Various: Xen Cuts

Ninja Tune, 2000

Xen Cuts cover

Though scheduled for release stateside in mid-September, Ninja Tune’s ten-year anniversary extravaganza, Xen Cuts, hit the streets this past week. It was well worth the wait. Of the forty-seven tracks on this 3-CD or (limited edition) 6-LP boxed set, only two or three are duds. Most of the tracks are fine examples of Ninja Tune’s philosophy—throw elements from a bunch of musical genres together and see what happens.

The first disc is a blast of hip-hop, with some impressive rhymes from little-known MCs and production work by the Ninja crew. Highlights include an amazing lyrical treatise by Latyrx with beats by The Herbaliser. Then there’s Kid Koala’s catchy “Emperor’s Main Course” and a soon-to-be-classic turntable collage—“Give it Up” by Coldcut. I’m only noting the best of the best here, because there’s not enough room to describe all the strong tracks on this one. The only misses are Quannum MCs’ annoying “Blue Flames” and The Infesticon’s disappointing “Night Night Theme.”

Next up is a CD of jazzy material. Flexus starts things right with a mini-megamix of classic Ninja cuts. Clifford Gilberto’s “The 10th Victim” is pure sleeze with turntable scratches, horns, and a ’70s groove. Loka’s “My Life’s in These Bottles” is probably my favorite track on the entire comp. It’s almost straight-up jazz with uncredited horns over a syncopated bassline. DJ Food’s “The Ageing Young Rebel” featuring Ken Nordine is another high point, presented here in a version where Nordine’s eerie poem is actually audible.

Finally disc three offers up a slew of mostly older tracks. It’s the newer ones that I most appreciate, however. There’s Saul Williams’ haunting “Twice the First Time,” a rap with human beatbox, strings, and a chain-gang chant. Kid Koala’s “Drunk Trumpet,” recorded live at the Metro in Chicago, is an amazing example of turntable trickery with the Kid emulating a trumpet solo on his Technics 1200s. Finally, there’s the inspired “Bad Sex” by Amon Tobin featuring Chris Morris. Porn vid. samples are transformed into vocals for this jazzy groove. There’s even a bonus track—“Bruce Lee MC” by Quincy. It’s a fun ode to Kung Fu that goes on just a few minutes too long.

Overall, this is an amazing collection, both for its breadth and its quality. Some of Ninja Tune’s early releases were a bit spotty, but this compilation is proof that the Coldcut boys are good at bringing in some solid talent. Let’s hope for another ten years of diverse releases.