single copy of the ‘album’, gifted to Nick for his birthday that year. At his party, we played it twice through as everyone pogoed around the living room.

Lyrically, we were shooting for the stupidest, most obnoxious, ‘you can’t say that!’ stuff we could muster in the moment. Like early Beastie Boys, or Ramones, or Serge Gainsbourg, or Odd Future, or how Vice magazine used to offend both sides equally. Let me tell you, some of it has not aged well. At all. Which is fine, we only made it for ourselves and a handful of friends that understood the intent. Shoot forward ten years and it presented us with a dilemma when the idea came up to do the band ‘for real’ – will we do the old songs? Re-write the lyrics? Or what?

When I started drums, I had the Tantrums (or something ‘Tantrums-like’) in mind as a first goal. To my surprise, Lou was keen – she wanted to challenge herself to try something out of her comfort zone. I asked her who she wanted on guitar, and her first choice was Nick. He was on board straightaway, and has been nailing it ever since – it’s fun to be playing in a band together where we are both taking on unfamiliar roles, but leaning on that musical shorthand we’ve had for years. His guitar playing sounded good at the first practice, but he brought the Swollen Pickle to the next session, and well, now we have The Tantrums Sound. The weak link is me – having a looming gig was just what I needed to focus my practice. The tricky part wasn’t necessarily the beats themselves, it was getting them up to punk-rock tempos. Practicing for the gig accelerated my up-skilling and confidence on the kit – I’m much further ahead than if I was just tinkering away on my own. Still, I’m at that point now where I know enough to know how far I still have to go. But I’ve always believed the only way to learn is to do – and I can officially say I’m a drummer now!

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It became obvious quickly that even if we played all the old songs, we didn’t have enough material for even half a set! We needed new material regardless. The first new song we wrote is School Reunion. We knocked it out in the half hour before Lou went to her actual 20 year high school reunion – she was dressed up ready to go and had time to kill before her ride showed. I love writing songs with Lou because it gets me out of my head and takes me down avenues I never would have thought – take the bridge to that song, ‘Driving to the function room, Alanis on the deck / Driving to the function room, Alanis Morrisette’. It’s a reference to the throwback high school playlist Lou intended to play on the way, and when combined with ‘function room’ – what a depressing phrase – it perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia and awkwardness of the night. In a million years, I would never have come up with that on my own!

The floodgates opened and we are honing in on about 12 new songs now – playing the old ones became moot. In the end, we’ve kept two – Fucknuckle and a zippy little number called I Like It In The Ass (I told you we were taboo-busting provocateurs of the highest order!). The new songs are more ‘us’ in any case, mined from our years of inside jokes and shared references. They draw on all my old touchstones – I’ve even snuck a country song in there! The original restrictions have fallen by the wayside too – in fact, and not without some irony, some of the newer ones are more expansive than nine-tenths of my catalogue. The latest song we wrote has a pre-chorus, an alternate chorus, a bridge and an extended singalong outro! For my part, I think it’s a reaction to all of the loop-based, computer-bound music I have been doing – being able to switch things up is a breath of fresh air. And as a drummer, it’s easier to play that kind of stuff than to program it.

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A handful of practice sessions under our belt, we hit the Smiths stage at about a quarter to midnight on a Wednesday night. Catherine had booked an eclectic range of acts, with us to finish. Lou was paranoid she would forget the lyrics. Seasoned professionals that we are, Nick and I knew fucking up on stage is just par for the course, but our sage-like advice was the last thing she wanted to hear. It was a receptive crowd, and I am pleased to say we – especially Lou – crushed it. People were on-board from the start, laughing and singing along immediately. Chris Gleeson filmed the set and I have watched it repeatedly, beaming – I am so proud of all of us.

Our next gig followed in November. Our love for Coolio Desgracias and Housemouse is no secret – when they asked us to support them, it was a bucket-list level achievement. We expanded the set with three new songs – two originals (our best yet), plus a cover of The Scientists’ Frantic Romantic. I am so late to Frantic Romantic, discovering it serendipitously only this year in Japan.

Lou has already grown in leaps and bounds as a performer. At the first gig, she stood stock-still, hands in pockets. I gave her a few ‘challenges’ in our following practices, like telling her she had to keep singing while jumping around on the furniture. By her own admission, this foolishness worked – she was much more free and confident when we hit the stage. I, on the other hand, was more nervous than last time – Coolio (aka Simon Milman) is also my drum teacher, and I didn’t want to disappoint sensei. I definitely made more boo-boos than the first gig (often the case with second gigs!), but pulled through. The new songs were instant hits – the crowd was singing along to Riesling For Living by the time the second chorus rolled around.

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This band is so much fun and I’m excited to see where it goes next – personally, I would love LOVE to record an album next year!

