DJ Honda is a Japanese deejay/producer who got his foot into American hip-hop in the mid-nineties. After being the lead vocalist and guitarist for a Japan-based rock band called the Clique, he started tinkering with deejaying. Honda began deejaying in local clubs in Japan, spinning disco records in the early eighties (yes, I know that disco died in the late seventies here in the states, but unlike Americans’ fickle asses, other countries embrace musical genres long after they’re no longer popular), but would soon discover hip-hop, which piqued his interest. Honda started studying pioneering deejays, like Grand Mixer DXT and honing his skills on the turntables after them. He would hone his skills to the point of entering the 1992 New Music Seminar’s DJ Battle for World Supremacy in New York, where he finished second. Even though he lost the battle, he would win the war, as that battle would earn him respect and help him forge relationships with a bunch of established American hip-hop artists, which would eventually lead to the culmination and release of his debut compilation album, simply titled, H (I think you’re all smart enough to figure out what the “H” stands for. If you said “hot,” you are correct).
H was originally released in Japan on the Sony Music Japan label in 1995, then re-released in the U.S. on Relativity Records in 1996. Honda would produce all thirteen tracks on the album and invite a host of veteran emcees and a few newcomers to rhymes over his instrumentals. H would go on to be moderately successful, thus setting up a series of Honda compilation and collaboration albums throughout the nineties and early two-thousands.
Like a large chunk of my collection, I discovered H years after its release, sitting in the used cd bins at one of my favorite used record spots. The name, “Honda,” and the styling of the lowercase “h” on the album cover, immediately made me think about the popular automobile brand with the same name and I was curious to why this “DJ” was jacking their name and remixing their iconic emblem. Those factors, along with the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker, moved me to pick it up and check out the liner notes, where I discovered a bunch of artists’ names whose music, I’m a fan of, and the rest is history.
This is my first time listening to H, so let’s see how this goes.
Intro – The album opens with a saddened horn loop, weary drums and a faint wailing female voice, which sounds more suitable for a funeral than an album intro. But this kind of dark shit is my happy place, so I loved it. My only issue with it is it’s too short.
DJ Battle – Things quickly shift to a snippet of DJ Honda performing live, and he gives the listener a taste of his skills on the ones and twos, as he slices up Chic’s “Good Times.” Not bad, Mr. Honda.
What You Expected – The first official record of the night pairs Honda with Gang Starr. Honda provides Guru (rip) a creamy smooth backdrop that he makes easy work of, while Premo drops in to lay his signature precision cuts on the hook. This is a dope record that sounds even better at night, and it’s exactly what I expected to hear from a Gang Starr collabo.
Kill The Noize – Our host invites the Brooklyn-based emcee, Problemz to join him on this track. Honda builds the instrumental around what sounds like a bass guitar interpolation of the bass line from The Stylistics “People Make The World Go Round,” paired with a mysterious bell/xylophone sounding loop, while Problemz finds his spot and holds his own on the mic with his monotone flow and cool demeanor. Despite his use of the overly used “Dizzy like Gillespie” metaphor (that line really should be hung in the hip-hop rafters), Problemz proves to be a spitter with a great alias.
Dat’s My Word – Redman drops by to wild out over Honda’s mystically spacey backsplash that sounds like the perfect music for an alien abduction. I don’t know if I like the pairing of Redman’s animated high energy style with the semi-subdued music, but I absolutely love Honda’s instrumental.
Straight Talk From NY – Honda is joined by two-thirds of Brand Nubian, Sadat X and Grand Puba (with Lord Jamar curiously missing is action) and some guy named Wakeem, whom I’ve never heard of before this song. Honda cooks up a bassy soulful feel good groove, while Sadat X and Wakeem (who drops two Asian slurs during his verse, which I found extremely disrespectful, especially since he’s the guest on a Japanese deejay’s record.) pretty much warm up the mic for Puba, who gets off a dope verse that finds him demanding compensation for his free endorsement of Tommy Hilfiger through the years and effortlessly shittin’ on emcees (although he was wrong about Barney putting Big Bird out of business. Sesame Street is still very much alive and well, while Barney is now extinct with the rest of his peoples…and I’d like to give a random shout out to Hip-Hop Harry). This was dope as is, but it probably would have sounded even better as a Grand Puba solo joint.
