VA: Well Deep
Big Dada

Anyone new to Big Dada will get a superb introduction to the British imprint's audacious hip-hop style with Well Deep, a two-hour collection that spreads thirty one tracks across two CDs (there's also a separately-issued DVD that contains thirty videos and a half-hour label documentary). Though it's billed as a ten-year overview, the set's earliest cut stems from 1999 and most come from 2003 on. Roots Manuva's opener “Movement” is the earliest track but its easy flow hardly sounds dated, especially when Rodney Smith's vocal delivery is as distinctive as Christopher Walken's.

Will Ashon, who operated the label full-time from 1997 until 2005, envisioned the imprint as a home for musical misfits and pioneers, and many tracks are true to that vision. Grime kingpin Wiley blazes through “My Mistakes” and “50/50,” “Dead Dogs Two” by the now defunct cLOUDDEAD (Anticon brethren Dose One, why? and Odd Nosdam) gets a boost from remixers Boards of Canada, and Parisian trio TTC imputes a heavy electronic production feel to the set with “Dans le Club.” Indicative of just how far Big Dada's purview extends beyond hip-hop, Diplo's “Diplo Rhythm” hammers and chugs irrepressibly, especially during its “Tour de France” passages. In addition, Spank Rock's funk-bomb “Sweet Talk” is as much James Brown and Prince as it is hip-hop, and Part 2's “Hard Times” funkily riffs on Bob Marley's “Concrete Jungle.”

The album's filled with arresting touches, like the way smooth raconteur Ty slurs “Bruuut” during the jazz-funk hip-hop of “The Tale,” the ferocity with which Mike Ladd's Infesticons lays into the boombastic “Night Night Theme,” the sweet gypsy violin that enlivens New Flesh's “Wherever We Go,” and the insistent bass-funk that propels Gamma's “Slang Teacher.” Disc one's the more bullet-proof of the two—I can easily live without the second half's overly-repetitive “Stick & Move” by New Flesh, cLOUDDEAD's sluggish “Physics of a Bicycle” and Infinite Livez's annoyingly-busy “Worcestershire Sauce,” and Busdriver's 78-rpm style that may be dexterous but is wearisome too—but the set's worth having for representing so solidly the label's range. Best of all, Big Dada's forward-thinking style proves there's more to hip-hop subject matter than depressing tales of gangsta wars and misogyny.

December 2007