Photos by Adam Thomas.

LCDLUKE :Nick wrote about his leap of faith sign-ons to any proposal Chenoeh dreams up. He and I have a similar relationship. Artistically both of us have confidence to spare, but Nick has outpaced me of late in doggedly pursuing multiple ambitious gambits at once. As he will tell you, some of this is the gods laughing – he applied for a string of arts grants and was as shocked as anyone when most were funded.

It’s a good relationship – we’ve trusted each other’s instincts for nearly two decades, ever since co-writing our first song.  It’s my experience the best art comes not from compromise, but from seeing eye-to-eye – we generally both do what we want and most times, it works out damn fine.

Sure, I’ll say, put me down to direct 12 music videos in three days. Or, no worries, happy to do a gig aboard a lake cruise. It’s not that I don’t believe these things will come to fruition (they always do in some shape or other), it’s just Nick tosses out these ideas with such casual regularity that my saying ‘sounds great’ feels less like a commitment and more general approval of the concept.

Which brings us to Merry Christmas (Let’s Conquer Death). Nick had pitched Art Not Apart the idea of Babyfreeze doing a charity single launch, with as many Canberra musicians joining in as possible. Nick had the song written, but the production and arrangement fell entirely to me. The song has the simplicity of a folk tune, and as such could be adapted to any number of styles. Of course, I reached back to the ur-source:

What struck me listening – for the first time with a critical ear – is how sparse it is. It’s mostly airy synths and occasional fills, ample space reserved for the melisma-thon vocalising.

I couldn’t help embellishing on this template, throwing in saxophone, bells, skronk guitar, and marching drum fills (in fact, A LOT of skittering percussion). I sneakily snuck in a hook of my own as well – the first voice you hear on the track is actually me, singing in falsetto and pitched up an octave. It’s my homage to Sebastian Field, who sung with us on the day (albeit in a vastly different style).

The day itself was frenzied – we set up and rehearsed at the NFSA, the same room as our infamous Champagne Breakfast. A gaggle of friends and Canberra luminaries joined us, including Fun Machine and Coolio Desgracias and House Mouse. Most exciting was being reunited with Chris Finnigan (aka Fossil Rabbit), only hours after he returned from his Scottish sabbatical. Nick did his best to run the unruly group through a few takes of the track, while cinematic wunderkids Dom Northcott and William He captured the chaos.

Dom and Will also shot interviews with everyone involved – in fact, between this and their video of our performance, we have a surplus of great footage now. The gag on the day was the film crew were there specifically to film me, now ‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke, the breakout star continually threatening to leave the parochial confines of the group behind. It’s a fun bit of world-building that requires little effort on my part – Nick does the heavy expository lifting on stage and all I have to do is throw in the occasional glib aside.

Rehearsal over, we quickly unpacked and hauled gear across to the stage set up just out front of the Shine Dome. There were a few Babyfreeze diehards in the crowd, but it felt like most people were seeing us for the first time.  It’s threatening to become meaningless how frequently I say this, but it was again (AGAIN!) one of the best gigs we’ve played – this band is just becoming more and more fun. It was also the live debut of our Valentines Day surprise drop Creation. I love this track – it’s a tight melding of the hip-hop I’ve been listening to with my ingrained need for prominent melody. Which upon reflection, is exactly what Nick brought to the track as well.

I’ll let Nick talk about the actual performance of Let’s Conquer Death, but it was everything I could have hoped for.

NICK: I’m used to Luke approving of my ideas and what I do, which creates a monster when it comes to approaching others artists for stuff like this. Most of our on-stage guests were super-into the premise of Doing A Live Aid and lived their roles brilliantly, but I have to say my favourite part of the day was seeing my close friend and noted Serious Music Fan Sebastian Field yelling his way through the sweet vocal hook that Luke wrote for him, his contempt for the entire bit on display for all. Why did he still agree to do it? Maybe because we’re friends? I don’t really care, he was perfect.

The stage was outside with no cover and it was HOT, which ramped up the intensity of the dozen of us crowding around four mics and singing into each others mouths. Particular credit to Warm Death (my original collaborator on the earlier version of the song) who didn’t even take her hood down. As far as the rest of the set, Luke and I made liberal use of the dangerously steep drop off the front of the stage and like Luke said, having Fossil Rabbit back on guitar made us feel like the unstoppable stadium band we’re increasingly describing ourselves as.

This feels like it might be the logical conclusion of our series of Babyfreeze Celebrity Fan Experience Shows. Like, what’s more that thing than doing a charity single? But at the same time the character bits that have emerged (‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke and his burgeoning success, Handsome Luke and Trendoid’s free jazz side project constantly trying to take over the set, Babyfreeze’s constant jealously/obsession with courting the favour of the eminently well-adjusted Fossil Rabbit) feel like they’re only just gaining speed. At the same time as we become more and more a cabaret act the songwriting for the band only becomes more earnestly done and felt. Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object and we can’t bring ourselves to blink or slow down from either end.

