Pete Rock, Petestrumentals

Pete Rock, Petestrumentals (2001)

Hip-hop music is rarely imagined as a voiceless narrative, a breakbeat science as entrancing as house, as involving as ambient techno. With noisy, all-star compilations all the rage, the art of creating a seamless blend of instrumental music highlighted by bass, drums, and an well-placed sample seems lost to an all-too-brief moment in the mid-90s when an album by a hip-hop producer meant a sublime, melancholy masterpiece like Peanut Butter Wolf’s Peanut Butter Breaks, an instrumental version of the Beatnuts’ self-titled debut, or DJ Shadow’s textured What Does Your Soul Look Like? Vaunted beat conductor Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals, his first album since the uneven Soul Survivor, is something of a throwback to that era, spotlighting his ability to create involving background music for a bedroom MC to spit over or a blissed-out accompaniment to a quiet night spent at home. It’s less DJ Clue than Bob James, an elegant suite of rhythms bearing self-explanatory titles like “Pete’s Jazz” and “Smooth Sailing.” The former is a lounge track full of vibes and warm bass; the latter reaches its apex with a trumpet blaring out the chorus with a succession of high notes. Still, after a while, Petestrumentals’ basic, unadorned butter beats congeals into a mass of indistinguishable wallpaper. When a sudden tempo change finally hits in the form of new jack MCs the UN (Rock Marciano, Divine, Godfree, Laku) on “Walk On By” and “Cake,” it’s as if a entrancing, yet tiring spell has been broken, only to leave the same shouting MC’s promising “hollow-point rhymes” one hoped to escape from in the first place. Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals illustrates a dilemma usually avoided by peers like Hi-Tek (Hi-Teknology) and J. Rawls (The Essence Of) in favor of an all-star rap blowout. But if the beats are hip-hop music’s most attractive asset, then why not dole them out in their purest form, or add enough texture, like DJs Krush and Shadow, to author new sonic adventures? For all of Petestrumentals’ strengths, a cloud of missed opportunities inexorably hangs over it. This was originally released as part of BBE’s “The Beat Generation” series. Shortly afterward, the album was re-released with more vocal songs, including Pete Rock’s reunion with CL Smooth, the glorious underground hit “Back On The Block.”

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