With all due respect to Company Flow and their ’97 debut Funcrusher Plus, it was really Rawkus Records’ 2nd album release, ’98′s Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, that propelled the label to global prominence. Its 2 commercially-released videos, “Definition” and “Respiration” featuring Common, got occasional Rap City airplay in the midst of the dominant “shiny suit” videos of that time. But, these videos didn’t need to be viewed much more than once to stay with you. Black Star showed the world that “underground” rap, “conscious” rap, “backpack” rap, or whatever label you want to place on it, wasn’t something to shun and be afraid of — it could actually be pretty dope. And furthermore, it showed that the MCs didn’t need boring production in order to get their points across — the beats could also be dope. Enter Hi-Tek (producer of 6 of Black Star‘s 13 tracks).
The name of the game for Hi-Tek is “versatility”. It’s difficult to pinpoint a production “style” for him, because he employs so many so well. It’s the best explanation for how one Tony Cottrell out of Cincinnati could go from lending beats mainly to Talib Kweli (as one-half of Black Star with Mos Def, or as one-half of the group that Tek co-anchors, Reflection Eternal, which is the closest thing to a “new” Gang Starr hip hop has seen thus far), to working as a staff producer for Aftermath Entertainment, where he has worked on the majority of G-Unit’s releases, as well as participated in the making of Detox (that is, assuming Detox actually exists and/or will exist). It also explains how his Hi-Teknology albums’ guest lists grew from mainly Rawkus-signed artists and local Cincinnati MCs in 2001, to including the likes of Nas, Jadakiss, Ghostface, and Bun B on his 2006 follow-up.
Marco Polo’s Picks
The start of the Rawkus Records era. Peeped this on Soundbombing 1, then heard the 12″. My introduction to Hi-Tek.
Common and Hi-Tek always make bangers, loved Hi-Tek’s 1st solo album.
One of my favorite Hi-Tek joints of all time. What happened to Jonell? [Good question. Homegirl doesn’t even have a MySpace page anymore. What’s up with that? — Buhizzle]
This beat is straight out of the book of classic Dr. Dre/NWA west coast gangsta shit. Bananas!
Another hype joint from Kweli and Tek. This shit gets me amped.
I love pretty much all of Hi-Tek’s 1st album and Reflection Eternal, call it “classic”, “timeless”, whatever. So, outside of all those tracks, here are my picks…
Unreleased cut from The Big Bang, minimal and very mellow yet soulful. Nas is better suited for the beat. Kind of has the feel of “Jesus Walks” with a much lower tempo.
Kind of a random pairing for when it was made (2000). Beanie kind of starts off shaky, but by verse #2, he’s perfect for the back-and-forth knocking drums.
More Rawkus-era goodness from Hi-Tek. It’s odd that he and Mos haven’t worked together as much as you’d expect.
Not an amazing track, but I’ve always been a fan of producers experimenting outside of their standard sounds. This is exactly what Hi-Tek does by reaching out to the underground Bay Area gods and laying down a funky track.
One of Hi-Tek’s best post-Rawkus underground beats, and there have been quite a bit of duds. Good cut.
Hangover Monkey’s Picks
This is easily one of my top 5 hip-hop songs ever, so choosing this for a top Hi-Tek beat is sort of a no brainer. This beat is really genius shit. It starts off so slick then after 30 seconds he gives us drums. Easily one of the best beats ever.
Hi-Tek really gives this track that sort of Latin Revolutionary feel. The beat is dark and, once again, Hi-Tek kills it with his legendary guitar sampling. This was one of my favorites off the Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 2 CD.
I like this track because it has that whole ethereal vibe that can only come from sampling electronic music. The drums are killer on this.
Hi-Tek’s dad is Willie Cottrell and his band’s sound fit perfectly with Ghostface’s soulful style. Hi-Tek put it together and the result was one of the best tracks on More Fish.
I know I’m gonna get some internet hate for putting a track from the unit on my top 5 Hi-Tek. But I really believe that this shit is one of the best Hi-Tek beats. He kills it on the strings, the guitar, the drums, everything! I think if Hi-Tek acted as the sole producer on an entire G-Unit release it would be the best album they ever could possibly make.
I could say that this was one of the better songs off Train Of Thought, but, realistically, that could be said about most of the songs on that album. The subtle, improvisational horns underlying Les Nubians’ beautifully-sung chorus is really harmonic and well-done.
I think, technically, they were Cocoa Brovaz at the time of this track, another selection from the Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 2 compilation, which was definitely underrated despite being a bit unfocused. I mean, Pastor Troy and JT Money on a Rawkus release? That must’ve lost some fans. I couldn’t stand this beat at first, but it definitely grew on me over the years. It’s minimalistic to say the least, but Hi-Tek throws in lots of little tweaks throughout.
If I recall correctly, this track was left off the first Hi-Teknology album due to sample clearance issues. Tek laces an unusually-thuggish Common with a dope piano loop and (what sounds like) wind chimes. What completes this song, though, is the obscure sample of someone saying “Common sense in a ghetto in Chicago” through introduces Common’s verse. I can only imagine how/where Tek found that… unless he recorded it himself, in which case, it’s less impressive, but still tight regardless.
A Snoop Dogg/Nate Dogg/Warren G collaboration album would’ve had people going nuts in 1994… sadly, it came out in 2004, and pretty much no one noticed. Tek’s G-funk-influenced contribution to the album (which actually got some good airplay on LA radio) shows how working closely with Dre had helped him improve as a producer (not that he was ever in need of improvement).
By adding some high-pitched flutes, Tek throws a new twist on heavy-sounding crunk beats with this bonus track from Hi-Teknology 2: The Chip (an album which featured a prominent use of woodwinds). Perhaps the fact that this ended up as a bonus track explains why no one told Snoop how to properly pronounce Kweli’s name?