Four well-known New York City artists: Kenny Mohammed, the Human Orchestra; Omri Anghel, the Human Beat; Baba; and Hesher--provide the vocal percussion collected on the 2-CD Phat Beats from the Box (audio and data, $99.95). Although Mohammed is the more well-known of the vocalists outside of New York (having appeared on the Jay Leno show and MTV), Baba and Omri Anghel contribute the majority of the tracks, and in that sense are the main force here. However, all four artists contribute top-notch performances.
Hand to mouth
All of the sounds in the collection are created using various combinations of the voice, lips, tongue, nose, throat, and chest. Sometimes the performer will cup his hands around the mic and his mouth to get a little extra bass using the proximity effect. A bit of studio trickery is also used on occasion, such as distortion and pitch processing for bass and horn lines, which helps give certain sounds a larger-than-life character. Some tracks even include post-production stereo processing and echo, often to good effect.
The audio disc offers 48 tracks divided into 16 sections, each in its own style and tempo. The data disc adds two more style/tempo folders; for the most part it includes the same material as disc one but as 24-bit, 44.1 kHz Acidized WAV files. An additional data folder, Single Sounds Bank, contains all of the individual samples from the audio disc--bass drums, snares, cymbal hits, hi-hats, effects, percussion, and "raps n scratches." This is the place to begin if you want to create multi-layered setups in your sampler.
Each style/tempo section on the audio disc begins with a demonstration track showing how the sounds can be used together. Next comes the individual elements themselves, presented as a track of loops followed by a track of samples. An audible click is inserted between each loop phrase to help delineate where the loop ends. The click is an especially handy reference for loops that include large silences.
The collection's tempo range is from 75 to 184 bpm, and compelling rhythms are provided at each tempo. Some of the rhythms have a natural swing that is irresistible.
My favorite elements include the many synthlike basses and lead lines (which often include realistic-sounding filter effects) and Mohammed's vinyl-scratching sounds and bass effects. Many of the percussion sounds have an uncanny resemblance to the real thing. In this respect, Anghel's tom fills in All Day are exceptional.
My only gripes about the collection are minor. First, the naming convention for the WAV files is generic. For instance, each Samples folder has the bass drums listed numerically: bd01.wav, bd02.wav, and so forth. If you plan to mix and match instruments from different styles, start with the Single Sounds Bank or you may end up with two different files with the same name. On a similar note, I wish the booklet offered a list of the sounds used in each style on the audio disc, so I don't have to pop the data disc into my computer and poke through the files there.
The sounds I found most difficult to work with were the spoken-word exclamations. If you're looking for shouts of "New York City," "work it," or "do you want it, un hunh," you've come to the right place. I found myself slicing out and grafting consonants from some of the words onto the beginnings of loops to add emphasis, and I was satisfied with the results.
Can't touch this
If this collection sounds like it's meant merely for use in rap or hip-hop projects, guess again. The organic sounding beats and one-shots lend themselves to any style of music, and I found it easy—and exciting—to surround the vocal-based sounds with real and synthesized percussion.
Phat Beats from the Box is a thoroughly enjoyable collection that offers a nice range of styles and tempos. So enjoyable, in fact, that I sometimes play the audio disc in the background while I'm working at the computer. When was the last time you did that with a sample library? I would recommend Phat Beats from the Box to anyone interested in unique sounds, regardless of genre.