Seventeen years ago, two little-known members of Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate posse, Bilal Bashir and Divine Styler, teamed up to show the world what they could do. The world hardly noticed.
With Bashir manning the boards to create a concoction of James Brown samples and screeching jazz horns, and Styler dropping a self-empowerment message wrapped in tight alliteration, it came on the scene about a year too early. To a niche of fans already yearning for what A Tribe Called Quest would bring to the masses shortly after, Divine Styler's Word Power would portend the conscious, alternative hip-hop movement. Yet, thanks to the complete commercial disaster of his nearly inscrutable follow-up (1991's Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light), his debut album was largely lost to legend. A 'sequelâ?� released on the Mo' Wax label in 1998 was an attempt by the jazz-hop label to resuscitate the career of an early inspiration. That album, combined with a book by a young Canadian skateboarder (Fritz Da Cat, whose In Search of Divine Styler details his labyrinthine efforts to locate the reclusive rapper), helped introduce a whole generation of backpackers to Divine's skills. Now, Word Power ' the album Epic Records couldn't cut-out fast enough ' is a collector's item.
'It really shocked me, to be honest,â?� says Bashir of the resurgence in interest in Word Power. Bashir's prowess and foresight is on full display on Word Power: Instrumentals, recently released on the Orlando-based Domination Recordings.
'We originally were gonna put `Instrumentals` out in '97 but it never materialized, and over the years I started doing business with D.J. Fisher.â?� Fisher, a longtime industry pro in distribution, has established in Domination a kind of hip-hop boutique in Central Florida.
The artists on Fisher's label ' ranging from widely praised indie darling Count Bass-D to career next-big-thing Cadence ' all boast huge experience and massive misunderstanding. They are the redheaded stepchildren of creativity, and Fisher is only too happy to embrace them into the fold when the majors let them down.
'I was real excited and honored to have the opportunity to release a classic record that Word Power is today,â?� says Fisher. 'As long as I have good people that work with me, then I'm all good.â?�
Word Power: Instrum-entals is an intriguing exercise in nostalgia. Bashir has remained a consistently working studio producer, but to hear him working alone ' his synth-y techno-hop on 'Last Black House on the Leftâ?� anticipating Lil Jon's epic club hits, the 'Pushermanâ?� sample on 'Divinity Stylisticsâ?� that seemed so new at the time, or the still un-bested ghetto bird in 'Tongue of Labyrinthâ?� ' is to hear a master craftsman of a trade so fleeting, and so bound to the whim of a fickle public, that a certain amount of frustration is inevitable.
'I get that a lot and it's really hard for me to hear that, especially now,â?� says Bashir. 'It was just something at the moment that we put together. Now the real magic is with Divine. I'm really proud of that album and it's funny that people still remember that.â?�
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