When is a collective not a collective? When it's the Manchester, England-based turntablist group known as Jeep Beat Collective.
"The Jeep Beat Collective is 100 percent me," group-founder and -leader Ruf (born Dave Davies), 27, said last week from the Manchester office of his Ruf Beats label.
"I do all the production and bring in different DJs to do some of the scratching," he added. "Basically, I look for people whose technique I admire and get them to scratch over my tracks."
In other words, Ruf -- who is awaiting the Nov. 24 release of JBC's American-debut album, Technics Chainsaw Massacre -- uses DJs the same way pop and rock producers have used armies of nameless, faceless studio musicians over the years.
It's not exactly a collective effort, but neither were the debut albums of industrial-rockers Nine Inch Nails, the quirky, keyboard-driven rock-band the Rentals or the experimental-pop group Forest For the Trees -- all essentially one-man shows, filled out by a small group of collaborators.
Ruf has been involved in England's hip-hop scene since 1991. He worked a little in pirate radio here, ran a shop there, and released records on Ruf Beats as rapper Mind Bomb and as Godfather of Weird, for what Ruf characterizes as his "spooky beats" project. He started making albums under the name Jeep Beat Collective in 1994, with the goal of spotlighting his DJ prowess.
In the past four years, the quasi-group has released two albums, Attack of the Wildstyle Beatfreaks and for Jimi Hendrix, as well as a remix album, called Repossessed Wildstyles.
Technics Chainsaw Massacre is a 19-track, 82-minute sampling of works from those three albums, which never were released in the United States. The sounds presented on the compilation reflect Ruf's love of scratch-based hip-hop.
Snippets of sounds from such artists as James Brown, Ice-T, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, the Jungle Brothers, KRS-One and Tears for Fears bob and weave over dense background collages that demand headphones and concentration, even as they summon the listener to the dance floor.
"Hip Hop Hate Pt. 3" (RealAudio excerpt), for example, features a loop from an Indian orchestral work as its base, providing a foundation for Ruf's specially selected army of DJs to cut in psychedelic sounds and a sample of rapper KRS-One saying, "Rap is something you do/ hip-hop is something you live."
"Relax Yo Mind" uses a hook from Tears For Fears' '80s techno-pop hit, "Head Over Heels," as a bridge between scratching sessions that feature the "sit back, relax, listen to some hip-hop" line from "Ham & Eggs" by the New York rap-group A Tribe Called Quest.
The album will hit U.S. stores Nov. 24 on Bomb Records, the hip-hop indie label responsible for the critically acclaimed Return of the DJ series that introduced a track by Jeep Beat Collective, "The Bomb Drops," on its first volume.
"When I first started this, no one was scratching in hip-hop [in England], and when you did hear it, it was like, 'What the f---?' " Ruf said. "Not to bug out or anything, but if it hadn't been for [Bomb Records founder] Dave Paul's Return of the DJ and Attack of the Wildstyle Beatfreaks ... I don't think you'd see so many DJs out here trying to put music out."
"[Jeep Beat Collective are] cool. I respect them," said DJ Rhettmatic (born Nazareth Nirza), 29, a member of the Beat Junkies, the International Turntablist Federation team champions. "You've got a lot of DJ crews coming out now, so for one to stand out these days, they really have to be incredible."
Ruf said he works hard to keep up with and surpass the growing competition. But he added that he often uses a highly informal method of assembling the music for tracks such as "Trapped" (RealAudio excerpt), "The Scratch Assassin" and "Nah, Nope It's Dope."
"It's basically just what's around at the time," Ruf explained. "My style is just finding the cuts and producing the song and bringing in people to do the scratches. I try and push them to do different things, something they always may have wanted to try but never did before."
Although Ruf said it isn't unusual for him to work with his DJs on certain scratches for an hour before he finds the sound he is searching for, he made the point that a great record is more than just its rhythm.
"I recently had the pleasure of meeting [pioneering, hip-hop DJ] Afrika Bambaataa," Ruf said, "[and he] reminded me that the musicianship is just as important as the beats.
"If you have too much scratching or too intense a sound collage, you're missing out on a good piece of music," Ruf continued. "Some of these DJs need to take some time to actually analyze the music they're making. I think my music, frankly, is a bit more inspirational."