Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Been taking tram line 16 every morning to get to class. The class start time has been pushed back a merciful 15 minutes, meaning I can actually leave home at a breezy 8am. In the afternoon, after wandering around a while, I usually find myself in Heumarkt, and catch a bus home. I haven't biked to class – I don't yet know a smooth route. Sometime in the coming week I'll take my bike on the tram, and ride home in the afternoon. There's lots of room for bikes and such on the trams and buses, and carrying them onboard is normal practice. Something I hadn't expected, however, was the yuppie dude who rode his Segway onto the 16 Friday morning (oder Freitag Morgen). I didn't have my camera with me, so this Googled image will have to stand in its place. Anyway, I guess in Marienburg I should expect such things. And maybe I I also shouldn't have been surprised to see him carrying on a conversation using his hands-free Bluetooth sunglasses. Smokin' dude, smokin'.

Recently Played: The Renegades

I shoulda posted this a couple weeks ago, when Aki Kaurismaki's terrific new film Light in the Dusk was still screening in Seattle. (Missed it? Not to worry - you can already rent it at Scarecrow Video.) The Renegades' music features prominently in almost all of Kaurismaki's droll comedies. In the new one, he steps outside of the Renegades catalog, but if I'm not mistaken, this song appears on the soundtrack, perhaps for old times' sake:

The Renegades – My Heart Must Do The Crying

The Renegades were one of the all-but-forgotten also-rans of 60s British rock and roll. In 1965(?), the Birmingham group scored a respectable hit in the UK with “Cadillac,” which seems to be a reworking of a Vince Taylor song. Sadly, the kind of fame enjoyed by the Beatles, the Stones, or the Kinks would ultimately allude them least in Britain. Italy, on the other hand, took a real shine to them and, for whatever reason, Finland adopted them as their most beloved rock band of all time. The Finnish fan base was so devoted, in fact, that some members of the band eventually relocated to Helsinki permanently. Kaurismaki, if you hadn't pieced it together, is from Finland, and his films are gloriously steeped in a particular kind of “outsider nostalgia” that the Renegades sit comfortably at the center of. Their music isn't too easy to come by these days, so here are a few more of their songs, which can be heard in other great Kaurismaki films, and in almost every mixtape I've made in the past five years.

The Renegades – Cadillac
The Renegades – Do The Shake
The Renegades – If I Had Someone To Dream Of

And yes, the Clash are indeed paying homage to “Cadillac” on London Calling.

German Class

Eight days of class completed, Köln feels like a whole new world. Don't get me wrong – the 40 class hours haven't miraculously gifted me with fluent German or anything. But neither do I feel completely helpless when spoken to.

Our teacher is outspoken and looks a little like a Santa Claus. In a booming voice, he taunts and humiliates us into quasi-functional German answers to his initially incomprehensible questions. He seems to speak a little of every language in the world, and is clearly very well traveled (due to his holiday stocking-stuffing excursions, perhaps?). This is good, because, as a class, we're something of a Tower of Babel. I'd imagined a class chocked full of Yanks, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a class consisting consist of: 2 US Americans (counting myself), 2 Russians, 2 Brazillians, 2 Turks, 1 Venezuelan, 1 Pole, 1 Portugese, 1 South Korean, 1 Japanese, 1 Spaniard, and 1 Tunisian. We range, in age, from 18 to 33. Most of us speak English, but not all, and everyone is very friendly. As far as why we're all here in Köln, love may not make the world go round, but it seems to make the world move around, as most of us are here to be with a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife (as well as to live, learn, and work, of course). We're all becoming fast friends, few of us knowing many people around the city. Sometimes during class breaks, this means resorting to Deutsch as a common currency of communication. Really, this is proving an ideal way to learn German, not to mention meet people from all over the world.

