Vinyl Me, Please has prided itself on presenting music lovers and vinyl collectors a chance to receive a curated record that is not only essential to own, but is also either undiscovered or rediscovered. They managed to strike gold with Breaking Atoms, working directly with some of its creators, Main Source, to release the record 25 years after its initial pressing. A hip-hop album by a trio of producers who lived the independent dream with this debut release (but then ultimately were buried in the midst of the genre’s magical early ’90s era), the cult status of Breaking Atoms among the community could probably fill a whole book, but context is everything, and its resurgence in 2017 reveals that its influence is ridiculous and stupefyingly apparent.
Much of the jazz-oriented and soul-sampling techniques that redefined hip hop in the early ’90s is generally attributed to A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, whose first few albums have us doing this, but Breaking Atoms is every bit their peers’ masterworks, even following in their DNA. “Snake Eyes” kicks things off with an excellent sample of soul maestro Johnnie Taylor’s “Watermelon Man,” while “Just Hangin’ Out” slows things down just a tad, retaining killer rhymes. The album, much like People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm or 3 Feet High and Rising, really gets into its groove on track 3 with “Looking At The Front Door,” where every facet of production — beats, vocal delivery, lyricism, instrumental variety — is a genuinely layered, perfect concoction; a formula that pretty much remains throughout the rest of the record.
The album zigzags along with MC Large Professor talking about the imbalances of violence and societal norms with creative wordplay, particularly on “Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball” and “Peace Is Not The Word To Play.”
DJs/producers Sir Scratch and K-cut provide varied bridges and cuts, along with an air of levity, balancing out what, at times, could be considered some pretty heavy-handed commentary. It’s almost a bittersweet spin, knowing the band’s legacy is largely left to this debut, which seemed to have been the only record in their short lifespan to bear fruit. But the fact that Nas makes his first appearance on record during album highlight “Live At The Barbeque,” its status as an influencer overrides any regret, likely serving as the genesis (no pun intended) of the rapper molding in their image his very own legendary record, Illmatic.
Vinyl Me, Please has practically dethroned the rest of its releases as Breaking Atoms is basically the cornerstone of their mission statement. With the original members’ involvement, it seems that a well-received record in its day is getting the reissue it well deserves today.
I don’t have the original record on-hand to compare, but this reissue is simply superb. The record was pressed by Czech company GZ Media, who has handled represses for just about every artist out there, and their notoriety for quality pressings continues here, successfully transferring a mix that is very organic and multi-layered. Weight is not specified, but it does feel heavyweight. It’s representative of the best efforts certain reissue companies have made, remastering records with newer equipment. I don’t think Breaking Atoms has sounded better, though with a few crackles here and there due to its non-static-free packaging. Even the bonus 7″ is on par with the LP, played at 45 RPM (see “Extras” below).
Overall, Vinyl Me, Please’s packaging is well developed. Breaking Atoms is presented as a gatefold jacket, containing a variation of the album’s original artwork, as well as some nice words on the album’s influence by Queens-based hip-hop producer Pharaohe Monch. The LP itself is housed in a cardboard sleeve and in a very ’90s teal blue that has the periodic table printed on it. Props for that.
The only downside is that the copy I received had a pretty bad case of seam split. Though unfortunately not unusual for new records, nor typically totally compromising of the package (usually its relegated to a thin or tight sleeve), my copy of Breaking Atoms contained major seam splits at the top of the jacket and on both sides of the gatefold, to the point that you can clearly see right through the hole to the sleeve (see in photos below). Not only is it a hazard preventing protection of the record, but it’s now unsightly, taking away from the otherwise beautifully represented artwork. I’m not entirely sure if this has to do with the way in which VMP has switched to a new S&H method, or if this is just an isolated incident, but it’s something to be wary about.
VMP handles this 25th anniversary reissue with a lot of style. Firstly, the main LP is this blobby, ink-spilled orange in clear vinyl which, when matched with the provided 12”x12” artwork, reminds of the wacky and experimental designs of the ’90s and keeps with VMP’s effortful conceptualization. There is also a second record that is a solid purple 7″ featuring a remix of “Peace Is Not the Word to Play” and a bonus track called “How My Man Went Down In The Game.” This is one of the few times I’d suggest the 7″ is actually a really great addition, continuing the party with superb audio to boot. It’s a shame there is no download code provided with this release, though it’s no real loss considering the great sound quality. The package also contains a 12-page lyric book with photos from the original recording sessions, which is an awesome addition for fans.
Breaking Atoms is a Vinyl Me, Please Record of the Month for February 2017.