Herbie Hancock: Herbie Hancock: Future Shock

Trevor MacLaren By

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Herbie Hancock
Future Shock

As with Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come , the title Future Shock says it all. With this record Herbie Hancock busted open jazz in a way that no one could have expected. It may have taken ten or twenty years for the rest of the world to catch up, but the foundation of DJ Spooky and like-minded post-modernists started right here.

Spinning a post apocalyptic view of urban music, Future Shock used hip-hop before it had ever began reaching a mass market. In the days when guys like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash were telling tales of the of inner-city life through poetry styles that originated in Jamaica, Hancock grabbed producer Bill Laswell and "Rockit" came thrashing out of speakers everywhere. With that said, the record may sound dated, but its importance cannot possibly be overstated.

As the seventies came to a close, Herbie had seen these kids sampling his music in the great style known as dub. Dub was more or less the brainchild of Jamaican greats U-Roy and King Tubby and was the predecessor to hip-hop. Dub comes from dubbing (hence the name) instrumental, rhythm-based tracks of reggae and rock-steady that were pressed on B-sides of singles.

These tracks started began showing up in the late sixties on reggae and rock-steady 45's. Soon dancehall DJ's became spinning them and saw people enjoyed singing along in a karaoke style event. As producers and mixers worked the music, it became a legitimate art form. At this time artists began making their lyrics and dub poetry started flying from some of genres elite the most important being U-Roy and his engineer King Tubby. Tubby mixed all of the instrumental tracks for U-Roy's amazing poetry. Tubby would take the layers of each track and mix them, lifting percussion, adjusting levels, and adding reverb and echo. From that point on dub was born.

The hip-hop/turntablism of Grandmaster Flash was at this time emerging in the New York underground. Whereas pioneers The Sugarhill Gang were lighter more pop orientated, Flash had not only killer grooves, but a message from the streets via the poetry of rapper Melle Mel. Songs such as 'White Lines' and 'The Message' were prophesies of urban life and the poverty that destroyed those caught in its web. But his work as a DJ is what flows all over this record. Flash has been credited for being the inventor if such turntable skills as "cutting" (moving between tracks exactly on the beat), "back-spinning" (manually turning records to repeat brief snippets of sound), and "phasing" (manipulating turntable speeds) which are the meat of all spinners today.

Hancock of course is no stranger to controversy. He helped usher in electronics, fusion, funk and avant-garde concepts to the jazz world. Future Shock built on all of those styles in a way no one except Hancock could. Using rap, turntables and hip-hop beats the record twisted in and out of burgeoning styles. Although the jazz community disregarded it then and in many ways still do. But while hip-hop and house music eagerly sampled the record it also became an inspiration for acid jazz.

Looking back at this record, it is very much a product of its time. Although Hancock's records are and were cutting edge, Head Hunters sounds as fresh today as it did upon its release. With Head Hunters the primary root groove of funk has stayed fresh, whereas hip-hop nearly completely turned its back on its roots when it became a commercial commodity in the nineties. Songs such as the title track are dragged down with a mediocrity of bloated vibes that was electronic new wave. Yet on 'TFS' and 'Autodrive' the groove is tight and Herbie's chops cut loose and that's when this record shows its true jazz colors.

Unlike the majority of Hancock's vast catalogue, Future Shock sounds most like a novelty. Don't let this fool you: it is still an important and interesting record for jazz fans to check out. If nothing else this record helps to understand how dub, hip-hop and jazz all merged into the electronica/jazz of today.

Further Listening:
King Tubby ' Roots of Dub ' Clockwork 1995
King Tubby and Friends - The Rod of Correction Showcase - Clockwork 1979
Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Cloak & Dagger - Black Art 1973
Lee 'Scratch' Perry - The Upsetter Box - Trojan 1985
U-Roy - Dread in a Babylon - Caroline 1975
U-Roy - Rasta Ambassador - Caroline 1977
U-Roy - Natty Rebel - Caroline 1991

Early Rap/Turntablism:
Afrika Bambaataa - Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985 - Tommy Boy 2001
Sugarhill Gang - The Best of Sugarhill Gang - Rhino 1996
Grandmaster Flash - The Message - Earmark 1982
Kurtis Blow - Kurtis Blow - Mercury 1980
Run-D.M.C. - Run-D.M.C. - Profile 1984
Run-D.M.C. - King of Rock ' Profile 1985
Run-D.M.C. - Raising Hell - Profile 1986
X-ecutioners - Built From Scratch - Loud 2002
X-ecutioners - Scratchology - Sequence 2003


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