"It Was a Statement Album": The Making of Ohbliv's 'MindGarden'

How the veteran producer used an SP-404, an open source audio editor, cassette sample drums, and a centerpiece track to make a defining album.

On June 17th, 2014, Richmond, VA producer Ohbliv dropped MindGarden.

After nearly five years of consistently putting out instrumental albums he wanted to demonstrate a new level of confidence and musicianship. “It was a statement album," he said in a 2020 Reverb article.

In addition to serving as an important component of Ohbliv’s vast catalog, the album was the debut effort for Courtney Blood's Thrash Flow label. In the six years since MindGarden, Thrash Flow has released records by Buscrates, Butcher Brown, Count Bass D, DJ Harrison, and others.

To create his statement album, Ohbliv pushed his creative use of Roland’s SP-404 sampler to new levels. On a number of tracks he sampled loops into the 404, recorded them with the open source audio editor Audacity, dropped the pitch, and resampled them with the 404. Perhaps a bit labor intensive for some people’s taste, this is a strategy he still uses today.

In addition to his use of Audacity, Ohbliv also recorded to cassette tape and sampled the tapes directly into his trusty 404. This was an ever-present strategy in his 2013 and 2014 releases and a technique for drum samples on some of his newer material. For an example of how cassette sample drums make the music on MindGarden sound so beautiful, give a listen to the track “Ohgirl.”

Though the memories of creating songs like “Ohgirl” remain vivid for Ohbliv, “Southside Vibrations” in particular stands out to him for being a foundation for the whole record.

More than six years have passed since the release of MindGarden, yet it remains an ever-important moment in instrumental hip-hop. It marked a new stage in a seminal producer’s career, helped put an important label on the map, and showcased an abundance of innovative production techniques.

The instrumental genre is quite a bit more crowded than it was in 2014, but MindGarden is still “a statement album.”

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Revisiting Pennye Ford's 'Pennye'

A look back at the talented vocalist's 1984 LP and some of the stories behind its creation.

Accomplished veteran vocalist Pennye Ford was born into an unusually gifted family of musicians. Her father Gene Redd worked as a bandleader, A & R, and songwriter at King Records and Federal. Carol Ford, her late mother, sang beautiful gospel numbers and even cut a few singles like 1964’s “Your Well Ran Dry.”

Ford’s late half-sister Sharon Redd had a successful career that included three solo LPs: Sharon Redd (1980), Redd Hott (1982), and Love How You Feel (1983). In addition to scoring numerous hits like “Can You Handle It?” she also worked with Bette Midler and Luther Vandross.

As if that weren’t enough, half-brother Gene Redd Jr.’s resume of arrangement, production, and writing credits is impressive and extensive. He also worked as a manager and producer for Kool & The Gang. 

Ford (now known as Penny Ford) is frequently identified for vocal work with The Gap Band, Chaka Khan, Snap!, and Soul II Soul, but she also dropped her memorable 1984 debut solo effort Pennye when she was only a teenager.

With producer, songwriter, and Total Experience Records founder Lonnie Simmons at the helm as executive producer, she later admitted to having lukewarm feelings towards the record due to a lack of creative control and what she deemed as outdated production. “I was Lonnie’s first female solo artist,” Ford told Justin Kantor in a 2012 Blogcritics interview. “We were all like puppets. He was the ruler of all the land, so he had to have his hand in it. I was just 18, and I was intimidated by authority in older people.”

Though the album did not meet her creative standards, Pennye holds up quite well 36 years later and contains plenty of gems. The uptempo production on the lead single “Change Your Wicked Ways” provides a nice backing track for Ford’s lush voice while “Dangerous” would make a welcome addition to any throwback DJ set.

Her vocals sounds impeccable on “Never Let You Go,” where they blend perfectly with a beautifully understated, funky composition by Cavin Yarbrough of Yarbrough & Peoples fame. The song is so damn impressive that one can’t help but wonder what Ford and Yarbrough might have accomplished if they’d done an entire project together.

In addition to being an exceptional record, “Never Let You Go” is also notable for its credits—or lack of them. Cavin Yarbrough is appropriately credited for his work, but the liner notes cite him as the song’s lone producer. According to Penny Ford, this is not the case. It seems his wife and collaborative partner Alisa Delois Peoples deserves recognition for producing Ford’s captivating vocals, which shine throughout the song and demonstrate impressive range on the chorus.

