NEW YORK When local DJs Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap put together their new hip-hop compilation The Tunnel, they did so with their most high-profile club gig in mind.
"We been at [the Tunnel] for like eight years. We built it from the ground
up," Flex said earlier this month of the long-running nightspot in a
gigantic building on Manhattan's West Side, near the Hudson River. "[The album] represents all the artists and records that came out of there."
So far, hip-hop fans seem to appreciate their attempt to simulate the raw, freestyling sound Flex and Kap generate during their regular Sunday night sets together at the club. The album debuted this week at #35 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, selling 90,013 copies in its first week of release.
The Tunnel assembles a lineup of hip-hop heavyweights, including Dr. Dre and Eminem, Method Man, Jay-Z, DMX, Juvenile, LL Cool J, Raekwon and Snoop Dogg.
That diversity of rappers and their regional backgrounds (Juvenile is based in New Orleans, Eminem in Detroit, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre in Los Angeles) was not difficult to manage as Flex and Kap prepared the tracks on the album.
"We play worldwide hip-hop in the Tunnel, whether it's West Coast, Dirty South, Miami, New Orleans, wherever it's coming from," Kap said. "If it's good and we like it, we play it, no matter where it's from."
Flex and Kap often traveled to a guest artist's domain for the sessions,
Kap said, doing whatever was needed to make them "comfortable." Flex
produced most of the songs on the LP. Erick Sermon, Rockwilder and Mannie Fresh also contributed tracks.
The songs are designed to accommodate the styles of the guest artists. For instance, "If I Get Locked Up" (RealAudio excerpt) gives Eminem a foundation for the conversational, defiant rhyming style he used this spring on his hit album The Slim Shady LP.
The arrangement on that track uses violins and horns to decorate the beat with R&B splendor. "My head is achin'/ I'm dedicating/ To medication/ But this med is taking too long to bring this seda-tation," Eminem raps, as he ruminates about drug abuse.
"For My Thugs" (RealAudio excerpt) is a no-nonsense anthem featuring Jay-Z rapping with his protégés Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Amil. The track uses almost no instrumentation besides a drum machine and an ominous keyboard loop. "Some are for the ladies, but this is for my thugs," Jay-Z declares in the chorus.
The first four minutes of The Tunnel establish that Flex and Kap had no intention to be reserved or restrained on the compilation. In the introduction, the rapper Pain in da Ass offers a profanity-laced challenge to club-goers. "The Tunnel is like unprotected sex, n---a!" he shouts. "It may sound good, but it's f--king dangerous. We motherf--king ghetto. We like a project party, bitch."
That's followed by a live snippet of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
(who were both killed in separate incidents three years ago) improvising
a rap together at Madison Square Garden in 1993. "Biggie/Tupac Live Freestyle" (RealAudio excerpt) finds the two at their nastiest, insulting the hip-hop competition.
"We didn't want to short ourselves on artists, so we put our heads together and went for what we like and the people we like," the 29-year-old Kap (born Keith Carter) said.
Compilations are nothing new for Flex (born Aston Taylor Jr.), 32, who also works as a radio DJ and hosts a mix-tape show for New York's WQHT-FM. He's released three volumes of The Mix Tape since 1995. This is the first time he and Kap have put out a project as a team.
They first worked together nine years ago. Kap said their initial gig was intimidating because it marked the first time he had worked a room outside his living room or someone's basement. Flex said that throughout the years, he and Kap have developed a sense of how to work a club.
"When I'm DJing, I'm more concerned about the room," Flex said. "So I'm playing the more cutting-edge stuff that people like, going with the cutting-edge vibe and mixing it with old school and the hits."