Later this week, Herr Lehrer (that's the teacher) is taking us shopping in an open-air market, where we'll be expected to identify produce items by name, and smoothly navigate transactions in German. Kelly didn't hafta sign any permission slips for this field trip, but all the same, I'm hoping there's a long rope we'll all be required to hold onto. Or at least that we're instructed on the importance of the buddy system.

Anyway, should the opportunity arise, and time and money are no object, I heartily recommend uprooting yourself, relocating to a strange land, allowing sufficient time to become desperately bored, and then devoting yourself to a full-time language course.

Monday, August 13, 2007


As promised, the weather finally got beautiful again this weekend. Friday, with such promises in mind, I came home proposing that we spend Sunday hiking and exploring the nearby Rheinsteig. The weather wouldn't be nice for too much longer, and besides, what else is there to do on a Sunday in Germany. The Rheinsteig is one of Germany's largest national parks - so large that to cover the entire park one would take 20 days. I thought I had it all planned out - a route that looked like a good length and with a few hills.

Sunday we left almost an hour later than we'd planned, due in part to the previous evening's trip across the river to catch a show by local band NILG, featuring someone Chris knew from the UW almost a decade ago. Anyway, we took about an hour train ride south to the small town of Bad Honnef, where we would start our journey. However, my planning skills are not always the best, so I didn't really know how we were supposed to get from the train station to the park entrance. That became our first challenge, but after only one wrong turn, we eventually found the park. There we found a very detailed map of the park, however the "you are here" marking was no where to be seen. There were trail markings, but they were neither as frequent nor as detailed as we probably needed (the park is criss-crossed with countless trails). This just meant, pick a direction and start wandering. We soon came to a very steep hill, which we embarked up. The farther up we went, the narrower the trail got, until at the end we were scaling along a ridge of shrubs, hoping the loose rocks wouldn't slide out from underneath us. Of course at the top of what turned out to be Himmerich Hof was a beautiful view, as well as quite a few other hikers who'd taken much less risky routes up.
We continued back down on a better marked and less steep hill, until we found another map. This one too (like all the rest we would find) lacked the "you are here" marking. We thought we had some idea of where we were and which trail to follow, but we were usually wrong. Long story short, we made it out of the park after spending a total of three and a half hours there. Like all good German parks, there was a beer garden on one of the hills (which we didn't visit, since we still had to figure out how to home).
I learned about Chris's fear of beetles, as he contemplated the question of how many beetles lived in the park (more than there are people in Germany?). The forest reminded us of the Northwest's evergreen forests, and it was easy to forget that we were in Germany, until we were passed by mountain bikes ridden by Germans. Our original plan was to head north and board a train home at a different station than we had started at. However, we took a wrong turn somewhere and eventually found ourself dumped back in Bad Honnef, though at a different entrance. Perhaps that was all for the better, since we had a vague idea about how to get to the train station. Amazingly, my inner compass managed to work fairly well. This is something I always think will happen, but usually it fails. To continue our good luck, we waited less than five minutes for our train back to Köln, and had a seamless connection back home. It was a beautiful day in the sun, and wore us out enough to fall asleep early, so Chris could get out of bed much earlier than normal for his first day of German class.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Meet The Neighbors

If you take many inter-city trains around here, you can't help but notice the integration of land use. At one point on our ride to Liege, I glanced out the window and saw: a high rise apartment, a corn field, a golf course, a parking lot, a grain silo, a nuclear power plant. This was all at once, and without turning my head.

Sometimes you don't even have to board a train to observe this. Take Sunday, for example. Waiting at a crosswalk – the nearest crosswalk to our flat, as a matter of fact – Kelly and I saw just across the Rhein a cluster of somethings that hadn't been there before. We had a tram to catch, and there was no time for close scrutiny. That evening we were back at the crosswalk, and saw that these somethings moved, and that they were sheep.

