There are scant few hip-hop albums which sample from one artist exclusively. The one exception I can think of is Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, but that doesn’t count, because it’s really just an hour long mashup, rather than a Jay-Z record on its own. Though I am hesitant to say that Oh No’s Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms is the first of its kind, it’s certainly a rarity. The premise is this: Galt MacDermot, composer of Hair, gave Mike Jackson (otherwise known as Oh No) free reign over his catalog, and Exodus is the result.
On a surface level, Exodus doesn’t necessarily seem all that unusual of a hip-hop record. Without the knowledge that all of the samples come from MacDermot’s catalog, one probably wouldn’t come to the conclusion on his own. Yet because of the connection to one artist’s catalog, there’s a certain cohesiveness to it that certainly defies explanation as mere coincidence. From the fanfare of “Beware” to the jazzy suspense in the celebration/lament “Black,” the musical aspect of Exodus is nearly flawless. In the same way that other producers have transformed the works of David Axelrod and Quincy Jones into sublime musical beds, Oh No’s transformation of MacDermot’s work is magnificent and triumphant.
Paradoxically, however Exodus features no fewer than 20 guest vocalists and rappers appear alongside Madlib’s little bro. Fellow Stones Throw crooner Aloe Blacc lends his pipes to “Second Chance” and “Keep Tryin'”, while Wordsworth shines on the bootstraps-pulling standout “Know Better.” AG fronts the baroquely sinister “Low Coastin’,” and De La Soul’s Posdnuos provides endless enjoyment with the laid back, mega fun “Smile A Lil Bit.” In fact, you can’t help but do just that when you hear it. There’s more Stones Throw family reunification on “T. Biggums,” which not only references Dave Chapelle’s crackhead character, but seems to base an entire narrative on him, Dudley Perkins playing the title character while Georgia Anne Muldrow plays his mother.
My personal favorite is Murs’ high-energy flow on “In This,” a track that could get even the most jaded of scenesters moving. Well, it makes me groove, anyway. In fact, most of Exodus is pretty wonderful. Though the non-stop array of guests becomes dizzying, Oh No’s production keeps it all tightly reined, allowing one track to flow seamlessly into another. I never would have guessed a theatrical composer would have made for such a compelling sample source, but what Oh No does with MacDermot’s work is nothing short of stunning.
Kanye West – Late Registration
Madlib – Shades of Blue
Murs – Murray’s Revenge
MP3: “T. Biggums”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.