Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where The Hell Did Hi-Tech Go?

Hi-Tech was that dude. He was a master of that Queensbridge criminology style (even though I think he was actually from the Bronx) at its peak in the mid 90s, but was equal part backpack rapper; very few rappers could please audiences on both sides of fence at the same time. Even Nas has to visibly shift gears to reach both camps. Hi-Tech was a star artist on the indie label Mass Vinyl, and so he had killer production. His third single, "All Time Einstein," started a craze by sampling the theme to Hill Street Blues, and soon everybody was looking for television themes to sample. No, this wasn't the first record to sample a TV show - let us forget the days of Fresh Gordon - but his was an underground smash, and everybody from Lord Digga revitalizing his career with The Price Is Right theme to Timbaland and Magoo making a hit out of Knightrider. Everybody had to have a TV show theme, and underground rapper Hi-Tech was why.

This is his second record, though, and probably my favorite. "24/7" dropped on Mass Vinyl in 1996 in a pretty ill picture cover. The lead track is produced by the seriously underrated DJ Shok. Shok did a bunch of hot material for Mass Vinyl, and eventually went on to the Ruff Ryders camp where he kinda drifted off my radar. But his 90's stuff was terrific. Just listen to this track: it's got a perfect piano loop over a sparse beat and some nice cuts for a hook, and most producers would stop right there and declare victory. But Shok keeps breaking up the track, to add this dark, Wu-style distorted sound, giving the whole thing a really robust, dramatic life. This became one of those instrumentals, like "Tried By 12," where every MC had to freestyle over it at least a dozen times on mix-tapes, radio, etc.

The B-side is "Book Of Life, Page 2," a sequel to his first single. At first it sounds like it's just a remix, because the first verse is the same on both songs. But then the hook and subsequent two verses are all new. This version's produced by Jaybiz, and as great as the original was, this one's even better. It's deep and moody - the original was tight, a formula executed perfectly; but this one's creative. It's deceptively simple and brooding.

Meanwhile, the rhymes here bounce back and forth between personal reflection and throwback B-boyisms ("while taking my first fresh breath, the first words out my mouth was 'one, two, mic check'") and robust sincerity (when he talks about his father's drug addiction and says, "the more I think about it, I don't wanna talk about it," it's so damn genuine it doesn't sound like it can be a song lyric*). Some of the lines haven't aged so well and may sound a bit corny today; but you have to remember this was cutting edge lyric writing in the mid 90's, artists didn't really have a template of when a line got too jokey or contrived like they do today. Still, though, the majority of this is as strong today as it ever was, and puts your average Youtube rapper to shame.

So, really, what did happen to Hi-Tech? Well, I'm sure Hi-Tek's come up didn't help at all. Just as Hi-Tech was starting to solidify his name, here comes this other guy from Ohio and becomes an indie darling, hooking up with Rawkus. Sure, their names are spelled differently, but when you're standing around Fat Beats and you hear the phrase "hi tech," you know they're probably talking about a Black Star record. And when Mass Vinyl predictably went the way of all those awesome little NY indie vinyl labels, Hi-Tech seemed to vanish right with it. Dude put out a bunch of records, both his own and appearing with his crew, but never on another label ("Continuously" doesn't count, because it was an old track that was sitting on a shelf until Creative dusted it off and put it on his record years later); I guess he went down with his ship. Hi-Tech is one of those artists that represents the 90's so thoroughly he's practically an abstract symbol of it. And I could see some people then arguing that he's such an iconic 90's guy that it's just as well we haven't had to watch him fumble and chase terrible fads throughout the 2000s. But I don't know... I can't believe it's really a good thing to never again hear from any artist who was once so compelling.


*Okay, that quote's from the first "Book Of Life," but as far as the points I'm making go, it's the same difference.

15 comments:

  1. Hi-Tech was dope and all the Mass Vinyl roaster was ill!
    Yo, DJ Mike Nice who was/is down with MassVinyl mentioned few years ago that Hi-Tech had some personal issues and most probably won't come back... He (Mike) also promised to put out Mass Vinyl's older and unreleased material (except Hi-Tech's..!?!!?) but that also never happened and probably never will

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  2. More info on Hi Tech (after some memory refresh :) - DJ Mike Nice of Mass Vinyl actually mentioned few years ago that he found reels/dats of the unreleased Hi Tech album!!!!
    I remember I asked what's up with that and he replied "HI TECH no longer rhymes just keep dude in your prayers" - so go figure what that means... BUT that album is outthere! No idea, was it all unheard tracks or including those 12" joints...

    This is what he said about other Mass Vinyl material :
    "The unreleased MASS VINYL mixtape is coming. We are presently digitally converting the tracks. YES both (this and Faculty's "Hard Lessons") will be available in official cd format. the Mass Vinyl mixtape will contain all unreleased material we have enough stuff in the vault to drop several volumes."

    These were his exact words.
    Considering the fact that Faculty's album (which was pretty weak effort - nothing like their 90s material) didn't get a physical release, then I would be pretty sceptical also about those others. BUT someone should make that happen - Mike Nice is still outthere, posting on Philaflava from time to time...

    Aight, this is pretty much everything I know about Mass Vinyl/Hi Tech - hope that helps someone/somehow.

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    1. thanks for the knowledge man. I hope that album does get shine.

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  3. that hi tech joint the music was heavy. rocked those doubles to death

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    1. Yo can u email me The Music please?? Its my favorite Hi-Tech song n I can't find it nowhere! Much appreciated if u got it! jerzy00dae@yahoo.com

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  4. yeah,hi tech 12"s will always be my special ones;)i have all 3 releases including the
    "weak minds 12"
    maybe contacting dj shok or jaybiz will help.
    cause they producted all his joints!!!

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    1. You know how I can get in contact wit them??

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    2. You know how I can get in contact wit them??

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  5. Yo, somebody please tell me they got the full song from Hi-Tech - The Music I can't find the whole song anywhere! It starts off wit a woman singing, "And if it wasn't for the music, I don't know what I'd do" followed with this SICKAZZ beat! If one a y'all got it PLEASE EMAIL IT TTO ME! jerzy00dae@yahoo.com

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    1. Ah yeah, that was one of the B-sides to his "All Time Einstein" 12" (the one that sampled Hill St Blues). There's some cheap copies up on discogs at the moment. 8)

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    2. Any chance u got that track n u could email it to me?? It b much appreciated my dude! My email is: jerzy00dae@yahoo.com (double zero's NOT upper case O's)

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    3. why dont you just buy the fucking record dude?

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  6. Hey John it's Trunks. I had originally typed a funny intro, but I commented as google and it was erased. Been wondering if you still have all those pics from the source you posted, I couldn't find them. Anyway my email is trunksepsilon7@hotmail.com. Congrats on the UCB work.

    Peace,

    TRUNKS

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    1. Hey! Yeah, I still have them, plus some others ones (without rappers) I never posted. I'll have to scan some of 'em - I'll email you in a day or two. =)

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