It maybe isn't obvious in these pictures, but this is very much inside the city. You can see the Dom from here, and in fact could probably reach it by bicycle in fifteen minutes.
Anyway, they were cute. I took these pictures at the tail-end of our too-brief heat wave. I'd pedaled across the bridge to see them up close, and passed what turned out to be Köln's last hour of sunshine reading in a green patch at the water's edge, more or less pretending to live in a Rohmer film. And then of course the clouds rushed in. Heavy raindrops had almost completely rinsed the sweat from my shirt by the time I'd reached home.

Recently Played: Frank Bretschneider

Way back in June I mentioned that there was a new Frank Bretschneider album out on Raster Noton. Rhythm is the title, and I finally picked it up and have been feeling it out this week.

Frank Bretschneider – We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
Frank Bretschneider – The Eight Day People

Man, makes me wish I had a lab coat. If clinical percussion's your pleasure, Bretschneider's your man.

While I'm at it, here's a Bretschneider track from way back in the 20th Century, recorded under his Komet moniker. This, by the way, happens to be the first Bretschneider I heard, thanks to Brian and Iman's excellent ears. It's out-of-print too, so show some respect!

Komet - 4'32”

An autobiographical aside: back in Seattle, when I use my Club Card membership at Safeway, I almost always get a “Thank you, Mr. Bretschneider.” There's a perfectly good reason for this, having nothing to do with electronic music, but I won't go into that here. There's also a perfectly good reason for Kelly, when she uses her Club Card membership, being called “Mrs. Dodson,” but I won't go into that either.

Michaelangelo Antonioni & Ingmar Bergman

We lost at least two great filmmakers last week. Michaelangelo Antonioni, in particular, was a favorite of mine. Rather distant right now from the up-to-the-minute cinephilia of the internet, I found out several days after the fact. I still don't know the particulars of his death, but for now, I choose to think that, like Anna in L'Avventura, he's merely absented himself from the picture. Also, with this cap on his career, I feel I can say from the safe refuge of hindsight that the best Antonioni film of all time is the one with Monica Vitti and the unsatisfactory plot resolution.

Ingmar Bergman also passed away last week. Bergman and I never quite aligned our tastes, yet each time I watch one of his films, I find myself liking it better than the last. So maybe I just need to see more of his work. Fanny and Alexander next, perhaps?

Anyway, I'm sure the two are having quite a discussion in that giant screening room in the sky. Mostly about women, I expect.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


We just can't stay away from Belgium. We took a day trip to Liege, the third largest city in Belgium, and the closest big city to Köln. We arrived around noon, and walked around the old and new centers of the city, enjoying the beautiful weather. Liege is also the town where the Dardenne brothers (directors of fine films like Rosetta, The Son and L'Enfant) are from. Imagine our surprise, when sitting by the Cathedral (which seems nice and all, but pales in comparison to the Dom in Köln) eating lunch, we see Luc Dardenne crossing the plaza. Rather I should say Chris saw him and, to let me know of the spotting, he kicked me. Chris refrained from approaching him, though I think he regretted that later.

This great store front has led us to quite a debate. Is this pineapple-print swimsuit "classic" or "sexy"?

So, who are we kidding, one of the real reasons to take a trip to Belgium was to indulge in some fine Belgian beer. Armed as usual with some suggestions from our fine Eurpoean beer guide, we were very sad to find that the two closest to the center and the train station were closed due to renovations or had changed ownership. The other two suggestions were outside the center, so we hadn't planned on visiting them. But that all changed, as Chris impressed me with his French and figured out how to take a bus across the river, to find La Vaudrée. Turns out it was also close to another Liege train station, where we could board our train back to Köln later that night. Sitting outside in the sun, we started in on the binders listing 1080 different Belgian beers! However, we did manage to stump our waiter, and my first two attempts to order were not in stock.