Let’s Conquer Death as an actual song is a prime example. The name suggests that we’ve finally relaxed into just doing a Joke Song but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m genuinely enraged and terrified by the fact of mortality to the point that it’s the subject of every other song I write now. It’s bad enough that we haven’t just Sorted It Out, the fact that so many people want to venerate death as the thing that makes life have value is downright sickening. An anti-death charity movement couldn’t be a more absurd idea and I couldn’t mean it more. Musically, it’s a studious encapsulation of bloated pop excess and also our best effort at writing a genuinely good song. And that’s the thing with Babyfreeze.

 

 

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It’s not even a pun, is it? Whatever it is, Canbeurovision spread like wildfire. What was conceived as a mid-week Smiths slot-filler swiftly snowballed into three heats and a final that had to move venues (twice!) to accommodate the fevered appetites of a city bursting with talent and self-deprecation.  Full credit to visionary Chris Endrey,  who was  unflappable in coordinating an ever expanding logistical nightmare. In anyone else’s hands, it would have remained a one-off, but Endrey’s foresight and organisational acumen was superhuman – he even found time to order promotional mugs! And as always, props to Bevan Noble – ‘sound guy’ is too casual a term for him – I’m going with Sonic Titan from now on.

When I saw the callout for Canbeurovision – simply a Eurovision style song contest for Canberra suburbs – I knew I had to represent my beloved Queanbeyan (the joke is that Canbeurovision allowed Queanbeyan to enter the same way Eurovision allowed Australia and Israel).

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Being indolent-orientated, I didn’t want to have to put together a band for it, or even, you know, write a new song. I reached back to a song I already had – a whimsical techno number overlaid with free samples of Heems talking about cheese. I mean, what could be more perfect for a Eurovision-style contest than a song literally about cheese?

The song in place, I had to think of how to present it – thank Catherine, ’cause after two years of Cell Block dance-offs, synchronised dance is now a go-to in my skillset. I asked Nick (natch), and Krewdbits to help out – I love Krewdbits and have been waiting for an excuse to work with them. Ink Bits was unavailable, but Bambi was an immediate yes, and we had a crew.

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Leaning into the cheese theme, we all dressed in yellow and threw cheese sticks out to the crowd in the closing moments. I paired our performance with a deliberately basic karaoke-style video – the lyrics were accompanied by a a handful of Google-sourced photos of Queanbeyan, cheese, and lots of star wipes.

Nick and Bambi wrote the brilliant choreography, with limited direction from me on the structure. I knew from past experience that me – fat bloke least likely to have moves – bursting into synchronised dance towards the end of a routine was an absolute winner, and the cheers from the audience both times we performed confirmed this.

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That’s right, we performed this twice – making it through our heat and to the final. We levelled up for the final by adding Zev as a fourth dancer, chiefly because they already had an entire yellow ensemble. Unsurprisingly, they crushed it.

The brief was slight, and most people went a different direction than myself, writing or adapting songs specifically to speak to their chosen suburb. Which was great, but a Canberran spin, as Eurovision acts don’t sing about their home country. I set out wanting our act to be the strangest and well, mission accomplished.

The other acts were all incredible – seriously, I want a compilation CD/DVD. The concept seemingly brought the best out of everyone. It’s hard to pick favourites, but Sophie Chapman’s song about Isabella Plains is still stuck in my head.

The final was a recklessly good time. I was buzzing off it for days afterwards – the amount of love and positive energy in the room was palpable – if you don’t believe me, check out the all-group singalong for winners Dickson. Bless.

Photos by Marin Ollman and Richard Tuffin.

The five weeks of G.O.O.D summer have been a blast – I’ve loved getting up early Saturday mornings to give each record a couple of early spins, watch the fallout from the listening parties, and read the hot takes. It started with Pusha-T’s Daytona – the best solo outing yet from my favourite rapper – and ended today just as strong with Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.

Like the rest of the albums, my first taste of K.T.S.E. came from a brief Tweeted video of its listening party. The track I heard (which turned out to be Rose In Harlem) sampled something naggingly familiar.

It took me about five seconds to place it – it was a vocal snatch from The Stylistics’ Because I Love You.

Now here’s where it gets cool – I recognised the sample because I had sampled the song six months ago on the Return To Lion’s Mansion beat tape! The album it came from was one of 16 I picked up crate-digging in Japan. I used a different section of the track than the one Kanye used, but still – what are the odds? Of all the hundreds of records I flipped through in Japan, of all the songs on those slabs of wax – to pick the same one as the musical hero I was emulating? Incredible. So, I ask you – who sampled it better?