This Week In…: Dummy
August 22nd edition of “This Week In…” produced by Mikemetic for Wax Museum Vinyl
Artist Name: Portishead
Release Name: Dummy
Release Date: 22 August 1994
Throughout the 20th century the British were often much more receptive to Black American musicians and culture than most of the general population of the United States. Legendary “Godmother of Rock n Roll” Sister Rosetta Tharpe (who spent some time living in Richmond) was touring across Europe before she was ever acknowledged by the American mainstream, and the first Def Jam Records tour in the 80s took place in Western Europe, not the United States. However, because hip hop audiences generally had a hard time taking rappers with a British patois seriously, the Brits’ real contributions to progressive hip hop in the 80s and early 90s was mostly through the production of artists like The Dust Brothers and Soul II Soul.
The release of Portishead’s debut album Dummy on 22 August 1994 changed the landscape for how many American hip hop heads viewed England’s integration into the emerging global hip hop scene. One of the main standout elements of this album that helped firmly root it in the hip hop community is the heavy usage of turntable cuts and scratches on just about every song. The DJ has always been the defining element of hip hop (people have been talking over drums for many generations) and Andy Smith’s creative cuts blend perfectly with the sample-heavy, boom bap mix of live and electronic production from Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. The final element that maybe most defines this album is the hauntingly angelic, sometimes atonal vocal work of vocalist Beth Gibbons. Her delivery style, tone and timbre all fill out the music to produce something much different than a hip hop album, and is one of the reasons Dummy is considering a landmark album for the “trip hop” genre that emerged in the 90s as a variety of different sound palettes all merged cross genre with hip hop beats.
Portishead’s influence hit hard right here in the Cap City and inspired local emcee Nickelus F to record a whole album over the instrumentals from Dummy. His 2009 album R.A.R.E. (Relieving A Real Experience) caught the attention of Portishead producer Geoff Barrow who offered to bring Nick in to work with him on one of his upcoming projects. The resulting track, “Chucky Balboa”, was released on Barrow’s 2012 Quakers project and features Nick along with Virginia Beach producer/emcee Kid Icarus (together, as the group Silverust) helping to once again bring British beat production stateside in a way that continues to help global hip hop culture evolve in positive ways.