Trying to Catch Me Ridin' Dirty

In an attempt to fit in more with the Germans, Chris had two options: the first was to get a faux-hawk, the second was to get a bike. In the long run, the bike seemed like a better investment (and a lot cheaper than the money spent on hair product). We picked up a fairly inexpensive used bike at one of the rotating Saturday Bike Markets. Unfortunately, within a few days the rear tire had gone flat, so we had to embark on the task of changing a tire. That is when we really got dirty. But we succeeded and all appears to be in order, and we did enjoy that feeling of great accomplishment after completing our task. All you bike riders would probably laugh at how long it really took us to do this, and may say we didn't have the full experience, since we changed the tire in the dry comfort of our kitchen, instead of on the side of the road. Now for those of you unfortunate enough to have some fine lyrics of Chamillionaire stuck in your head after reading the title of the post, let me try to help you with that. Instead I propose the catchy lyrics of C&C Music Factory's "Things that make you go hmm," which we sing almost every time we pass the car in the photo on our way to the grocery store or bus. That's right, it's a good old NYPD Police car. Don't ask us how it ended up in Köln, or if it even works, since we have never seen it move, but it always leaves a little smile on our face.

Recently Played: Tomorrow, Pink Floyd

Since we're on the topic of bicycles, how 'bout some two-wheeled 1967 psychedelia?

Tomorrow – My White Bicycle
Pink Floyd – Bike

Now, I don't mean to blow your mind, but note a striking resemblance between the bike described in that early Floyd track and my own, recently acquired bike. Its got a basket... A bell that rings... Things to make it look good.... Not to put too fine a point on it, but the similarity is uncanny. Dan Treacy may know where Syd Barrett lived, but I have a sneaking suspicion I know where his bike went....

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Recently Played: Irma Thomas - "It's Raining"

After a sunny June, Köln has endured something of a dismal July. Rihanna ain't just whistlin' “Dixie” - the umbrella is the hot accessory this summer. I think we've had three or four hot days here this month, though we're told we missed a couple more while we were in Seattle. Yesterday, luckily, was one of them. I sweated myself into a satisfying stank just reading along the Rhein. Later that evening, Kelly and I began making plans for the weekend, charged by this pleasant turn in the weather. This morning Kelly woke up early and got in a run under an only partly cloudy sky, but by the time I'd stirred, the rain had returned. In an exercise of unprecedented restraint, not one Annie Lennox lyric crossed my lips.

With all this in mind, I offer a lovely, melancholy song from the unrivaled Soul Queen of New Orleans. In addition to being climate-appropriate, Irma's words express better than I could just how much I miss my Seattle peeps.

Irma Thomas – It's Raining (1961)

Shout out to my cinephiles out there, who will no doubt recognize this track from Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law, and may even recall Irma Thomas's gumbo recipe from Les Blank's Mardi Gras documentary, Always For Pleasure. And big shout out to all my lovers of great soul music, who've surely suffered a few headaches in amassing the essential Irma recordings – two nearly identical greatest hits collections (this one and this one) and one various artists compilation (this utterly essential one) being mandatory to acquiring just her five best cuts.

This is one of Ms. Thomas' much-loved Minit Records singles, some of which have still not surfaced on CD (more headaches!). In addition to capturing that slippery magic of the glimpse of still-undiscovered greatness, the Minit records carry the additional cachet of being produced and sometimes written by Allen Toussaint.

As for the weather, if the weekend forecast is to be trusted, we should have some sunshine this weekend, part of which we hope to spend just across the border in Belgium.

Galleries in Köln

Reliable resource Brian K. Wood (leading scholar on contemporary Egyptian art, writer for Bidoun Magazine, and more recently of the Tribeca Film Society) just tipped me to this very handy website gathering information on the current showings of a number of local galleries. It's the perfect cure for a lazy afternoon!

Die Volkshochschule Köln

Just over an hour ago I registered for a German class at Die Volkshochschule, a city college centrally located a block or so from Neumarkt, next to the public library. The building has these crazy elevators. They have no doors, and run continuously (kinda like an escalator). You step into it when a platform appears, grab a handrail, and quickly hop off when you've arrived at your floor. Makes me feel like a coal miner.

