The Barely Breaking Even label is a home for music enthusiasts founded by music enthusiasts, making it their duty to unearth the soul and funk origins sampled by your favorite producers while presenting new material from artists whose musical roots also run deep. Their motto in recent years has been “Busy is good,” and they certainly have remained busy over the past 15 years, releasing top-notch albums, singles, and compilations at a staggering rate. However, in an industry oversaturated with MP3s and zip files whizzing by on an hourly basis, there is always the danger of quality releases falling through the cracks. Thankfully, BBE has done us all a favor by enlisting Chris Read to guide us through over two hours of choice moments from the label's rich discography.
The first disc dives headfirst into the heavy hitters, switching back and forth between Marc Mac's Visioneers project, unreleased Ubiquity heat from Roy Ayers, and hip-hop essentials from Pete Rock. Chris Read is able to cover more ground by placing instrumentals and loops from certain songs underneath acapellas from others. As a result, C.L. Smooth's verses from Pete's “Back On The Block” flow over will.i.am's “Lay Me Down” while Sabira Jade and Kwasi Asante from DJ Vadim's “Hidden Treasure” scat and toast over the disco-driven percussion of Million Dollar Orchestra's “Canal Street Bus Stop.” Read even manages to squeeze in the 8-bit African rap “Black Star” by Richy Pitch and M.anifest, Osunlade and Erro covering Radiohead's “Everything In Its Right Place,” and a wicked drum and bass remix of Roy Ayers's “Mystic Voyage.”
The Beat Generation series alumni weigh in heavily on disc two. A pair of DJ Jazzy Jeff cuts circa 2007 showcase the rhymes of Jean Grae (“Supa Jean”) and J Live (“Practice”), the latter a necessary nod to the late Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell with Jeff's production borrowing liberally from a Donald Byrd classic. A celebration of BBE's output wouldn't be complete without selections from Jay Dee's Welcome To Detroit and Dilla's memory is lovingly reworked in the mix via vocal tracks and instrumental loops. DJ Spinna's head-nodding “Glad You're Mine” serves as the lead-in for up-tempo numbers from King Britt (“Superstar”) and Philly Soul legend Larry Gold arranging Don Cello's “No Stoppin',” an updated cover of a McFadden and Whitehead staple that features the duo along for the ride with Black Thought of The Roots. Chris Read remains the ultimate groove purveyor throughout the journey, steering the trip towards future soul gems from Vikter Duplaix and Slakah The Beatchild, the superior productions of Aaron Jerome, and allowing the blunted beats of Madlib to bring things to a close.
Two CDs aren't enough to cover the brilliance of the BBE label, but listeners are surely in good hands with Chris Read. BBE15 is a testament to the label's commitment to releasing stellar music year round as well as a reminder that their best years are still to come.