“Life’s a Bitch,” but hey, just remember, “The World is Yours.” These are two of the tracks from Nas’s classic platinum LP Illmatic. The songs also appear on the recently released The Elmatic Instrumentals by the funk/jazz/soul/hip-hop-inspired Detroit band known as Will Sessions.
Will Sessions are led by twenty-six year old trumpeter/pianist/arranger Sam Beaubien. The band, which includes a saxophonist (Justin Jozwiak), bassist (Tim Shellabarger), guitarist (Ryan Gimpert), and a banging percussion section (Bryan Arnold and Eric Kacir), has found a home performing at the famous Motor City Funk Night in Detroit. They have backed up and/or collaborated with some of the best artists from the area, including Mayer Hawthorne, Black Milk, Slum Village and Guilty Simpson. A compilation of some of their performances on these nights was released online at Stones Throw Records for a free download.
In May of 2011, Detroit-based rapper Elzhi released a mixtape entitled eLmatic, both as an homage to Nas’s original Illmatic and as a showcase of his own talent (he does have skills, people.) The beats for this mixtape, which stay true to the originals from Illmatic, were recreated by Beaubien and recorded with his band Will Sessions. So, it is as of early this month that the instrumentals to eLmatic have been finally released, both on CD and on wax (vinyl), via Fat Beats Records.
The Elmatic Instrumentals recreates all 10 of the original beats from scratch, bringing an entirely new listening experience and level of depth to the original. The bass on “Detroit State of Mind” (a new take on “N.Y. State of Mind”) is much more ominous than the original. If Miles Davis made gangster music it would definitely sound like this.
“Life’s a Bitch” is incredibly relaxing, sounding like a laid-back Sunday afternoon, with a funky guitar and an almost smooth jazz vibe. The best part about this song, which is definitely a departure from the original, is the extended trumpet solo in the middle of the song. The piano on “The World is Yours” is impeccable, and, coupled with the scratching, makes this recreation one of the standouts. The track makes you feel like you’re in the freshest elevator on the planet (probably somewhere in SoHo).
“Halftime” sounds almost entirely new. The haunting vocals in the background make this track an auditory walk through a hip-hop graveyard. The tambourine moves the song along even better than the original, and, as with all of the songs on here, the drums hit harder than ever. “Memory Lane” is a prime example of this, with the breakbeat hitting you from the jump. The track also includes deft scratching that harkens back to DJ Premier’s timeless cuts on the one’s and two’s (he fully endorses the album by the way, and his reaction to a number of songs is online). “One Love” recalls the beautiful orchestration of Marvin Gaye’s little known blaxploitation soundtrack Trouble Man, while “Represent” evokes as many visions of thug life in New York as Nas’ intricate narratives.
This album is a testament to the incredible and lasting impact that hip-hop producers have across all genres, taking bits and pieces of music from elsewhere to create something entirely new. The Elmatic Instrumentals serves in demonstrating the extraordinary ear for musical composition and rhythm that the producers involved in making Illmatic shared. If anything, you can make your dinner party simultaneously classy and gangster by throwing this Will Sessions record on the turntable.