As for the class, it's an intensive, two-month course, with five-hour sessions five days per week. For the record, there are other, less exacting courses available, both during the day and in the evening, but since I'm not working, I figured I'd go whole-hog. The VHS's courses are pretty affordable, running approximately EU 2,00 per hour of instruction. My class begins on the 13th of August, and the kicker is that each daily session begins at 8:15am (Annamarie, in particular, should find this amusing). This means leaving our Marienburg place at about 7:30. Once we move to more permanent digs in September, I can probably leave a little later.

Anyway, it'll be nice having a little more structure to my day. Since returning from Seattle last week I've been trudging through two books (Scratches by Michel Leiris, and The Woman at the Keyhole by Judith Mayne) that haven't really inspired a lot of excitement in me. I do worry, however, that this class will stall further forays in Proust.

Empty Theaters, Open Sea, And Polar Bears In Düsseldorf

Friday, while Kelly was giving a talk at an A.G. conference, I checked out the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf's contemporary art museum, split into two spaces referred to briefly as K20, and K21. K20's feature exhibition was a retrospective of large-scale photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto. I've always liked his pictures, but I think this might've been the first chance I've had to see them outside cramped reproductions from library books.

The first room of photos consisted of a half dozen or so of Sugimoto's seascape photos, each maybe 4' x 4' in size, and all black-and-white. An artist statement quoted on the wall described these as attempts to capture images we might experience as “primitive man” might have. Initially, Sugimoto thought of Mt. Fuji as a subject, but found that too much of the surrounding landscape had changed. Open water, however, is less subject to change, "immutable." Hauntingly beautiful, too - the stillness of the water and hovering mist, the sheer bigness of both the sea and the sky, and the striking lack of people or solid ground lends each photo a sort of otherworldly quiet, and seems to demand at least a little awe. I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something familiar about these. I already knew this series of photos, so in part I was recalling that, but I also felt like I'd actually been in such a position, staring at nothing but sea in front of me. Yet I can't think of any opportunity I'd have had. From a plane, sure – but that's a very different vantage point, and certainly a different situation. Maybe I dreamt it? I didn't have much chance to ponder this question, as I was distracted by the difficulty of actually seeing the sea in these dim, hazy photos. Each was positioned in a large glass frame, the glass hovering a little above the surface of the print. The glass spotlessly clean, and the room flooded with light, I had to fight my own reflection to make out the barely defined seam where the water and the sky meet, sometimes elusive even without this added obstacle. This was annoying, but also sort of interesting. By overlapping the insistent fact of the glass's surface over its own transparency, I was denied an opportunity to forget myself in these potentially contemplative images of nature. There's the ocean, this unfathomably vast, elemental thing. And there's skinny ol' me. Another viewer might succeed in reconciling these things – the self and the transcendental – but to me they were at odds. It's incredibly easy to lose the thread of thought about ocean and silence and our insubstantial place in it all with the reflection of your messed-up hair standing defiantly before you. So instead I thought, as I almost always do, of Gerhard Richter. He's painted similar seascapes, but I was thinking more of his works dealing with glass as both window and opaque surface (more on that in a minute). I also thought back to Sugimoto's idea of a shared experience with pre-civilization, which seemed a lot more complicated now. For one, I didn't have get up before dawn to row myself out into some vast body of water, find a quiet spot, and wait for my boat to stop rippling the surface. I'm not freezing my ass off, and I'm not fishing for my breakfast. So I'm not much in a position to be caught off guard by the beauty of the world. In fact, I traveled by tram into the center of Düsseldorf, checked my backpack and coat, and paid an admission fee on the assumption that I could reasonably expect, even demand, such an experience. As for primitive man, he/she isn't interrupted by this glass frame obstacle, and isn't surrounded by fashionable Europeans thoughtfully stroking their chins in a ritual of shared appreciation. Not to mention, primitive man isn't seeing the sea and sky in silvery black-and-white. Such are the oddities of the ol' “white cube,” I suppose...