If Peoples did co-produce the record, she should be credited for her work appropriately. Her absence as co-producer in the linter notes is troubling—it should have been celebrated as a significant achievement in an era when women were often frozen out production roles. As Ford told Blogcritics, “I remember Lois being able to produce the vocal, which was a milestone—because they never let the girls do anything.”

Despite the unfortunate lack of attribution on the record’s standout song and Ford’s mixed feelings about her early work, Pennye remains a strong album begging for rediscovery from a bigger audience in the digital age. While “Never Let You Go” is the best song on the LP, other strong cuts like “Spend My Time With You” and “Don't You Know That I Love You” make for a great front to back listen.

And even if Penny Ford wasn’t 100% satisfied with her first solo record, she seemed thrilled at the prospect of connecting to new listeners when Pennye was reissued on CD in 2012. “I’m really excited to have that work of mine become a part of this whole digital community,” she told Blogcritics. “It’s great that it’s accessible now, and not just in a pile of plastic in the trunk of some dude’s car.”

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Christmas Flips, Video Game Sampling, Computer Game Scores, Pimp C Production and More

A collection of six recent Micro-Chop articles and threads.

Hello. I hope the holiday season finds you and your loved ones are healthy and safe.

A quick Micro-Chop update: I’m trying out different ways to engage readers with my articles. Recently I’ve published several articles and written them out as Twitter threads.

I’ve decided to not send each article a separate email. Instead, I’m bundling them together here in one article with the threads included. I won’t do this for everything I write, it’s just something I’m trying out. I’d love to hear your feedback if you have any.

Here are links to six recent pieces I’ve written and the Twitter threads that go with them. I hope you enjoy them and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

1) Pimp C On the Track: A look back at the late UGK member's evolution as a producer, his pause tape and Casio SK-1 origins, and five choice selections from his production discography.

2) The Roland SP Series: Here's how producers used the famed Roland samplers in the #SwinginFlipChallenge, #RunToFlipChallenge, #YouWereMineFlipChallenge, and #ChristmasFlipChallenge.

3) The Drummer from Supertramp Scored the 'Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon' Soundtrack: How Bob Siebenberg transitioned from recording and touring with a well-known rock band to composing the score for a popular computer game franchise.

4) Sampling and Replaying Video Game Scores: A quick breakdown of video game sampling, from early-80s funk, Fresh Prince, and Bone Thugs, to current beat tapes, game scoring, and sample challenges.

5) The #ChristmasFlipChallenge Winners and Some New Bandcamp Christmas Music: A quick recap of the Micro-Chop holiday sample challenge and some great releases that came from it.

6) Sampling and Replaying "Wonderful Christmastime": A brief history of Sir Paul McCartney's holiday classic, songs that covered and sampled it, and how people are reimagining it for the #ChristmasFlipChallenge.

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Pimp C On the Track

A look back at the late UGK member's evolution as a producer, his pause tape and Casio SK-1 origins, and five choice selections from his production discography.

Born the son of a blues singer father who also played trumpet with the likes of Solomon Burke, late Underground Kingz (UGK) member Pimp C was surrounded by music from the beginning of his life. The recipient of new instruments ever year when Christmastime rolled around, he was gifted an organ before he learned how to talk—an instrument that would later play a critical role in several of his best-known productions.

Growing up with a drum set, organ, and other instruments at his disposal, long practice sessions helped him develop stylistic preferences with the organ that informed his sound. “Later on I would describe the black keys as the more funky keys than the white ones,” he told Andrew Nosnitsky in Part 1 of a three-part Cocaine Blunts interview conducted in December 2006. “I like minor notes, I like playing in that register.”

(I highly recommend checking out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this interview. An edited version appeared in an ‘07 issue of Scratch, but this one is uncut and very in-depth.)

Pimp C also developed an ever evolving interest in rap music that led to beatmaking, DJing, writing raps, and eventually singing his own hooks on UGK projects after hearing Run-DMC in 1983. Starting out with pause tape beats in his younger years, he made demos with DJ DMD as Dangerous Music Incorporated by making clever use of DMD’s turntables and a 4-track machine. Over time he evolved to making tracks with Mattel’s Synsonics Drums and a Casio SK-1 keyboard sampler.

