"You've Come A Long Way, Baby"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
There are two kinds of (good) hip-hop producers. Those who are honestly great at drawing beats from a keyboard and other electronic devices (The Neptunes) and those who have a huge mental library of music and know how to sample from it (Rick Rubin, Kanye West). All these producers have the benefit of a rapper singing over them. If the beat is good, you get kudos. If the beat is bad, people just pay attention to the lyrics. If both are bad, the rapper gets off worse than you. Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook and similar "Big Beat" era electronic artists have more at risk: If their beats suck, there's no one to take the fall.
If Cook were to be lumped into the two categories I listed above, he's much more of the latter than the former. Like all producers, he at least dabbles in composing, but "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" demonstrates that he's at his best when sampling. Three of the tracks on this record are strictly homemade, and they're among the more boring of the collection. "Acid 8000" might be better for the clubbing/Ecstasy demographic, but it doesn't hold up to the hits on the same disc. Cook has a disadvantage to some degree with programming. As of 1998, the technology that's available to modern dubstep producers was lacking. Plus Cook preferred less advanced equipment, even for the time, such as his Roland 303 bass synth.
I always try to highlight the tracks you've never heard before, but on occasion, the public latches onto the songs that best emphasize the points I want to make. On "Baby," the tracks that exemplify Cook's mashing skills are the immortal "The Rockefeller Skank" and "Praise You," which also got pretty darn popular, but can be forgiven for not embedding itself in the listener's brain like "Skank." The title, "The Rockefeller Skank," might not ring a bell, but everyone will recognize its hook, which continues to befuddle listeners today: "Right about now, the funk soul brother." Whether the line made sense in its original use, British rapper Lord Finesse on "Vinyl Dog Vibe," is of little matter. Stacking hip-hop on Duane Eddy-surf guitar made for one of the hardest songs ever to get out of your head.
For all the hook that "Rockafeller" possesses, it doesn't live up to the album's first single, "Praise You." Whereas the last track caught an audience by matching modern hip-hop with old school rock 'n' roll, "Praise" is strictly soulful in its approach. The spoken-word vocals of Camille Yarbrough mesh up perfectly with a simple piano riff borrowed from a stock music disc, and the result is a single that lives up to the dance potential of "Rockafeller, while maintaining a genuine feel-good vibe, especially when compared to less mature tracks on the album, such as "Fucking in Heaven."
If there's anything negative to be said of Cook's music, it's that his limited technology catches up to him. Every track but one exceeds five minutes, and the producer relies on the same tricks throughout to fill space. In particular, his use of a stutter effect to slow the pace (usually towards the end of a track), gets repetitive by the end of the album. However, the singles, and there are quite a few on "Baby," are well worth it.
INTERESTING FACT: Cook had some qualified help making music videos for his singles on "Baby." Screenwriter Roman Coppola directed the video for "Gangster Trippin'" and Spike Jonze, Oscar-award winning for Best Director for "Adaptation," handled "Praise You," which you should watch.