With a full lineup of sixteen musicians, over twenty-five guest appearances including Large Professor, Masta Ace, Prince Po, J-Live & Soundsci, and live playing of original samples, it was hard to pinpoint where to start to find out more about Son Of Sam‘s new album, Cinder Hill. So why not take it back to where it all began?
Cinder Hill has been produced by Tom Caruana, who impressed us earlier this year with An Adventure to Pepperland Through Rhyme & Space. Together with Richard Halligan (keys, sax & flute) and brothers John Sam (drums) & Joe Sam (bass & guitar), he founded Son Of Sam, a self-described “bunch of funk soul brothers living on hip hop’s live rail.”
We asked Tom to break down six tracks off the album. Read along to discover sources of inspiration, original samples, and personal insights on producing them.
Flying Fist (ft. Prince Po)
“‘Flying Fist’ is a really uptempo track that was inspired by the theme of Enter The Dragon. We wanted someone who had a crazy flow. It was 80/160 BPM so we wanted someone to embrace the double-speed nature of the beat. I referenced Prince Po’s track “Land Of Perfect” (from his album Saga of the Simian Samurai) as the type of thing we were after. This was the only time I gave an emcee a specific direction.
Like the rest of the tracks we filled out the music once we had the vocals in place. Richard came up with these crazy string lines which we sent to our guy Dom Sewell to play. At first he struggled a bit as some of the lines were so fast, but I think he nailed it. DJ Manipulate also added some pitched down cuts that add a ruggedness to contrast the strings too.
I think Prince Po really enjoys the process of interacting with artists and making sure he delivers dope verses. His flow is bananas, he tackles a beat completely uniquely to how most emcees would do it. That’s a sign of being a true originator: Prince Po is constantly innovating.”
Come A Long Way (ft. Masta Ace & Large Professor)
“This beat was one of the only new ones we came up with in the studio in 2011. Richard who plays keys already had the chords written, but Joe and John figured out what they were going to do on the spot. It didn’t have any of the strings or anything when we sent it to Masta Ace. He did a 24 and 16 bar verse but didn’t do a hook. His idea was to get singing on it.
I was also in touch with Large Professor around that time and had been trying to do a tune with him, but he ended up coming up with a hook for this track as well as doing a remix of it—to be released in a week. Richard also wrote the string arrangements on this track and the intro and outro, which really made the track into something much grander than the demo.
When I was a teenager I had a mixtape that had ‘Ain’t You Da Masta’ on it. That was my first vivid memory of Masta Ace. I still love that track. With Large Professor, my earliest memory would probably be discovering 1991’s ‘Snake Eyes’ by Main Source, or his solo tune ‘Mad Scientist’. We used to play the break from that track when we played live.”
System Animal (ft. Denmark Vessey)
“We used to start our live sets with this beat, it’s a lot darker now than we used to play it. The demo version that Denmark Vessey sent was brilliant. We ended up changing the track quite a bit for the album version. But the original take and simpler mix of the beat have something that I’ll always be fond of.
Denmark’s got the ability to slip into tons of different styles, and he adapts to the atmosphere of the beat we created with ease. His flow, lyrics and what he did with all the backing vocals was an exceptional job, I think there were over 30 track of vocals that he sent me in the end…
The final outcome of ‘System Animal’ is quite trippy. We wanted to elaborate on the black magic that he referenced in his lyrics. We added a vocal sample of author, astrologer & mystic Manly P. Hall on the intro and tried to add extra layers of weirdness to make the song a bit unusual.”
Continuation (ft. J-Live)
“We sent this to J-Live with no direction of what to do. After a few days he emailed asking if it was cool to just rhyme through the whole thing with no hooks. We said “yeah, fine” and man, he launched into a relentless attack… Personally I’m a big fan of hip hop without hooks that’s just straight spitting, and this track is the epitome of that.”
J-Live is great simply because he is an amazing lyricist with a great flow and voice. I can remember the first time watching a video of him doing ‘Braggin’ Writes’, in which he juggles the break and raps at the same time. Absolutely incredible…
I remixed a lot of his tracks for my Rough Versions series. I find that when I do a remix project like that I really get to know an artist. I’m listening to their lyrics over and over as well as digging through all their projects for research.”
Put It On Ya (ft. Soundsci & Mr Thing)
“Ewan from my favorite record shop—Rarekind in Brighton—put me onto Soundsci. I instantly really liked what they were doing so binged by listening to pretty much all of their stuff. I’ve now got almost all of their releases on vinyl. I think my favorite album by them is Walk The Earth, but they’re all decent. All of their stuff is produced by Ollie Teeba (The Herbaliser) and Jonny Cuba (Dynamic Synchopation) and mixed by No Sleep Nigel.
Now that I think about it: I should have really called Ollie to do the cuts, as Soundsci is more than just the emcees: Ollie and Jonny (who are collectively known as The Process) are currently working on a remix of the track ‘That’s Facts’.
The outcome of ‘Put It On Ya’ was exactly what I was hoping for on that beat: three killer verses and some dope cuts. The guitar solo at the end was the icing on the cake, really. Rather than let the track tail off at the end we got Andy Vickery to let rip with a lengthy guitar solo.”
“I feel like ‘Coastin” represents Son Of Sam best: this is the track I’d play first to someone who’s never heard us before. It reflects our ability to be a canvas for emcees to spit over, but it also has the space for us to breathe musically”
Coastin’ (ft. John Robinson)
“This is one of our oldest beats and we’d actually started to lose interest in it until John Robinson sent us his vocals. We had this spontaneous drum solo at the end that was just John messing around, really. We didn’t know if we were going to use it but JR’s lyrics seemed to really make the drum solo make sense. He gave us three verses for this track but no hook, so Richard came up with the horn lines to go in-between the verses.
Sabira Jade also jammed over this track adding some subtle sweetness throughout. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this track. But it’s all mixed quite low except the rhythm track and vocals.
I think my earliest memory of hearing John Robinson was when he was Lil’ Sci of Scienz Of Life. Being into MF DOOM, I checked for things he featured on. So I bought the Project Overground album which had the track ‘Yikes’ featuring MF DOOM. I love how they referenced all those MF DOOM tracks in their lyrics. I then followed those guys and John too. His album Who Is This Man produced by DOOM is probably my personal favorite.
I feel like ‘Coastin” represents Son Of Sam best: this is the track I’d play first to someone who’s never heard us before. It’s a really well-rounded track that reflects our ability to be a canvas for emcees to spit over, but it also has the space for us to breathe musically, especially between the verses and at the end of the track.”