Next I took in the room of photos of empty theaters. There were some pictures of vacant drive-ins, but more striking to me were the decorous interiors of huge auditoriums, some swanky to the point of gaudiness, with their empty rows of chairs and the glowing blank screens. Again, there's that sense of haunting bigness, although somewhat different. I also liked the interest in these photos in something I tend to overlook merely as a setting for one of my favorite pastimes (being a big moviegoer). There was a short documentary video on Sugimoto showing as well. I walked in and sat down before realizing that it was narrated in German. Too bad. But here I was, alone, sitting in an empty theater of sorts. A small, minimal gallery screening room with stackable chairs, as opposed to, say, the Ohio Theater, but no less ostentatious. It seemed I was looking through Sugimoto lenses now...

Another room featured photos of dioramas from New York's Museum of Natural History. At first glance, they appear to be photos of actual captured-in-the-field scenes. Well, sorta. Some depict dinosaurs, and the over-neat compositions quickly betray a staginess that eventually reveals the gimmick (and bring to mind the fashionable names of Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky). These were great. I couldn't find any online pics of my favorite, a prehistoric undersea scene (trilobites in the hizza!), so the bizarrely bloodless seal slaughter depicted above will have to do.

And for the mathematically-minded out there, there was a small series of photos of mathematical forms. I couldn't make head or tail of the equations summarized on the title cards, but the pictures sure were purty. These reminded of some drawings by Lun-Yi Tsai that Kelly and I saw in Seattle this spring, which were inspired by the research of some of Kelly's UW colleagues.

The final room presented some highlights of 20th century architecture. Think Mies van der Roe, Frank Lloyd Wright, the World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building, etc. In this series, Sugimoto pulls the images slightly out of focus, giving the sleek structures some softness around the edges. Very nice, and made me think again of Richter, this time his painted portraits of photographic imprecision. Apparently, K20 caught this vibe too, because the very next room was filled exclusively with Richter work, including one of the glass sculptures I'd been thinking of back in the first room, similar to the one below.

After I finished with K20, I trekked over to K21, a fifteen minute walk. On the way, I passed numerous posters advertising the Sugimoto show at K20. I also passed this ad, which seemed to have the last word on my morning.

Unfortunately, K21 didn't have much I hadn't seen before (figuratively, not necessarily literally). Despite the implications of the name, I'd say most of the stuff housed there actually dates from the second half of the 20th Century. Maybe I'd maxed out my receptiveness to the whole art museum thing by this point, but I really wasn't feeling K21. Except, perhaps, for the full-time security guard watching over a room solely containing two cheap television sets playing semi-obscene Paul McCarthy videos (dating from 1975, by the way). Let's say, speaking hypothetically, I kicked in both screens. Would the replacement cost exceed the weekly security expense? It wouldn't. This fact I appreciated more than anything on display at K21.

Recently Played: A Full Crate Of DJ Premier

Over a month of blogging, and no hip-hop?!? I hate to think what people are saying about us! Let's get this remedied right here and now. If you listen to hip-hop, I know you love DJ Premier. Because if you don't love DJ Premier, you clearly aren't listening to hip-hop. July's seen me on a full-blown Primo binge, as Kelly can wearily attest. I made the mistake of looking at an online discography page, and since then each minute without an mp3 of “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” has been a torture no man should be forced to endure. I still don't have that song, but I do have for you a few you probably already know, and a few that you maybe haven't heard. Each jumps out from the needle-drop as top-shelf Premier, built on a trainspotter's dream of only the finest hip-hop, jazz, soul, and funk. (A warning to sensitive ears – these all rate at least a PG13 for language.)