After stints with Korg and Roland drum machines he eventually upgraded again to an Alesis HR-16 and an ASR-10 keyboard. Other equipment changes happened throughout his career like the later adoption of an MPC, but regardless of what equipment he used, Pimp C had a knack for making it work.

After forming UGK with Bun B in 1987, the duo released the 1992 EPs The Southern Way and Banned on Bigtyme Recordz before breaking through with their ‘92 debut LP Too Hard To Swallow on Jive. A memorable studio session for their 1994 follow-up Super Tight showed Bun B that his close friend and collaborator was a production master.

In a 2008 retrospective Bun recalled a session with limited access to gear where Pimp C used a a Boss Dr. Rhythm and a simple Casio keyboard to create a “Front, Back & Side to Side” remix that became a fan favorite. “It really opened my eyes up to the fact that my brother wasn’t just a cat that could make beats, he was a real producer,” Bun B said in a 2008 Metal Lungies interview. “Meaning that whatever he was in the room with, he was capable of making a hit record with it and that’s the real meaning of a producer.”

Sadly, Pimp C passed away unexpectedly in 2007—just when his career was entering a promising second act after a three year prison stint from 2002 to 2005. In honor of the later producer and his production savvy, here are five selections from his vast list of credits to highlight his compositional skills.

1) “Front, Back & Side to Side” from UGK’s Super Tight (1994)

Featuring an epic organ replay of The Meters’ “Rigor Mortis” and a chopped and screwed style hook that sample’s the late Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood (Remix),” this timeless UGK classic was massive at the time of its release, remains one of the biggest tracks from their catalog, and hasn’t lost a bit of luster in the 26 years since its release.

2) “Whatcha Gone Do” featuring Pimp C from X-Mob’s Ghetto Mail (1995)

Lake Charles, Louisiana rap act X-Mob’s Ghetto Mail is a fascinating release because it credits Pimp C and Mannie Fresh as producers alongside Bruce "Eightball" Lattin, but the liner notes don’t indicate which tracks each producer is responsible for. On the Pimp C-assisted “Whatcha Gone Do,” Pimp C hopped on the hook, provided a hard as hell verse to round out the track, and crafted an expertly produced instrumental with a buzzy synth bassline, infectious organs, and an interesting, slightly understated drum beat.

3) “Diamonds & Wood” from UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty (1996)

Utilizing a masterful interpolation of Bootsy Collins’ “Munchies for Your Love” and a perfectly chopped and screwed sample of Houston rap group .380’s “Elbows Swang” on the hook, Pimp C created the ultimate backing track for one of the highlights from UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty album. His production here is equal parts funky and mournful, highlighting his ability to maximize the power of minor keys.

4) “Money Stacks” featuring UGK from D’Meka’s Now... Feel Me! (1997)

Cincinnati, Ohio rapper D’Meka showed a great deal of promise after slaying the mic on two albums with the group OTR Clique. Her ‘97 solo debut Now... Feel Me! features an insane production lineup of Rap-A-Lot and Scarface mainstay John Bido, Bootsy Collins, Bud'da, Bad Boy in-house producer/Hitmen member Stevie J, and others. With D’Meka and Bun B effortlessly trading verses and Pimp C singing on the hook, the track “Money Stacks” is a sure shot begging for rediscovery from a broader audience.

5) “Get Crunk” featuring Pimp C from Crooked Lettaz’ Grey Skies (1999)

Pimp C once again showed an unrivaled ability to interpolate his influences on Jackson, Mississippi duo Crooked Lettaz’ lone release Grey Skies—an album that would introduce a then-unknown David Banner to the rap game. Here Pimp C harkened back to his earliest rap influence and replayed Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” with his own soulful sound, giving the track a bit more of an edge than some of the other songs on this list. Six years later Mr. Lee chopped and screwed Pimp C’s vocals and composed a kind of “Get Crunk” interpolation for Paul Wall’s hypnotic “Sippin’ Tha Barre.”

Though impressive, these tracks only scrape the surface of Pimp C’s production work over the years. If you enjoyed them, digging into his full list of credits on Discogs is a worthwhile endeavor.