Intro – Honda leaves a few cuts and scratches on a super short after-hours appropriate instrumental to kick off the second half of H.
Out For The Cash – This New York City cipher session pairs Al Tariq (formerly known as Fashion) with his former group mates, The Beatnuts (JuJu and Psycho Les), Fat Joe and Problemz, who makes his second appearance on H. Honda mixes rugged drums with a dusty slightly out of tune piano loop, and Joey Crack, who sounds right at home rhyming over the gully soundscape, comes out victorious with blood dripping from his mouth and the beat’s head in hand.
Interlude – Common stops by and gets off a quick throw away verse over a boring DJ Honda instrumental. Thankfully, it only lasts a minute and fifteen seconds, so it’s over just as you’re moved to hit the skip button.
Biz Freestyle – Over a mellow backdrop, Biz Markie reminisces about the good old days (recalling when he first met MC Shan, Roxanne Shante and Marley Marl, and he shouts out some hip-hop pioneers, like Grand Wizard Theodore and The Cold Crush), but in true Biz Markie fashion, he spends most of the song spittin’ a bunch of randomness (i.e., shouting out all the New York sports teams, remixing the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, and he mentions “Bonita Applebum” in a line, so we can mark Tribe Degrees of Separation off for this post). This was a fun record that captures a snapshot of Biz’s charismatic and comedic genius that will forever live on through his music. Continue to rest easy, Biz.
Fuk Dat – Honda serves up his most energetic instrumental of the evening, as the Brooklyn newcomer, Sean Black aka Black Attack gets a chance to rock over this funky instrumental that includes a classic Buckshot Shorty line on the hook. Sean sounds like a competent enough emcee, delivering solid bars and keeping pace with Honda’s potent backdrop.
International Anthem – Tha Alkaholiks drop by to bless Honda on a track, as he lays an urgent sounding backsplash, dipped in airy James Bond theme music vibes, as all three legs of the team get off quality bars. E-Swift (whose apparently not aware that Spain is a part of Europe) bats first, followed by Tash (who appears as the drunk Sir Mix-A-Lot, making your fiancé put her titties on the glass), and J-Ro (who displays his obsession with wack emcees necks: first he’s stabbing them in their neck like Monica Seles (an incident that I completely forgot about before hearing this song), then later he’s found wrapping microphone cords around their throats, giving them unwanted bow ties) cleans it all up with a comically quality verse that reminded me of why he’s my personal favorite Alkaholik. After the first few listens, I thought Honda’s instrumental sounded too serious for Tha Liks’ hijinks, but the more I listen to it, the more the contrast seems to work.
The End – The final song of the night has dual meaning, as it not only marks the end of H, but it also features Al Tariq discussing the end of the world, making mention of Armageddon, The Rapture, the anti-Christ and the second coming of Jesus (he never calls him by name, but I’m pretty sure “my man’s coming back ya gonna wish he never had” is a reference to J.C.). Honda backs Al’s apocalyptic content with a melodically blunted backdrop, equipped with a vibrating bass line that feels like it’s massaging your brain when you listen to it. It was interesting to hear Al substitute the juvenile content that we grew accustomed to hearing him spit as part of the Beatnuts with “gospel rappin’, and Honda’s instrumental is really dope.
On H, DJ Honda doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but follows in the tradition of legendary east coast hip-hop producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock, putting his own eastern (Asian) interpretation on the sound and capturing the essence of mid-nineties east coast boom-bap. Collectively, the guests on H turn in adequate performances, but it’s Honda’s smooth production that carries most of the load and shines the brightest. H doesn’t have a lot of high energy joints (which some of you hardcore enthusiasts might detest), but it does provide a cohesive dosage of cool quality hip-hop (that sounds even better when played after the sun sets), and what more could you ask for from a hip-hop album?