In 2007, rapper Buck 65 released Situation, a '50s concept record produced entirely by fellow Haligonian DJ/producer Skratch Bastid. The album was originally created to reflect a traditional hip-hop sound: found samples, reworked in original ways with scratches and reprogrammed drums over top. But when the two took Situation to Buck's label, Strange Famous Records, they came up against a $300,000 problem.
"It ended up costing that much to clear all the samples and we couldn't do that," shares Skratch (Paul Murphy), on a break from a studio session with Shad. "So we basically had to go back to the drawing board and remake all of the beats as replayed samples. Fortunately we cleared three samples, but about 75 per cent of the album had to be remade. As a young producer, it was a good challenge."
Skratch, who calls Buck his mentor, says the record was heavily inspired by the rapper's record Vertex — a favourite.
"I've always looked up to him and we had always talked about making music so I ended up sending him a bunch of beats over the internet and he wrote to them and sent them back. Before we knew it we had an album's worth of material."
To commemorate the fifth anniversary of Situation, somewhat of a cult record due to the myth of the long-lost samples, Skratch released the original "demo" version as a free download on his website. Hear them below and read Skratch's story behind five key songs on the record, which got him a Juno nomination for producer of the year. And if you're in Toronto, catch Skratch alongside Jurassic 5's DJ Nu-Mark at Skratch Bastid Presents on Nov. 30.
"The samples for two songs on this album came from a Learn to Play the Guitar Like the Ventures record. The Ventures are this '60s surf-rock band who have like 20 different albums that all sound the same [laughs]. On this one they had these cool '50s- and '60s-flavoured guitar licks. Since Buck’s concept for the album was based around the '50s I thought it was perfect. So I took a bunch of the licks that were in the same key and layered them on top of each other.
"We had to replay everything on this one but it was pretty easy. It was one of the first we tackled, and it wasn’t that hard because it was based off of a learn to play guitar record so it was like beginner shit. Charles Austin from the Super Friendz played the guitar. They were Buck's touring band, so we kept it Halifax on this one."
The Rebel by Situation Demos
"The original sample came from a record with boobs on it. There’s a rule of thumb that if you see a record with boobs on it, you buy it! It was an Italian record by this guy named Fausto Papetti. He’s kind of the James Last of Italy. He made, like, 500 albums just covering everything. The song I sampled was "Giochi Proibiti." It's this sombre 3/4-time waltz and I chopped it up and put it to a hip-hop beat. It was challenging to recreate but I had the guitar player play it to 4/4-time, as I had chopped it. I was really happy with how it came out, it was atmospheric and set the mood of this abandoned city, which Buck was describing in the song.
"The funny thing was that for some reason the sample sounded really familiar. One day I was waiting for the subway in Montreal and there was a guy with an accordion on the other platform, playing the melody! It was a good thing I chopped it up! We replayed it anyway to be different but I did some further investigation and the song was so old that it was public domain, so I got off easy on that one. Still, it had my heart going for a second."
The Outskirts by Situation Demos
"We ended up clearing the sample for this. The song was 'Groundhog' by Spirit. I liked that record because there’s another famous hip-hop sample on the Spirit album. I’m not sure if it’s been cleared so I won’t blow up any spots! So I bought that record because of the famous sample, but 'Groundhog' came to my ear as something Buck would sound good on.
"I wanted to recreate beats that sounded similar to the style of my favourite Buck 65 album, which was Vertex. It was made entirely on an SP-1200, which is a really limited machine. It has a cool 12-bit sound to it so when I’d find something cool I’d just put it in the machine, which would make it sound even cooler.
"So 'The Heatwave' was based off this heavy rock drum break that I found and this lick that screamed Buck. I chopped it up and we replayed the guitar verbatim, so we had to clear it and give someone a co-writing credit for recreating the riff. Sometimes the notes just have a certain characteristic. I put the guitar we played into the SP-1200 to make it sound old and dingy even though we recorded it in 2007 or whatever."
Heatwave by Situation Demos
"My only beat on the album that I left completely the same. I used to work at a record store in Halifax, Revolution Records, and my co-worker came in with a crate from the flea market. The records were from a radio station selling off old library records, which are basically canned music to play underneath announcements. Like subscription music, basically.
"I think the record I had was for Halloween because it was dark and scary.... We found out there were no rights associated with the record so we got off on that one. I was glad because those sound effects would be really hard to recreate. It would be hard to make something that cheesy again, basically! I wouldn’t know how to do it. And also it was fun to have something on Situation that was purely from records."
Spread 'Em by Situation Demos
'Way Back When'
"I sampled a really simple guitar riff from the beginning of Stanley Black's "Feelings". It's a cover of the song 'Feelings' by Morris Albert. It was so dissonant and undeveloped, so when we replayed it, it didn't sound like 'Feelings' to me. Which is totally what we were going for because I wasn’t trying to make that song! So we took that riff and expanded on it with the guitarist.
"A lot of times, when you’re getting people to replay stuff you take the vibe and jam out and see where you end up in 10 minutes. Bands do this a lot too, I think. They’ll just get in the studio and jam on a riff, because most popular chord progressions and melodies have been touched on and it’s where you take it and make it your own. Recreating samples is a pretty direct version of that.
"Fortunately it turned into a beast all its own. I hooked up an old-school style b-boy break and played some keys on it and we had some percussion. 'Way Back When' and 'The Outskirts' got me nominated for a Juno for producer of the year. So despite all the reworking, never was I like, 'This sucks.' It was a great first opportunity to work with talented musicians and do all this new work, but it was nice to hear we approached it in a way that people respected on that level."
Hear the official album version of "Way Back When."
Way Back When (demo) by Situation Demos
Allow me to reintroduce myself: Skratch Bastid
Mindbender's Masters of Rhyme: Skratch Bastid
So this guy Buck 65 works with like everybody