Mos Def – Mathematics (1999)

Were I introducing rap music to somebody for the first time, this'd be one of the songs I'd play. The numerical conceit continues through the whole song, and works better than this sorta gimmick almost ever does (though GZA's hyper-dexterous “Labels” is another fine exception to the rule). A cynical state-of-the-union address cast as a numbers game, “Mathematics” avoids the obligatory crack-rap, doesn't come off as preachy, and assumes a broad scope that even a middle-class white kid like me can nod head to without feeling like a total cultural tourist. As for the backing music, this is one of Premier's more minimal tracks (though not so pared down as his turn on KRS-One's classic “Outta Here”), giving the spotlight to Mos. Still, there's no question who we're listening to once you get to the “chorus that isn't,” a quick-firing sonic collage of vocal samples (including one from the greatest MC working today) that is the Premier trademark. An added bonus for fellow expats: Mos's “16 onces to a pound, 20 more to a key” comes in handy when trying to get a handle on the metric system.

Cormega – Dirty Game (2006?)

I found this on eMusic on some Source Magazine compilation, and I sincerely doubt I'll ever hear Mega sound better. Best known for his relationship (or, at times, lack of relationship) with Queens' most successful son, Nas (himself a longtime DJ Premier collaborator). As is his wont, he talks a lot about his prison bid here, but this time with focus. If his rhymes fall short of a revelation, they never fail to sound like the work of a man at pains to make the very most of an opportunity to work with hip-hop's greatest producer (something Madd Science might've considered trying). For Premier's part, he uses his turntables to splice together disparate vocal samples into what seems like a single thematic anchor, and that's why he's the best. Not to mention, this beat is all heart, with dramatic strings and a downbeat that sounds like the world-weary sigh that Cormega surely let out after he finished recording his vocal track.

Royce Da 5'9” - Boom (2002)

Five-foot-nine-inches isn't remarkably short, so I've never been sure at what point this measurement became part of Royce's identity, but whatevs. Royce is one of the most confident-sounding MCs in hip-hop, and perhaps because of this, his collaborations with Primo have always been standouts. Pretty standard issue hip-hop stuff – ridiculously big boasts, a persistent snare march, and a trunk-rattling low-end – but when does that ever sound this good? Royce's new album is on the way with more Primo beats, and in the meantime there's an all-Primo mixtape out there.

Rakim – It's Been A Long Time (1997)

Formerly of the classic Eric B & Rakim combo, Rakim belongs at or near the top of every list of the greatest MCs of all time. Back in the mythical days of '88, Big Daddy Kane was probably the only MC who could touch the hem of his garment, and even today he spits like the reigning champ. This track was like a homecoming, Rakim striking a John Lennon pose and calling his return the most hotly awaited “since Jesus.” For his biggest fans, there was indeed something rapturous about his first collaborations with Premier. This track is also one of the better examples of the ways Premier often manipulates these samples on the turn table, mining from blunt verbal delivery a roughly melodic quality. As a final word on Rakim, his records with Eric B can be a real hassle to track down on vinyl in the US (all of them having been bought up by Germany!), but his two solo CDs (both featuring multiple Premier productions) can almost always be found in the used bins for under $6.

Gang Starr – Next Time (1998)

Who am I kidding, I can't post on Premier without throwing in a Gang Starr track. Teaming up with Guru's monotone bragging, Gang Starr was Premier's priority project for years, and it was largely through Gang Starr that he built his reputation. From their second album all the way to 2003's underrated The Ownerz, every album they dropped was worth well more than the fifteen dollar price tag. But you know this....

In recent Primo news, dude has a show on Sirius radio, co-hosted with Big Shug, his cohort of choice these days. And because you're all such sweethearts, I'm going to tell you a secret: it's also available as a free Podcast! Finally, whatchya know about this little Nike-commissioned number? Featuring Kanye, Nas, KRS, and Rakim, the title says it all: a classic right outta the box. And Primo sounding better than he's ever been.

DJ Premier – Classic (2007)