Counterpoint Records & Books in Hollywood, Calif., is the perfect mining ground for the specific gems that DJs' radars are attuned to. With rows and stacks and piles, Counterpoint has the look, feel and smell of the nostalgic neighborhood shop that has been on the same corner for 50 years — a place where you distinctly feel history soulfully resting and the location where DJ Nu-Mark brings it back to life.
In the early '90s, Nu-Mark fell in with two hip-hop crews, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee, at the now-defunct Good Life Café open-mic sessions in South Central Los Angeles. The groups joined forces to form hip-hop's long-awaited messiah, Jurassic 5. Many credit the group with making hip-hop interesting again, and two men were responsible for the refreshingly original beats behind the miracle: One was a fellow by the name of Cut Chemist; the other was DJ Nu-Mark.
When J5's sophomore effort, Power in Numbers (Interscope), hit the shelves in 2002, the group had absolutely no idea how fitting the title would eventually prove to be. The album moved more units worldwide than anyone anticipated, allowing Nu-Mark and the gang to expose their uniquely progressive sound to much of the planet.
Between touring with Jurassic 5 and creating drum solos on his Akai MPC2000, Nu-Mark also found the time to construct a couple solo projects of his own. Later this year, he will release Blend Crafters (Up Above), “an instrumental EP that was inspired by listening to other people's beat tapes,” Nu-Mark says. But until then, his long-awaited debut solo mix CD, Hands On (Sequence, 2004), will do just fine.
With cuts including appearances by J-Live and Jurassic 5's resident baritone, Chali 2na, Nu-Mark takes the listener on a smoothed-out funky soul ride into the uncharted neverlands of hip-hop. “The soul stuff is just the way I like to get into a mix,” Nu-Mark says. “I like to warm up everyone's ears to funk, 4/4 time and stuff like that. Then, there's the international stuff. If you leave the States, the majority of music that you hear is American. It was one of those gaps I paid attention to, so I figured, ‘Hey, maybe I can keep a tradition of having a little international section on mixtapes, especially if the beats are dope.’”
And dope material is what he's after today at Counterpoint, where his first stop is the 45s. “The last time I was here was, like, two years ago, and I got some good 45s, so I figured I'd pick up where I left off,” he says.
With the exception of Little Sonny's 1992 release Black & Blue, not a single record in his final stack is younger than 20 years old. “I look for stuff between 1968 and '74,” Nu-Mark reveals. “In my opinion, that's when stuff sounded the grittiest; it had the best texture. Technology didn't have the chance to catch up with the way they constructed the 2-inch tape. They put a chemical in there to stop the tape from sticking together, but that chemical made the sound very sterile. You could feel punch in it, but it's like plastic punch. You could hear bass, but it's not as gritty. It's just one of those things.”
He pauses and chuckles. “It's funny how all the stuff the masses bought back in the day is still lying around, but all the stuff you never heard of, people are breaking their backs to get,” he says. Here's what Nu-Mark walked out with (and his back is still fine):
THE ART OF NOISE
Into Battle With the Art of Noise (Island)
I have three copies of this record already, but mine are a bit beat down. This is a hip-hop classic record. “Beat Box” is one of the most famous breakin' records ever; it's really solid. And then “Moments in Love” is one of my favorite slow songs ever. I got this one because this is mint. Mine are trashed from years of neglect.
Gotta Groove (Volt)
This record I've always wanted, but I've never seen it at a decent price, so I never got it. The whole album is tight. It's a funky, soulful record that's a necessity if you're digging for soul. They're good, funky, solid songs that you can play out, and there are little riffs you can take to manipulate.
“The Hunch” (Anna)
Here's another 45. This song isn't good at all, but in the middle of it, there's this little vocal bit of a lady saying, “C'mon gang!” so I can always use that with the group [Jurassic 5]. There are five members, so I can always use something to keep bridges moving along — another open vocal bit. I rarely shop for open vocal bits, so I've been trying to catch up lately.
“Honky Tonk Train” (Aladdin)
I dig this one. It's another 45. I was drawn to the record because of the label. It says, “Los Angeles — Nineteen — California,” in writing. I like that. It's dope. But it starts off with an instrument pretending like it's a choo-choo train speeding up; then, it goes into ragtime piano, and that's something I've always wanted to learn, ragtime piano, so this might be a good home base to learn.
“Soul Cargo” (Fat Fish)
It's on a 45. I picked it because there's a good vocal bit in the beginning. The groove is all right; it's not knocking me down, but I'm always looking for open vocal bits, so this is a winner for that category.
Up the Down Staircase (United Artists)
This is a great motion-picture soundtrack. The whole album sounded pretty good, but I got it mainly because there's a bunch of open instrumental bits, little hits and stabs and stuff like that. It varies between many different types of music just within one song, so I'll be able to use it for something; I just don't know what. I'll probably end up chopping it up. And it's in mint condition — can't beat that.
Black & Blue (Enterprise)
This album surprised me — beats, it's got beats. It has two-and-a-half beats on here, and that's good for an album. The drums were open, and there are good harmonica riffs that I can use in a set that I want to do. This is a solid soul record, for sure. I didn't know about it. I was sleeping. I just gave it a shot because it looked cool. It looked like it would be a jazz record, but it's totally not. It's like a New Orleans — sounding funk record.
High on the Seas (Sussex)
I've seen this record before and couldn't remember if it was good or not. It's all right, but I've always wanted the sound that's like the dream sequence — that squiggly, hypnotic dream sound. And they have that at the beginning of this record. I've had to use that a few times and never had the proper means to do it. So I went for it because the price is right again. It's got that instrumental bit of that dream sequence, the harp and the sea coming in.
Negro Prison Songs From Mississippi State Penitentiary (Tradition)
This is dope! This record is dope. Yup, this is the find of the day. The cover is awesome, man! We should have had homie take a picture of the cover. Well, actually, no, because then people would bite. But I just love the sun outside of the prison. It's just bugged-out. It's just good vocal bits of actual inmates singing and stomping inside the prison — good record, good vocal bits, probably worth a lot of money. That's the shit.