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The Roland SP Series

Here's how producers used the famed Roland samplers in the #SwinginFlipChallenge, #RunToFlipChallenge, #YouWereMineFlipChallenge, and #ChristmasFlipChallenge.

Producers from all over the world have cooked up an incredible number of high-quality beats since I announced the first Micro-Chop sample challenge in mid-November. I would guess a combined 400 to 500 beats were created over the course of the #SwinginFlipChallenge, #RunToFlipChallenge, #YouWereMineFlipChallenge, and #ChristmasFlipChallenge.

I want to continue to highlight different beats from all four challenges to honor the hard work of the producers who participated. One area I wanted to explore was the use of Roland’s SP sampler series. Throughout the four challenges artists used the SP-202, 303, 404, 555, and 606 in various setups with impressive results. I’ve selected some of my favorite SP creations for this article.

During the #SwinginFlipChallenge, Boston’s Lightfoot used his SP-404 and Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 sampler/sequencer/synth to flip Mint Condition’s early-90s hit on its head. With crunchy drums and extended vocal samples, he built a feel-good, upbeat track that contrasts perfectly with Westside Gunn’s “Over Gold” layered on top.

Taking a different approach, Pennsylvania producer Frilent used an insane series of reversals to capture the perfection of Mint Condition’s harmonies and put them in a blender. The end result has a mesmerizing, hypnotic feel.

Moving in a slightly different direction, Oakland-based beatsmith Dirac employed his SP-555 to cook up a mellow, soulful #SwinginFlipChallenge track. The vocals have a nice ethereal echo and Dirac used just enough stutters and effects to give the beat some added spice.

Mandeville, Québec’s Brkls used his SP-606 to capture the magic in Mint Condition’s vocals in his #SwinginFlipChallenge instrumental before dropping their voices out for an unexpected change of pace. With a slightly darker vibe, the second half of the song sounds excellent and provides some interesting contrast.

Moving on to the #RunToFlipChallenge, Naga, Philippines producer ビクター MKII used his SP-555 alongside his Maschine to create a soothing, vocal-heavy flip of The Jones Girls original. Making generous use of the 555’s various effects, the end result is a brief, powerful listen.

San Francisco-based producer q no rap name somehow managed to cook up an outstanding SP-404 track two hours after I posted the #YouWereMineFlipChallenge, taking the Manhattans’ original and building a more uptempo but equally somber and reflective instrumental. The filtered vocals that sit underneath the beat sound great and the sample chops and arrangement are flawless.

In Los Angeles, earoh also utilized his 404 to obscure the same sample source, pitching “Wish That You Were Mine” way down into some filtered, warbly madness that sounds incredible. The loop that serves as the bulk of the track works perfectly, catching the word “every day” as “ayyee” while giving the song a slurred, surreal quality

London-based beatmaker Aupheus sequenced his #YouWereMineFlipChallenge track in Logic and used MIDI to trigger the sample pads of the SP-202. The final product is a mournful bit of minimalist beauty that sounds unlike anything else produced during the challenge.

Sitting in isolation in his car with a face mask on, San Diego’s janu.solo captured some of the intense isolation many of us have felt during COVID while he performed his impressive #YouWereMineFlipChallenge song with his SP-404. The super filtered, haunting vocals hit just right and help make for a truly memorable listen.

Moving on to the most recent #ChristmasFlipChallanege, Virginia-based producer Nya7seeDz took a unique approach by combining Kurtis Blow and Donny Hathaway’s Christmas classics “Christmas Rappin’” and “This Christmas.” Using the effects and stutters on the 404, he perfectly slowed down and altered the vocals of the Hathaway original to create a trippy, stuttering beat.

And last but not least, Massachusetts-based DJ Manipulator used his 404 and Maschine to turn Paul McCartney’s happy Christmas classic “Wonderful Christmastime” into something much more ominous and somber. His #ChristmasFlipChallenge track proved that with the right approach and creativity, producers can completely change the energy of the original sample.

I hope you enjoyed these video highlights from the first four Micro-Chop sample challenges. If you’re feeling inspired, use the hashtags #SwinginFlipChallenge, #RunToFlipChallenge, #YouWereMineFlipChallenge, and #ChristmasFlipChallenge on Instagram and Twitter to take a deeper dive into each one.

Be on the lookout for more sample challenges in the future.

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